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Red light spells danger: guide to the most common red warning lights

Written by James Mills

Red light spells danger: guide to the most common red warning lights

A friend recently asked for car-buying advice. Her old car had died at the roadside. It turned out a red oil warning light had flashed up on the dashboard. Not knowing what it meant and with the car running fine, she’d ignored it. A handful of miles later, oil pump failure saw the engine shuddering to a halt, never to run again.

 

It’s a lesson for all drivers: if a car’s red warning light comes on, there’s a serious problem that requires immediate attention. Thinking that you’ll take care of it when you reach your destination could have dire consequences.

Even so, a survey of more than 2000 drivers, carried out by Britannia Rescue, showed that nearly half of drivers can’t identify the most common warning lights. To help car owners know what they’re dealing with, here is what the most frequently-seen red warning lights mean.

 

Red dashboard warning lights

 

Airbag warning light

 

 

Millions of vehicles have been recalled by car manufacturers because of faulty airbags. Given that it’s been proved airbags significantly reduce the risk of death in an accident, drivers should never ignore an airbag warning light. There is a risk that it may not work in a crash. Worse still, it may deploy unintentionally. Have the fault checked as soon as possible.

 

Battery warning light

 

 

When something’s up with your battery and its associated components, there’s the potential for your car to grind to a halt and leave you stranded. It could leave the car without any electrical power and that means no headlights, brake lights, or hazard warning lights. At the same time if a drive belt is broken, preventing the alternator (which charges the battery) from working, other systems such as the engine’s water pump, could pack up. Don’t ignore this warning light.

 

Brake system warning light

 

 

Imagine pressing the brake pedal, only to find that it sinks to the floor and the car barely slows. If your car is losing brake fluid, which is used to operate the braking components, such a chilling scenario could happen. Alternatively, your brake pads may be worn through, reducing their effectiveness and damaging costly parts like the brake discs. Act promptly and seek professional advice.

 

Engine coolant warning light

 

 

To prevent it from overheating, an engine uses a cooling system which circulates special liquid around internal areas. That liquid is cooled in the radiator. If you lose coolant fluid because of a leak, the engine could overheat and seize. Don’t ignore these warnings.

 

Engine oil warning light

 

 

When this light illuminates on a car’s dashboard, it could mean the oil level is low and needs topping up. Or it may be warning that the oil pump has stopped working. This will cause catastrophic damage to the engine as you’ll have metal parts grinding against metal and they’ll eventually seize. Stop and have it checked out immediately.

 

Power steering warning light

 

 

Power steering is one of those inventions that’s hard to appreciate until you try to drive a car without it. Most drivers simply wouldn’t be able to manhandle the steering, as it would be unbearably heavy without the assistance of this system. The good news is this is easily repaired and won’t cause widespread damage – assuming you get things seen to before a total system failure.

honeycomb

Written by James Mills

Read more from James Mills

James Mills is a former editor of BBC Top Gear and Auto Express magazines. He now contributes to The Sunday Times Driving. His favourite car is the Caterham Seven.

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