A complete view of a car dashboard while a hand in holding the steering wheel.

Master Your Car’s Dashboard Indicators | Comprehensive Guide

Your car’s dashboard is a communication centre, giving you valuable insights into the health and functioning of your vehicle.

This guide aims to demystify the symbols and lights that might appear on your dashboard, specifically tailored for the Australian market.

A Brief Introduction to Your Car’s Dashboard

The dashboard is where your vehicle conveys essential information. From your speed to engine health, knowing how to read your dashboard is integral to safe and informed driving.

Essential Functions of a Car Dashboard

Car dashboards serve to provide real-time data about your vehicle. This can include vehicle speed, engine temperature, fuel level, and alerts about the vehicle’s performance or potential issues.

Typical Layout of Car Dashboards

While the layout of car dashboards can vary, there are certain common elements.

The speedometer is usually prominent, and other gauges such as the fuel level and engine temperature are also typically displayed. In addition, there will be various lights to signal different alerts.

Standard Dashboard Symbols and Their Meanings

Dashboard symbols are universal with slight variations among different car manufacturers. Understanding them is crucial for car maintenance and safety.

Some common symbols include a battery symbol for electrical system issues, an oil warning for low oil pressure, and a seatbelt symbol if seatbelts are not fastened.

Understanding Basic Car Dashboard Indicator Lights

Basic indicator lights are a significant component of your car’s self-diagnostic system. They come on when the system detects an issue or if a specific function is active.

Check Engine Light

The check engine light could indicate a variety of problems, from a loose fuel cap to a malfunctioning sensor.

If this light comes on, it’s best to have your vehicle checked by a professional as soon as possible to prevent any potential damage.

Brake Warning Light

If the brake warning light illuminates, it can mean that your handbrake is on, you’re low on brake fluid, or there is an issue with your braking system.

Don’t ignore this light; brakes are a critical safety feature of your vehicle.

Oil Warning Light

The oil warning light usually signifies low oil pressure. It’s crucial not to ignore this light as low oil pressure could lead to serious engine damage.

Check your oil level immediately and add more if necessary. If the light stays on, seek professional help.

Battery Alert Light

The battery alert light indicates that your car battery isn’t charging properly. This could be due to a faulty alternator, battery, or a bad connection.

If this light comes on while driving, it’s advisable to get it checked as soon as possible to avoid being stranded with a dead battery.

Coolant Temperature Warning

This light indicates that your engine’s coolant temperature is higher than it should be, which could lead to overheating.

If you see this light, it’s recommended to stop driving as soon as it’s safe and let the engine cool down before checking the coolant level.

Tyre Pressure Warning Light

If this light comes on, it suggests that one or more of your tyres may be underinflated.

Proper tyre pressure is important for optimal car handling, fuel efficiency, and tyre longevity, so be sure to check your tyre pressure and inflate them to the recommended PSI.

Seatbelt Warning Light

This light indicates that one or more seat belts are not fastened. For safety, always ensure that you and all your passengers are properly buckled up before you start driving.

Door Ajar Light

If the door ajar light illuminates, it means that one or more of your vehicle’s doors are not fully closed. Check all doors, including the boot, to ensure they’re secure.

Understanding Advanced Car Dashboard Indicator Lights

Advanced indicators offer deeper insight into your vehicle’s status, often related to more sophisticated technology.

Though not all cars will have these indicators, they’re common in newer or higher-end models.

Engine Temperature Indicator

This indicator informs you if the engine’s temperature is higher than optimal, which could lead to overheating.

If this light comes on, pull over safely and let the engine cool down before checking the coolant level.

ABS (Antilock Brake System) Indicator

If the ABS indicator illuminates, this signals a fault with the vehicle’s antilock braking system. The normal braking should still work, but the ABS might not prevent the wheels from locking up during braking.

Traction Control Light

The traction control light appears when your vehicle’s traction control system is in use or if there’s a fault with it. If the light stays on, it’s a sign that the system is off or that there’s a problem with it.

ESP (Electronic Stability Program) Fault Indicator

The ESP indicator comes on for a few seconds every time you start your car. But if it stays on, it indicates a problem with your vehicle’s electronic stability system.

This system helps you maintain control of your car when steering and braking, so it’s important to get this checked out if the light stays on.

DPF (Diesel Particulate Filter) Warning

This light appears when the diesel particulate filter is full and needs to be emptied. Driving at a consistent speed for a few minutes, such as on a motorway, can often help clear the filter.

If the light doesn’t go off, take your vehicle to a professional.

Airbag Warning

The airbag warning light indicates a problem with the airbag system. If this light stays on, your airbags may not deploy in a crash. It’s important to get this checked by a professional as soon as possible.

Power Steering Warning

This light indicates a problem with the power steering system. If this light illuminates, steering the vehicle may require more effort.

This can be a serious issue, especially at higher speeds, so have it checked out by a professional promptly.

ECO Mode Indicator

This light comes on when your vehicle is in ECO mode, meaning it’s running in a fuel-efficient manner.

This might involve changes to the vehicle’s performance, like reduced acceleration or changes to the air conditioning system.

Understanding Car Dashboard Gauges

Dashboard gauges display ongoing statuses, such as your speed, engine RPMs, or fuel level. They’re constantly active and can give you a general idea of how your vehicle is performing.


The speedometer displays the speed of the vehicle. In Australia, speedometers display kilometres per hour (km/h), and adhering to the speed limit is crucial for road safety.


A tachometer shows the engine’s RPM (Revolutions Per Minute). It can help you determine the right time to shift gears in a manual vehicle and prevent over-revving the engine.

Fuel Gauge

The fuel gauge shows the amount of fuel remaining in the tank. It’s important to keep an eye on this gauge to avoid running out of fuel. When the gauge nears the ‘E’ mark, it’s time to refuel your vehicle.

Temperature Gauge

The temperature gauge indicates the temperature of your vehicle’s coolant. If it gets too high, it could mean your car is overheating.

If this happens, you should stop safely, turn off the engine, and allow it to cool down.

Oil Pressure Gauge

This gauge shows the pressure of the engine oil. If the oil pressure gets too low, it could cause significant engine damage.

If the oil pressure warning light comes on or the gauge drops significantly, stop the car and check the oil level as soon as it’s safe to do so.

Specific Dashboard Indicators for Electric and Hybrid Vehicles

Electric and hybrid vehicles have specific indicators related to their unique systems, such as battery status and charging indicators.

Charging Status Indicator

This indicator informs the driver about the charging status of the vehicle’s batteries. It helps you keep track of your battery charge and lets you know when it’s time to recharge.

Battery Health Indicator

This indicator gives information about the overall health of the vehicle’s battery pack.

If the indicator suggests there’s a problem, it’s recommended to take the vehicle to a service station for battery inspection or replacement.

Energy Consumption Gauge

Common in electric and hybrid vehicles, this gauge shows the rate at which the car is using energy.

Lower energy use often translates to better fuel efficiency (in hybrids) or longer battery life (in electric vehicles).

Common Dashboard Warning Colours and Their Meaning

Dashboard lights utilise different colours to indicate the severity or type of issue.

For example, red often signifies an urgent warning, while yellow or amber typically suggests caution or informs of non-critical service needs.

Green or blue lights generally indicate that a specific system is in operation.

What To Do When a Dashboard Indicator Light Comes On

When an indicator light comes on, it’s important to understand what the symbol represents and how urgent the issue might be.

Some lights indicate that immediate attention is required, while others can be addressed at your earliest convenience.

Initial Steps to Take

For most warning lights, your first step should be to check your vehicle’s user manual. It should provide detailed information about the indicator light and recommended actions.

If the problem persists, it’s a good idea to consult with a professional.

When to Consult a Professional

Any warning lights related to your vehicle’s brakes, engine, or airbags should be addressed by a professional immediately.

Ignoring these lights can lead to serious vehicle damage and can also pose a risk to your safety.

FAQs: Your Car Dashboard Indicators

Despite the prevalence of symbols, many drivers still have questions about what specific dashboard indicators mean and what to do when they light up.

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions.

What Does It Mean If an Indicator Light Stays on?

If an indicator light stays on, it usually signifies an issue that needs your attention. It could be something minor like a door left ajar, or it could be a warning about a serious issue like low oil pressure.

It’s important to identify what the specific light means and address the issue promptly.

Can I Continue Driving If a Warning Light Comes On?

This largely depends on the specific warning light. For some, like the seatbelt warning, you can fasten your seatbelt and continue driving.

For others, like oil pressure or engine temperature warning, you should stop driving as soon as it’s safe to do so and address the problem. Always refer to your vehicle’s manual for specific information.

What Should I Do If I Don’t Recognise an Indicator Light?

If you don’t recognise an indicator light, refer to your vehicle’s manual. It should provide information about each light and what it signifies.

If you can’t find the information or the issue persists, consult a professional.

What’s the Difference Between Red and Yellow Indicator Lights?

Red and yellow lights serve different purposes. Generally, a red light indicates a serious issue that needs immediate attention.

A yellow or amber light signifies that there’s a problem that should be addressed, but it’s not as urgent as a red light.

However, you should still address yellow warnings as soon as it’s convenient to prevent further vehicle damage.


Understanding your car’s dashboard indicators is an essential part of being a responsible driver.

By familiarising yourself with these symbols and knowing what to do when they appear, you can help ensure the longevity of your vehicle and your safety on the road.