Keep your eyes open

Your car's computer keeps a watch over its systems, and when something goes wrong, they warn you. We tell you what these lights mean.
Print Edition: August 2014
We tell you what these telltale lights on the instrument console mean
We tell you what these telltale lights on the instrument console mean

The relationship between the owner and a car is symbiotic. If you take proper care of the car, it will run smoothly.

The opposite is also true: treat it badly and you might be left stranded in the middle of nowhere. While you maybe able to spot some problems quite easily, there are certain things that you can't really spot while you are on the move or you may have forgotten about in the hurry to get going. So, even when you forget something, your car is always checking to ensure all systems are working properly. The moment a problem is detected, the car will warn you. Therefore, it's important you pay attention to the car's instrument console where the telltale lamps are located. Any problem, you can be sure your car will turn on one of the lamps to warn you.

We decode the messages from the telltale lamps so that the next time you see any of them glowing you know what the problem is and how to go about dealing with it.

Not only does this tell you to put on your seatbelt, it will also save you from being booked by the traffic police. The seatbelt sign comes on at start-up and remains on until your seatbelt is fastened. Nowadays, most cars even give an audible warning.

This light comes on the moment you start the car and should go off within a couple of seconds. If it doesn't, it could mean that the system might be faulty and the air bag might not deploy in case of an accident.

If this lamp comes on when you are on the move, stop immediately and wait for a few minutes after turning the engine off. Then check the engine oil level with the dipstick and also for leakage from the sump. If the level is low, top up immediately as running low on engine oil can be harmful for your car's engine. It leads to faster wear and tear, and in extreme cases, it can completely destroy the engine.

How often do you top up the windshield-wiper fluid in your car? Only when it totally runs out? Well, if your windshield washer fluid is running low, this light will start glowing on the instrument console. Try to ensure that you use washer fluid rather than plain water as it cleans the windshield thoroughly, besides preventing grime and dust from settling on the screen. A dirty windshield can be very dangerous for motorists, especially at night as it reduces visibility since dust and grime make the windshield hazy and leads to refraction of light.


This light, like the other telltale lamps, comes on at the time of ignition and should go out within a couple of seconds. However, if it comes on when the car is on the move then it's signalling that the engine management system has malfunctioned. Stop immediately the moment you see this light, switch off the engine and wait for a few moments before starting again. If the light continues to glow or blink, the best option is to call the assistance service and get the car inspected.


This lamp comes on at the start-up on any car which has an ABS system installed. If the light does not turn off after a few seconds or does not come on at all, then there is problem with the car's ABS systems. If the light comes on while you are on the move, it again indicates a problem, and though you will be able to apply the brakes, but it won't be as potent. Also, without the ABS systems working, your car might skid on wet roads.


If this light comes on while the vehicle is in motion, it signifies that the coolant temperature is either too high or the coolant level is low. Ninty degree celsius is the optimum coolant temperature. As soon as this light comes on, stop and let the car cool down to avoid problems caused due to overheating. Do not open the radiator cap immediately as it will be hot and may cause injury. Once the car has cooled down, top up to the recommended levels.

This lamp turns on when the fuel drops to reserve levels and is usually in the shape of a fuel pump. Cars come with a fuel gauge and the warning light only supplements it. Most cars can still go a long distance on reserve, but it's advisable to tank up as soon as possible to avoid running out of fuel without a pump in sight.


The handbrake warning light comes on whenever the handbrake is engaged. However, if the light pops up when the handbrake is not engaged then it means that brake fluid levels are too low. This could be the result of a leak in the brake lines or from being used up over a period of time. Get the fluid level checked and top up with the recommended brake oil as soon as possible as bad braking is a safety risk both for you and other motorists on the road.

Like the other telltale lamps, this one also comes on at the time of ignition and then goes off. However, if it turns on when you are on the move, then it is a warning that the alternator is not charging the battery. If this fault shows up, take your vehicle to the service station immediately and get the alternator checked. Also, avoid using any electrical equipment in the car like the air-conditioner as it will drain the battery.

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