Those of you old enough to remember the kid’s afternoon show “Ultraman” remember the one part of the show which never changed… The warning light. When Ultraman’s warning light started blinking, it could only mean one thing – the show was about to end and he needed to wrap things up with whoever he was fighting. One light, one meaning. Very simple.
Not so with today’s cars and trucks. They have a host of gauges, displays, and warning lights to inform you of many things which could be problematic. Knowing what these lights mean, which lights demand priority, and which can wait until a more convenient time can mean the difference between waiting for the tow truck on the side of the road, and getting to a service station before things get out of hand.
Here are a few of the most common gauges and lights and what they mean for you.
- Temperature Gauge They almost all look the same – a gauge with a needle sweeping from cold to hot. Some of the newer models only use a warning light, but every vehicle will have one somewhere on the dashboard. Ideally, your car should warm up quickly, and then stay in the normal zone. When the coolant temperature starts to rise, serious engine damage can occur if not dealt with. Turning the cabin heat and fan up can often draw enough heat from the engine to allow you to continue to a safe spot. It could be as simple as a coolant leak in a hose, or a stuck thermostat, but observation is your best friend here. If your car normally operates just below the center line, but lately has been operating on the high side of normal, you may want to get it checked out. Overheating an engine and continuing to operate it while in an overheated state will almost always result in a very expensive engine repair.
- Check Engine Light These differ among manufacturers. Some will flash to indicate severity, some will come on and stay on. If you like gadgets, you can get a code reader from an auto parts store or even get an app for your smart phone. Don’t get your hopes up, though. There is a reason that almost all auto repair shops will give you a free reading. It’s because the reader will give you a general code in a general category. You won’t be able to walk into the dealer and tell them what to do to the auto. The important thing is to know that the check engine light can come on for many reasons, and it’s important that you get it checked out as soon as possible.
- Oil Pressure Contrary to what most people thing, the oil light doesn’t mean you’re a little low. It means that your car has little or no pressure and soon you’ll be damaging the engine. Get off the road as soon as it is safe to do so. Be sure to check your oil levels regularly, and always have a quart of your vehicle’s grade of oil in the trunk of your car in case you’re low. Then get to your auto repair shop right away.
- Voltage Gauge This gauge tells you how your electrical system is holding up. If you start losing power, turn off everything which is safe to turn off (radio, fans, phone chargers…)to conserve power. Then find an appropriate place before turning off your car. There is a good chance that you may not be able to get it going again once it is off.
- Safety Systems Things like “SRS” and “ABS” usually show up in the form of warning lights. Traction control lights fall into this category. While they usually don’t cause auto damage, you may have issues stopping in an emergency if your “ABS” light is on. “SRS” usually refers to the airbag system.
While most of these lights or gauges affect one system, often times a failure in one part can cause issues in another system. For example, your serpentine belt controls many of your electrical functions as well as your cooling system. Your water pump and your alternator both run off this belt. As always, simple observation is a key contributor to helping your car stay on the road. You don’t have to be an expert, but knowing how to read all it’s warning signs will help you keep safe and happy. The technicians at 5 Points know your vehicle and have the right tools and expertise to keep your car running smoothly.