Here at the shop, we get cars in all the time with various lights on the dash lit and the owners often don’t have a clue what these lights mean. So for this month, I will try to describe and explain what some of these indicators mean.
Probably one that causes the most confusion is the “check engine light” or “CEL” or “Malfunction Indicator Light”. All these names mean the same thing as far as what the light is on for. Any time it is lit when the engine is running means that something is out of whack concerning the engine or emission control system. Get it seen immediately. If it is flashing, then it means that engine damage can or is being done if you continue to operate the vehicle.
Either way, get to a shop that has the expertise to correct what ails the engine before damage occurs or your repair bill could escalate. In addition, the light should always come on with the key on, but engine not running.
Another indicator light is called “Maintenance Required Light”. Its purpose is to let you know that maintenance is due for various reasons, usually that the oil and filter are due, but there could be several other reasons for it turning on.
Other indicators such as TPMS, which stands for tire pressure monitoring system, could also show up. Anytime this comes on means that one or more tires are under-inflated. It is important to address this light as soon as possible. It’s probably safe to say most tire blow outs are caused by low tire inflation!
“ABS” (anti-lock brake system) which is ORANGE colored and “Brake” light (RED) is also on most vehicles today. If there is a problem with the anti-lock system, you will still have brakes that stop you, but the anti-lock feature will not.
However, the RED brake light may mean real braking problems. It monitors line pressure in the dual circuit hydraulic brake system so that in the event of a real problem, it will turn on.
It will also light up if the master cylinder gets low on brake fluid. You should have it inspected right away before you end up losing your brakes altogether. One more use of the brake light is to let you know that the emergency /park brake is on.
All new vehicles have air bags as well as shoulder belts, etc. These are all monitored by the computer which can turn on the “SRS” (supplemental Restraint system) light. For instance, if you forget to snap the seat belt, it will illuminate. More importantly, it will alert you to a problem in the air bag system. Since these have saved many lives, it is imperative you address this problem as soon as possible.
Other lights that are probably self-evident or should be are the charge indicator, temp light and oil pressure lights. Often referred to as “Idiot” lights, these will pull your eyes to the dash so that you will look at the gauges, if equipped, and respond accordingly.
Usually, if the alternator quits charging, you have a margin of time to get to a repair facility, but when the temp or oil pressure lights come on, you should immediately get over to the side of the road and shut down the engine as major damage can occur very quickly.
As I’ve advised before, even a half mile more can mean the difference between an easy fix and a destroyed engine!
Happy Motoring, Ray