We can't all be experts at everything. We only have limited time and attention to devote to learning, and most of us focus on our chosen career and preferred hobbies. The good news is, we can rely on trained professionals to manage the stuff we don't have time for, like fixing plumbing issues, addressing computer viruses, and of course, maintaining the vehicles we rely on for transportation.
Unfortunately, even regular maintenance won't completely prevent problems with your vehicle. That said, you do have an early warning system. Your dashboard features a number of warning lights that illuminate when something is wrong; you just need to understand what these signals are telling you. Here are a few of the most common warning lights and what they mean.
Engine Oil and Check Engine
Even if you don't know much about cars, you know the engine must run to propel your vehicle, and because there are so many moving parts, a lot could go wrong. What does it mean when you see a warning light that looks like a genie's lamp with a drip under the spout? This indicates a problem with your engine oil pressure, which is pretty serious because oil lubricates the engine to keep it from seizing.
You may also see a symbol that looks vaguely like the shape of an engine, or an irregular square with T-like projections on three sides. This is the check engine light, and it could indicate anything from a sensor or spark plug failure, to low compression, to a loose gas cap. Regardless, it means a trip to your mechanic.
If you want your tires to last, you need to make sure they have adequate air pressure to cushion your wheels. When you see a U-shaped symbol with an exclamation point inside it, you're either experiencing low pressure in one or more tires, or a sensor malfunction. This is easily corrected by using a tire gauge to check pressure and adding air as needed.
Car batteries last a long time, but they can get drained, and eventually fail. When the battery charge is low, your dashboard will display a rectangle with two dots on top and a plus and minus symbol to let you know.
Anti-Lock Brake System (ABS)
Your car's ABS helps to ensure that brakes don't lock up on slippery surfaces, causing your vehicle to slide. When you see a circle in parenthesis with the letters “ABS”, your brakes are probably fine, but the ABS isn't working, and your brakes may lock up if you brake hard on a wet or icy roadway.
A warning light that features the rear view of your car with two wavy lines under the wheels indicates that your stability control, which helps your car to remain stable during turning, is off or not working. You may have turned it off accidentally, since many cars allow this feature to be disabled, or the system may have failed.
These are just a few of the many warning lights you may encounter, some of which indicate significant danger. It's always best to check your car manual when a warning light comes on so you can take appropriate action to protect yourself and your vehicle. To help stem potentially-costly vehicle repairs, you should also consider an extended vehicle warranty, such as a Mopar Vehicle Warranty or a Ford Extended Service Plan.