Indicator Lights: What Do They All Mean?

February 7th, 2019 by

Indicator Lights

“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign*”! Signs are helpful, they tell you how fast you can drive, when to stop, and where to eat. But some signs, namely car warning lights, can get your heart running faster than your motor!

Nothing can complicate your day like something going wrong with your vehicle, but having a little bit of knowledge about the meaning of the warning lights can ease the tension and help you respond quickly.

As vehicles have become higher-tech, and since fewer people work on their own cars these days, it’s easy to be concerned that you may not be doing the right thing when a warning light comes on. We suggest you review your vehicle’s owner manual and learn which lights you might see on your dashboard regularly (such as the low-temperature light that goes off as the car warms up), and those that can appear when something is wrong (such as the check engine warning light). Some vehicles are equipped with additional safety items, cruise control, or variable transmissions that have lights you may not have been familiar with in past vehicles.

Here are the basic warning lights all vehicle operators should be aware of, as well as, the action to take when you see them (courtesy

Indicator Lights   Temperature Warning Light:
This indicates that your car’s engine is overheated and may need more coolant. If this light turns on while you are driving, pull over as soon as possible and turn off your engine.  You may need to add coolant to your vehicle’s coolant reservoir; however, never open your vehicle’s coolant reservoir cap while the engine is still hot.  You may need to wait for a while until the engine is cool, then you can open your coolant reservoir cap and add coolant.
Indicator Lights   Oil Pressure Warning Light:
This indicates that your oil level may be too low. Check your oil dipstick and add oil if necessary. If your warning light is still lit after adding oil, visit a mechanic.
Indicator Lights   Check Engine Warning Light:
This indicates that there is a serious problem with the engine that requires your immediate attention. You may need to take your vehicle to a mechanic right away. If the engine light comes on in conjunction with other warning lights, such as the temperature warning light or oil pressure warning light, pull over and turn off the engine and follow the instructions above for the issues relating to temperature and oil pressure.
Indicator Lights   Tire Pressure Warning Light:
This indicates that one or more of your vehicle’s tires have low pressure. On occasions, this happens when one or more of your tires are getting close to going flat due to possible damage, or because you may have driven over a nail or sharp object.  If this light comes on while you are driving on the highway at a higher speed, grab your steering wheel firmly, so you can control your car better in case of a tire blowout, start slowing down, and pull the vehicle over as soon as you can. Then take your vehicle to a tire center for an inspection.
Indicator Lights   Brake System Warning Light:
This indicates that there is a problem with the brake system. Also, you may have left your parking brake on, or you may have low brake fluid.If you do not have your parking brake on, your vehicle’s brake fluid is okay, and your brake system Warning Light still comes on, you need to stop driving the vehicle and take it to a mechanic for repairing the brake system.
Indicator Lights   ABS Warning Light:
This indicates that your vehicle’s anti-lock brake system (ABS) has been deactivated due to an issue with the ABS. However, the standard brake system is working. ABS is important for situations when you need to stop the vehicle suddenly, or you need to brake on a wet or slippery road.  Thus, it is recommended to fix the ABS issue as soon as possible.If both the Brake System Warning Light and ABS Warning Light come on while you’re driving, pull over immediately – there is a possibility that your brake system is not working. Take your vehicle to a mechanic.
Indicator Lights   Electronic Stability Control Light:
This indicates that the vehicle’s traction control is activated to prevent skidding; this is caused by slippery driving conditions.
Indicator Lights   Transmission Temperature Warning Light:
This indicates that the transmission’s current temperature is higher than normal. Pullover and let the engine cool, and then check the coolant level and transmission fluid level; if both are at the correct level and your transmission temperature warning light is still on, take your vehicle to a mechanic.
Indicator Lights   Battery Warning Light:
This indicates that your vehicle’s charging system is not working correctly, and the engine is not getting enough power. This problem may be caused by your battery’s condition or its terminal connections, or your vehicle’s alternator or alternator belt.  Don’t turn off the engine because it may not turn on again and take the vehicle to the nearest part store or mechanic.  Part stores usually have a tester that can test the battery and alternator for you at no charge.
Indicator Lights   Airbag Warning Light:
This indicates that your vehicle’s airbag system is not working properly. Take your vehicle to a mechanic or a dealer to fix this safety issue.
Indicator Lights   Door Ajar Warning Light:
This indicates that there is a door or the trunk door is open. Make sure that all of the doors and hood and trunk are closed before starting to drive your vehicle. Also, if you leave your door open and the vehicle’s light is on, it can drain your battery.
Indicator Lights   Fog Lamp:
This indicates that the vehicle’s front lamp is on.


If you have encountered a warning light or a mechanical emergency that requires you immediately stop using the vehicle, follow these steps from AAA:

1) Note your vehicle’s location. If you encounter a problem while driving, make sure you are aware of your surroundings and general location. Know where you are in relation to a major exit or cross street. Look for well-lighted areas. Notice landmarks such as service stations, restaurants, shopping centers, and business complexes. If you are on an interstate highway, note the mile marker, last exit number, or nearest emergency call box or rest area. You may need this information when summoning assistance.


2) Assess your vehicle’s operating problem. While driving, be aware of and know how to respond to warning signs, such as steering problems or steam or smoke coming from under the hood. Also, listen for any unusual noises. If it’s a flat tire, the first rule is not to panic. Signal, slow down gradually, and carefully pull onto the shoulder of the road, avoiding any sudden maneuvers. If you run out of gas or your engine stops, switch on emergency/safety flashers, carefully steer your vehicle out of traffic, and let its momentum get you off the road to a safe place. Avoid applying the brakes until necessary.


3) Pull off the road. On most roads, you should exit onto the far right shoulder, as far off the road as possible while remaining on level ground. If you are driving on an interstate or multiple-lane highway with medians, you may consider the left shoulder, again pulling as far away from traffic as possible.

If you get out of your vehicle, proceed carefully and watch for oncoming traffic, especially at night or in bad weather, when visibility is limited. Never stand behind or directly in front of your vehicle. Other roadway users may have trouble seeing you, and you could be struck by another vehicle. What if you CANNOT pull off the road? If your vehicle loses power and is inoperable, switch on safety/emergency flashers. Do not risk personal injury by attempting to push it to a safe location. If you cannot get your vehicle to a location away from traffic, or if you are uncertain about your safety and think your vehicle may get struck from behind, do not stay in your vehicle.


4) Alert other motorists. Make sure your vehicle is visible to other motorists. Remember they may be traveling at a high rate of speed and must be able to see your vehicle from a great distance to stop or move to another lane.

Turn on the emergency flashers, especially at night or during inclement weather. Raise your vehicle’s hood. If you have a brightly colored handkerchief or scarf, tie it to the antenna or door handle, or hold it in place by closing it in a window. Place flares or warning triangles to direct oncoming traffic away from your vehicle. If you are experiencing a fuel leak or smell fuel fumes, do not ignite flares or use anything with a flame. Extinguish any lit cigarettes. As a rule of thumb, place the first flare or triangle 10 feet directly behind the side of the vehicle closest to the road. Place the second 100 feet directly behind the vehicle, lining it up with the middle of the bumper. Position the third device behind the vehicle’s right side — 100 feet if on an undivided highway, 300 feet if on a divided highway. When doing so, always watch for oncoming traffic.


5) Communicate your situation. Once you and any passengers are in a safe location, you can notify others of your vehicle break-down. Make note of surroundings and landmarks, buildings or road signs. If you have a cell phone, immediately use it to call for help. Make the call from inside your vehicle if you are safely out of traffic. Otherwise, do so at a safe distance from the vehicle and roadside.


6) Remain with your vehicle. Safety experts agree that under most circumstances if you are able to pull away from traffic, it is safest to remain in your vehicle until a law enforcement officer or road service provider arrives. Always be mindful of your surroundings. At night, carry a flashlight. In some circumstances, when there is no other alternative, you may need to rely on the help of a friendly motorist or passerby. Should this be your only alternative to get help, ask for identification including name, phone number, and address before accepting assistance. Write this information down and leave it with another person, or in the vehicle, explaining where you are going, when you expect to return, and what you hope to accomplish. If you choose to exit the vehicle, do so safely and well away from oncoming traffic and your vehicle. If possible, you and any passengers should exit through the side of the vehicle facing away from the road. In most cases, the passenger side of the vehicle allows for greater distance from oncoming traffic. If you determine help is within walking distance, think about whether it’s safe to leave your vehicle or passengers for a short period of time. Assess traffic conditions and ensure that your contemplated route is safe for pedestrians. If you choose to stay inside your vehicle, keep the windows almost closed and the doors locked. It’s very dangerous to lower your windows or open your vehicle doors to strangers.  If a stranger does stop to offer help, ask the person to call for emergency road service. If you are threatened or harassed while waiting in your car, honk the horn repeatedly and flash the lights to attract attention. Don’t leave the engine on for extended periods to heat or cool the vehicle. You could put yourself and any passengers at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.


Additional tips:

  • Keep your phone with you and charged at all times. Your next step is calling for help. You may have AAA or towing coverage through your vehicle’s warranty. Keep these phone numbers handy, either in the glove compartment or programmed into your phone, but ideally both.
  • Keep emergency supplies in your car. A blanket, flashlights, flares, first aid kit, bottled water, and non-perishable snacks will be helpful if the weather is challenging or you are in a remote location.
  • Have someone to call if you need a ride. Keep phone numbers with you and programmed in your phone for friends/relatives and taxi companies who service your area. Uber, Lyft and other car-share companies have convenient apps to summon a ride.
  • Call your mechanic or dealership to advise the vehicle is coming and explain the situation as best you can. If possible, take a photo of the dashboard showing the warning lights. This photo is something you can refer to in later conversations.

Advanced safety brings new warning lights to know:

One example of a vehicle with advanced technology is the 2019 Buick Enclave. The Owner’s Guide is full of information and within it you will find symbols, along with text describing the operation of information relating to a specific component, control, message, gauge, or indicator.

Some warning lights are to advise of a potential mechanical issue, while others are there to highlight potential driving safety issues. As Buick and other manufacturers continue to work to Forward Collision Warning Lightprovide you with increasingly safe vehicles, more warning lights will appear on your dashboard alerting you to lane changes, forward collision alert, pedestrians ahead, and rear-cross traffic alerts among others. Refer to your manual and local these symbols and be comfortable with their meanings.

Forward Collision Alert Warning Light

If available, the Forward Collision Alert detects that a front-end collision situation is imminent while following a detected vehicle. The system alerts you to a potential crash. It also alerts you if you’re following a detected vehicle much too closely. (

Knowledge is key:

If you don’t have a copy of your owner’s manual, there are several ways to get one. If you purchased a GMC truck or Buick from us, ask our service department to order one for you. You can also download a PDF version of your owner’s manual online from If you have a vehicle from another manufacturer, visit their website for more information.

At Liberty Buick-GMC Trucks, we sell a variety of new and used vehicles from many manufacturers and our sales staff is happy to review the features of your new (or new to you) vehicle. We know technology is always changing as more safety and convenience features are being added for your safety and comfort, and our sales staff and service department are here to help!