Car Dashboard Symbols And Meanings (Red Warning Lights)

Written by

Tim Miller

An automotive mechanic and blogger at obdadvisor.com

You’re cruising down the highway, listening to your favorite playlist, and suddenly there is a dashboard light pops up.

And you wonder:

  • What does it mean?
  • What if one stays on? 
  • Am I worrying over nothing?

When one of the dashboard lights comes on, an issue may need your attention.

If you choose to ignore them, you could risk your safety or end up with an expensive car repair bill.

So what should you do?

This comprehensive guide will give you the different meanings of each warning light and indicator you may be seeing in your car.

Let’s take a look at these illuminated symbols in detail.

Red Car Dashboard Symbols and Meanings

One thing to remember is that:

Even when you don’t know the meaning of the dashboard lights, the lights’ color themselves can tell you a lot about the severity of your car’s problem. 

  • Red: Urgent issue. These are for problems that cause an immediate serious danger to you or the car. If a red light appears, stop immediately. 
  • Yellow: Non-urgent issue. These are fine problems with which to continue driving, but they should be fixed soon. 
  • Green/White/Gray/Blue: Non-issue, just a notification.

The dashboard lights listed below can be found on the brands, including:

  • Nissan
  • Toyota
  • Ford
  • Chevy
  • Hyundai
  • Mini Cooper
  • BMW
  • Honda
  • Jeep
  • Subaru
  • Mazda
  • VW
  • Lexus
  • Audi
  • Mercedes
  • GMC
  • Kia
  • Dodge RAM
  • Acura

So before you panic, scroll down and find the lights on your car’s dashboard.

Red Warning Lights

Brake System Warning Light

Brake System Warning Light
Brake System Warning Light
Brake System Warning Light

It’s also called the Parking Brake and Brake System Indicator.

Indicates that:

  • The brake fluid level is low; or
  • The brake system is malfunctioning

Immediately stop the vehicle in a safe place and contact a dealer or repair shop.

Warning: Do not drive with the brake system warning light illuminated. Contact a dealer to have the brakes inspected as soon as possible.

Driving with the brake system warning light illuminated is dangerous. It indicates that your brakes may not work at all or that they could completely fail at any time. If this light remains illuminated, after checking that the parking brake is fully released, have the brakes inspected immediately.

Caution: In addition, the effectiveness of the braking may diminish so you may need to depress the brake pedal more strongly than normal to stop the vehicle.

Electric Parking Brake Indicator Light

Electric Parking Brake Indicator Light
Electric Parking Brake Indicator Light
Electric Parking Brake Indicator Light
Electric Parking Brake Indicator Light

This light illuminates when the electronic parking brake system is operating.

When the ignition switch is placed in the ON position, the electronic parking brake warning light illuminates. When the engine is started and the parking brake is released, the warning light turns off.

If the parking brake is not released, the electronic parking brake warning light remains illuminated. Ensure the electronic parking brake warning light has turned off before driving.

If the electronic parking brake warning light illuminates or flashes while the electronic parking brake system warning light (yellow) illuminates, it may indicate that the electronic parking brake system is not functioning properly. Have the system checked. It is recommended that you visit a dealer for this service.

Parking Brake & Brake Fluid Warning Light

Parking Brake _ Brake Fluid Warning Light
Parking Brake _ Brake Fluid Warning Light

This warning light illuminates:

  • Once you set the ignition switch or Engine Start/Stop Button to the ON position. It illuminates for approximately 3 seconds
  • When the parking brake is applied, the warning light will remain on.
  • When the brake fluid level in the reservoir is low.
  • If the warning light illuminates with the parking brake released, it indicates the brake fluid level in reservoir is low.
  • If the brake fluid level in the reservoir is low:
  1. Drive carefully to the nearest safe location and stop your vehicle.
  2. With the engine stopped, check the brake fluid level immediately and add fluid as required. Then check all brake components for fluid leaks. If any leaks in the brake system are still found, the warning light remains on, or the brakes do not operate properly, do not drive the vehicle. In this case, have your vehicle towed to an authorized dealer and inspected.

Charging System Warning Light

Charging System Warning Light

If this light comes on while the engine is running, it may indicate the charging system is not functioning properly. Turn the engine off and check the generator belt. If the belt is loose, broken, or missing, or if the light remains on, have the system checked. It is recommended that you visit a dealer for this service.

Seat Belt Warning Light

Seat Belt Warning Light
  • The light and chime remind you to fasten the seat belts.
  • The seat belt warning light will illuminate when the ignition switch is pushed to the ON position if the driver’s seat belt is not fastened, or if the front passenger seat belt is not fastened when occupied.
  • The seat belt warning light will also illuminate if a rear passenger seat belt is changed from fastened to unfastened.
  • If the driver’s seat belt is not fastened when the ignition switch is pushed to the ON position, the chime will sound shortly.
  • If the vehicle is driven above 9 mph (15km/h) in the conditions that illuminate the seat belt warning light, the lamp will begin to blink and the chime will sound for over one minute, or until the seat belt is fastened again.

Front Seatbelt Warning Light

Front Seatbelt Warning Light
Front Seatbelt Warning Light
Front Seatbelt Warning Light
Front Seatbelt Warning Light

The seat belt warning light turns on if the driver or front passenger’s seat is occupied and the seat belt is not fastened with the ignition switched ON.

If the driver or front passenger’s seat belt is unfastened (only when the front passenger’s seat is occupied) and if the vehicle is driven at about 20 km/h (12 mph) or faster, or about 10 km/h (6 mph) or faster for a continuous 30 seconds, with the seat belt unfastened, the warning light flashes for a certain period. After a short time, the warning light stops flashing, but remains illuminated.

Rear Seatbelt Warning Light

Seat Belt Warning Light (Rear seat)
Rear Seatbelt Warning Light
Rear Seatbelt Warning Light
Rear Seatbelt Warning Light
Rear Seatbelt Warning Light
Rear Seatbelt Warning Light
Rear Seatbelt Warning Light
Rear Seatbelt Warning Light

If the rear seat belts are not fastened while the ignition is switched ON , the driver and the passenger are alerted by the warning light.

The warning light operates even if there is no passenger on the rear seat.

Air Bag Warning Light

Air Bag Warning Light

It’s also called Supplemental Restraint System (SRS) Warning Light.

When the ignition switch is placed in the ON or START position, the supplemental air bag warning light illuminates for about 7 seconds and then turns off. This means the system is operational.

If any of the following conditions occur, the front air bag, side air bag, curtain air bag, and pretensioner systems need servicing and your vehicle must be taken to a dealer:

  • The supplemental air bag warning light remains on after approximately 7 seconds.
  • The supplemental air bag warning light flashes intermittently.
  • The supplemental air bag warning light does not come on at all.

Unless checked and repaired, the supplemental restraint system (air bag system) and/or the pretensioners may not function properly

Engine Oil Warning Light

Engine Oil Warning Light

This light warns of low engine oil pressure. If the light flickers or comes on during normal driving, pull off the road in a safe area, stop the engine immediately and call a dealer or other authorized repair shop.

The engine oil pressure warning light is not designed to indicate a low oil level. Use the dipstick to check the oil level.

Engine Coolant Temperature Warning Light

Engine Coolant Temperature Warning Light
Engine Coolant Temperature Warning Light

It is also called High Temperature Warning Light.

Comes on for a few seconds when you turn the ignition switch to ON, then goes off.

Blinks when the engine coolant temperature goes up and stays on if the temperature continues to rise.

Goes off, then comes on in blue when the engine coolant temperature is low.

  • Blinks while driving – Drive slowly to prevent overheating.
  • Stays on while driving – Immediately stop in a safe place and allow the engine to cool.

Reduced Engine Power Light

Reduced Engine Power Light

The reduced engine power light should come on briefly as the engine is started. If it does not come on, have the vehicle serviced by your dealer.
This light, along with the malfunction indicator lamp, displays when a noticeable reduction in the vehicle’s performance occurs.

The vehicle can be driven at a reduced speed when the reduced engine power light is on but acceleration and speed might be reduced. If this light stays on, see your dealer as soon as possible for diagnosis and repair.

Electric Power Steering (EPS) System Indicator

Electric Power Steering (EPS) System Indicator

Comes on if there is a problem with the EPS system.

  • Stays on constantly – Have your vehicle checked by a dealer.
  • Do not drive displays on the driver information interface – Immediately stop in a safe place and contact a dealer.

Door and Tailgate Open Indicator

Door and Tailgate Open Indicator
Door and Tailgate Open Indicator
Door and Tailgate Open Indicator

This indicator will illuminate when a door is ajar/open and not fully closed.

NOTE: If the vehicle is moving, there will also be a single chime.

Hood Open Warning Light

Hood Open Warning Light
Hood Open Warning Light
Engine Hood Open Warning Light

This warning light will illuminate when the hood is left open and not fully closed.

NOTE: If the vehicle is moving, there will also be a single chime.

Liftgate Open Warning Light

Liftgate Open Warning Light
Liftgate Open Warning Light
Liftgate Open Warning Light
Liftgate Open Warning Light

It illuminates when the ignition is on and the liftgate/tailgate is not completely closed.

Immobilizer System Indicator

Immobilizer System Indicator
Immobilizer System Indicator

Blinks if the immobilizer system cannot recognize the key information.

  • Blinks – You cannot start the engine. Set the power mode to VEHICLE OFF, then select the ON mode again. With Canadian models, depress and hold the brake pedal before setting the power mode to ON.
  • Repeatedly blinks – The system may be malfunctioning. Have your vehicle checked by a dealer.
  • Do not attempt to alter this system or add other devices to it. Electrical problems can occur.

Security Indicator Light

Security indicator light
Security indicator light
Security indicator light
Security Indicator Light

The security light should come on briefly as the engine is started. If it does not come on, have the vehicle serviced by your dealer.

If the system is working normally, the indicator light turns off.

If the light stays on and the engine does not start, there could be a problem with the theft-deterrent system.

Master Warning Light/ Central indicator light

Master Warning Light

When the ignition is in the ON position, the master warning light illuminates if any of the following is displayed on the vehicle information display.

  • Parking brake release warning
  • Door open warning (while moving)
  • Steering Alert hands-on detection warning

The warning(s) remain on the vehicle information display until action is taken, or the ignition is placed in the OFF position.

Transmission Warning Light

Transmission Warning Light

This light will illuminate (together with a message in the instrument cluster display and a buzzer) to indicate a transmission fault. Contact an authorized dealer if the message remains after restarting the engine.

Drive System Malfunction Warning

Drive system Malfunction Warning

Drive system: malfunction! Safely stop vehicle

There is a malfunction in the drive system. The brake booster and the power steering may stop working. Stop the vehicle immediately or as soon as possible and do not continue driving. Secure the vehicle against rolling before exiting the vehicle. Have the problem corrected by an authorized dealer or authorized Service Facility.

Steering Lock Malfunction Indicator

Steering Lock Malfunction Indicator

There is a malfunction in the electronic steering lock. You cannot turn the ignition on. Secure the vehicle against rolling before exiting the vehicle. Do not tow your vehicle because it cannot be steered. See an authorized dealer or authorized Service Facility for assistance.

Steering Intervention Request

Steering intervention request

If no steering activity is detected or the limits of the system are reached, the driver steering intervention request will alert the driver using audio and visual signals. Take over the steering and keep your hands on the steering wheel so that you will be ready to steer at any time. The system will become inactive after a short time and will only be active again later.

If the driver does not take over steering, adaptive cruise assist will be canceled. If the vehicle is equipped with emergency assist and is ready to function, it will be activated if possible.

Adaptive Cruise Assist (Driver Intervention Request)

Adaptive cruise assist

The automatic braking is not enough to maintain a sufficient distance from a vehicle driving ahead. You must intervene.

Adaptive Cruise Assist (Lane Guidance)

Adaptive cruise assist

This indicator light turns on if the limits of the system have been reached (for example, the system’s steering force is not sufficient to handle tight curves). Take over steering.

Distance Warning Light

Distance warning light

At speeds above approximately 40 mph (65km/h), this function measures the distance to the vehicle ahead as time. If the distance falls below the warning threshold and remains there, the system will warn you of the hazard with the indicator light.

Lane Departure Warning

Lane departure warning

Corrective steering will be indicated with this warning light. If the lane departure warning must intervene for a long period of time, a message will request the driver to drive in the center of the lane. The steering wheel can also vibrate to warn you if lane boundaries are detected during a passing maneuver.

Pre Sense Warning Light

Pre Sense Warning Light

The system can provide warnings about detected dangers at speeds above approximately 20 mph (30 km/h). Audi pre sense appears in the instrument cluster and an audio signal plays.

Front Assist Forward Collision Warning Light

Front Assist Forward Collision Warning Light

Brake or take action to avoid the vehicle ahead!

Front Assist Forward Collision Warning

OR: Pedestrian Monitoring system warning.

Shift Lock Warning Light

Shift Lock Warning Light

Brake! Depress brake pedal.

ACC driver intervention warning

Approach Control Warning

Approach control warning

Indicator light illuminates: advance warning is issued, for example when there is the impending danger of a collision or the distance to the vehicle ahead is too small.

  • Increase distance.

Indicator light flashes: acute warning of the imminent danger of a collision when the vehicle approaches another vehicle at a relatively high differential speed.

  • Intervention by braking or making an evasive maneuver.

Pedestrian Warning

Pedestrian warning
Pedestrian warning

If a collision with a person detected in this way is imminent, the symbol lights up and a signal sounds.

Rear Axle Steering Warning Lamp

Rear axle steering warning lamp

The red rear axle steering warning lamp is lit while the vehicle is running.

The rear axle steering is malfunctioning.

  • Note the messages on the driver’s display

WARNING Risk of accident if steering capability is impaired
If the steering does not function as intended, the vehicle’s operating safety is jeopardized.

  • Pull over and stop the vehicle safely as soon as possible, paying attention to road and traffic conditions. Do not continue driving under any circumstances.
  • Consult a qualified specialist workshop.

Distance Warning Function Warning Lamp

Distance warning function Warning lamp

The red distance warning lamp lights up while the vehicle is in motion.

The distance to the vehicle in front is too small for the speed selected.

If there is an additional warning tone, you are approaching an obstacle at too high a speed.

  • Be prepared to brake immediately.
  • Increase the distance.

Suspension Warning Lamp

Suspension warning lamp

The red AIRMATIC/E-ACTIVE BODY CONTROL warning lamp is lit.

A malfunction has occurred in AIRMATIC/E-ACTIVE BODY CONTROL.

  • Note the messages on the driver’s display.
  • Consult a qualified specialist workshop.

NOTE The vehicle’s driving characteristics will have changed significantly.

  • Consult a qualified specialist workshop.

Oil Temperature Warning Light

Oil Temperature Warning Light

This warning light will illuminate to indicate the engine oil temperature is high. If the light turns on while driving, stop the vehicle and shut off the engine as soon as possible. Wait for oil temperature to return to normal levels.

Electronic Throttle Control (ETC) Warning Light

Electronic Throttle Control (ETC) Warning Light

This warning light will illuminate to indicate a problem with the ETC system. If a problem is detected while the vehicle is running, the light will either stay on or flash depending on the nature of the problem. Cycle the ignition when the vehicle is safely and completely stopped and the transmission is placed in the PARK position.

The light should turn off. If the light remains on with the vehicle running, your vehicle will usually be drivable; however, see an authorized dealer for service as soon as possible.

Note: This light may turn on if the accelerator and brake pedals are pressed at the same time. If the light continues to flash when the vehicle is running, immediate service is required and you may experience reduced performance, an elevated/rough idle, or engine stall and your vehicle may require towing.

The light will come on when the ignition is placed in the ON/RUN or ACC/ON/RUN position and remain on briefly as a bulb check. If the light does not come on during starting, have the system checked by an authorized dealer.

Trailer Brake Disconnected Warning Light

Trailer Brake Disconnected Warning Light

This warning light will illuminate when the Trailer Brake has been disconnected.

Transmission Temperature Warning Light

Transmission Temperature Warning Light

This light indicates that the transmission fluid temperature is running hot. This may occur with severe usages, such as trailer towing. If this light turns on, safely pull over and stop the vehicle.

Then, shift the transmission into PARK (P) and run the engine at idle or slightly higher until the light turns off.

Warning: If you continue operating the vehicle when the Transmission Temperature Warning Light is
illuminated you could cause the fluid to boil over, come in contact with hot engine or exhaust components and cause a fire.

Caution: Continuous driving with the Transmission Temperature Warning Light illuminated will eventually cause severe transmission damage or transmission failure.

Active Driving Assist – Driver Inattentiveness Warning Light

Active Driving Assist - Driver Inattentiveness Warning Light

This light illuminates when driver inattentiveness has been continually detected, warning the driver to place their hands on the steering wheel.

Night Vision With Pedestrian And Animal Detection

Night Vision With Pedestrian And Animal Detection
Night Vision With Pedestrian And Animal Detection

An infrared camera scans the area in front of the vehicle and issues a warning if it detects pedestrians and animals on the street. The indicator light is illuminated: pre-warning. Brake and make an evasive maneuver, if necessary. Indicator light flashes and an acoustic signal sounds: acute warning. Immediate braking or evading maneuver.

Night Vision Animal Warning Light

Night Vision Animal Warning Light

The Night Vision Animal Warning Light will illuminate in red when an animal is detected directly in the vehicle’s path, near the headlights, and a collision is possible.

If enabled, a chime will sound and a video pop-up may display when detection occurs.

Night Vision Pedestrian Warning Light

Night Vision Pedestrian Warning Light

The Night Vision Pedestrian Warning Light will illuminate in red when a pedestrian is detected directly in the vehicle’s path, near the headlights, and a collision is possible.

If enabled, a chime will sound and a video pop-up may display when detection occurs.

Oil Pressure Sensor Failure Warning Light

Oil Pressure Sensor Failure Warning Light

This light will illuminate if there is a failure of the oil pressure sensor. If this light illuminates, take it to an authorized dealer and have them inspect it.

Brake Pad Wear Warning Lamp

Brake Pad Wear Warning Lamp

It illuminates when the brake pads have worn down to a predetermined limit. Have your vehicle checked as soon as possible.

Reverse Brake Assist

Reverse Brake Assist

If the system determines that a collision with an obstacle may occur, full braking may apply. Bring your vehicle to a stop a safe distance away from the obstacle.

A message and warning indicator appears when the system applies the brakes.

Electric Parking Brake

Electric Parking Brake

It illuminates or flashes when the electric parking brake requires service. Have your vehicle checked as soon as possible.

Stop Safely

Stop Safely

Illuminates if an electrical component requires service or a failure that causes your vehicle to shut down or enter into a limited operating mode.

KEY Warning Indication/Warning Light

KEY Warning Light

“Keyless Entry System Malfunction. Have the Vehicle Inspected” is displayed.

This message is displayed if the advanced keyless entry & push button start system has a problem.

Contact an Authorized Dealer.

Smart Brake Support Indicator Light

Smart Brake Support Indicator Light

If the SBS is operating, the indicator light (red) flashes.

Engine Low Oil Level Warning Indicator

Engine low oil level warning indicator
Engine low oil level warning indicator

This indicator appears when the engine oil level decreases to the lower limit.

If the warning indicator appears, check the engine oil level on a level surface. When the engine oil level is not within the normal range, refill with engine oil.

After adding or changing the engine oil, warm up the engine and stop it on a level surface, then start the engine after a lapse of 1 minute or more. Confirm that the warning indicator has turned off after the engine has started.

If the warning indicator does not turn off after refilling the engine oil, or the indicator appears even though the engine oil level is within the normal range, have the vehicle checked by a dealer.

NOTE:

  • The oil level will be detected by the system just after turning the ignition switch to the “OFF” position. If the oil level is below the lower limit when the ignition switch is turned to the “ON” position, the engine low oil level warning indicator will turn on.
  • When the vehicle is parked on a steep slope, the engine low oil level warning indicator may not illuminate even if the oil level is below the lower limit to avoid erroneous lighting.

Electric Shift Control System Warning Light

Electric shift control system warning light

When the ignition switch is in the ON position, the electric shift control system warning light illuminates, and then turns off. This indicates the electric shift control system is operational.

The electric shift control system warning light illuminates when a malfunction occurs in the electric shift control system. When the master warning light illuminates, the chime sounds and the following message is displayed in the vehicle information display: “When parked apply parking brake”.

When the ignition switch is placed in the OFF position, the chime sounds continuously. Ensure the parking brake is applied.

Have the system checked by a dealer.

Automatic Transmission (AT) Park Warning Light

Automatic Transmission (AT) park warning light
Automatic Transmission (AT) park warning light

It’s also called Unengaged Park Warning Light.

This light indicates that the Automatic Transmission (AT) parking function is not engaged. If the transfer control is not secured in any driving position while the AT shift lever is in the “P” (Park) position, the transmission will disengage and the wheels will not lock.

If the AT park warning light illuminates with the shift lever in the P (Park) position, shift the Four-Wheel Drive (4WD) shift switch to the AUTO, 4H or 4L position again with the shift lever in the N (Neutral) position.

Steering Assist Hands Off Warning Light

Steering Assist Hands Off warning light
Hands OFF Warning Light

When the Steering Assist is activated, it monitors the driver’s steering wheel operation.

If the steering wheel is not operated or the driver takes his/her hands off the steering wheel for a period of time, the warning light illuminates.

If the driver does not operate the steering wheel after the warning light has been illuminated, an audible alert sounds and the warning flashes in the vehicle information display, followed by a quick brake application to request the driver to take control of the vehicle again.

If the driver remains unresponsive, the vehicle will automatically turn on the hazard lights and slow to a complete stop.

Automatic Transmission (AT) Oil Temperature Warning Light

Automatic Transmission (AT) oil temperature warning light

This light illuminates when the Automatic Transmission (AT) oil temperature is too high. If the light illuminates while driving, reduce the vehicle speed as soon as safely possible until the light turns off.

P Position Selecting Warning Light

P position selecting warning light

The warning light blinks in red when the ignition switch is pushed to stop the engine with the shift lever in any position except the P (Park) position.

If this warning appears, move the shift lever to the P (Park) position or push the ignition switch to the ON position.

An inside warning chime will also sound.

Trailer Tow Hitch Warning Lamp

Trailer tow hitch warning lamp

The red trailer hitch warning lamp is lit.

The trailer hitch is not operational.

  • Note the messages on the instrument display.

WARNING Risk of an accident if the ball neck is not locked

The trailer may become detached.

  • Stop the vehicle immediately. Do not continue driving.
  • Uncouple the trailer and secure it against rolling away.
  • Initiate a new swiveling procedure and do not re-couple the trailer until the display message disappears.

Intersection Collision Warning

Intersection collision warning
Intersection collision warning

The indicator light is illuminated: risk of collision with crossing vehicle.

Active Cruise Control With Stop&Go Function

Active Cruise Control With Stop_Go Function

Indicator light flashes and an acoustic signal sounds: braking and evading.

Steering Assistant

Steering Assistant

Indicator light flashes and an acoustic signal sounds: the system will be switched off.

Car On Lift Warning Light

Car On Lift Warning Light

The starter has failed or the Ignition is malfunctioning. The engine can only be restarted when the brake is depressed or the lighting system failed. Low beams/tail lights and brake lights are still operational. All other lights failed.

Have the system in question checked immediately. The engine cannot be restarted. Depress the brake to restart the engine.

Service Requirement Warning Light

Service Requirement Warning Light
Service Requirement Warning Light

The service appointment is overdue. Arrange a service appointment. Check the service requirements

Convertible Top Locked Indicator

Convertible Top Locked Indicator

The convertible top is not locked. The convertible top is not locked. Fully open or close the convertible top before continuing to drive.

Convertible Top Control Failed Indicator

Convertible Top Control Failed Indicator

Convertible top control failed! The convertible top position and lock cannot be detected. When the convertible top has been securely locked, you can continue driving. Close the convertible top/sliding sunroof manually. Have the system checked by the service center.

Drive Power

Drive Power

Reduced drive power due to an overheated drivetrain.

What’s Next?

Now that you’ve read this post, you know exactly what your dashboard lights mean.

The warning lights and indicators are designed to make driving safer and prevent roadside emergencies. So make sure to pay attention to them when they show up.

Have questions about a specific dashboard light you don’t see shown above?

Let me know by leaving a comment below right now.

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