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When that little light comes on in our cars, we all tend to panic a little bit. After all, the lights are typically not the most descriptive. They usually just say, ‘Check Engine’ or ‘Check Brakes” which is both vague and ominous. Am I okay to keep driving the car? What exactly is the problem? How much is this going to cost me? All of these questions are likely to pop into your head when you notice a new light blinking on the dashboard of your car. Well, we want to give you a few tips on how to deal with those mini-panic moments, as well as some more information on exactly what that little light may mean.

The first thing to note is that the warning lights that are on the dashboard will vary from vehicle make and model, so the best way to know for sure what is going on is to consult the manufacturer’s owner’s manual. But, it is likely that the manual will give you a pretty brief description and then refer you to speak to an auto technician at your local auto shop. This is definitely good advice. Depending on the situation, the same check engine light could mean an issue that could cause serious safety issues and potentially long-term damage to your car, so getting it all checked out at the auto shop as soon as possible is a good idea.

Your warning lights aren't always too descriptive. Best to get the problem checked out by an auto technician. (photo by OliBac via Flickr)
Your warning lights aren't always too descriptive. Best to get the problem checked out by an auto technician. (photo by OliBac via Flickr)

Let’s go over some of the most common warning lights and what they typically indicate. Perhaps the most common warning light will be notifying the driver of an issue with the engine. Typically the light will say ‘Check Engine’ or ‘Service Engine Soon’ and sometimes it will just be a picture of an engine itself. Unfortunately, this is not very specific. More detailed information about the fault is available from the car’s computer (which detected the issue and lit the indicator), but it requires an auto technician to hook up a computer to the engine in order to get the more detailed error code. Luckily, any auto shop or dealership can help you with this. If you get an engine warning light that is permanently lit, it is thus wise to at least get it diagnosed by your local auto shop as soon as possible. If the light comes on only intermittently for a short period of time, the situation is probably not as urgent, but it is still a good idea to get it checked out.

Other common warning lights are the brake warning light and the engine temperature warning indicator. The brake light may just indicate that you forgot to release your parking brake, but if it comes on when you are breaking it may instead indicate a loss of pressure or issue with your brake fluid and it is advisable to take your car into an auto shop to have a technician take a look. As for the engine temperature warning light, you should definitely pull over and let the car cool down to avoid long-term engine damage. Then get to the local auto shop as quickly as possible, afterwards. You may just need a fluid top-off, but the problem could also be more severe.

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