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Vehicle Electronics and Dashboard Warning Lights

In recent years car electronics have become even more important to motor trade manufacturers and the role they play for drivers of new and used cars.

Research studies suggest that today, in 2020, 40% of the overall vehicle cost was attributed to the electronics of a new cars value, in the 1970’s the cost accounted for just 5%, and a decade ago, 35 per cent.

Dashboard lights

This ongoing financial increase is due to the age of the autonomous car, developing advanced driver assistance and infotainment systems.

By 2030, Deloitte projects that vehicle electronics could contribute to as much as 50 per cent of a new car’s value, with the author of the report saying: “Consumption of automotive electronic components for safety, infotainment, navigation and fuel efficiency will increase for years to come due to ever-more electronic components being applied in advanced safety features added to vehicles.”

With so many vehicle dashboard warning lights telling us different things, we look at what some of these lights mean. New and used cars are now filled with electronics and sensors monitoring how the vehicle is behaving, if one or more of these lights stay illuminated once the engine is running, there could be a problem.

Vehicle warning lights generally follow the traffic light system:

Green (or Blue) – Component is working correctly, or in use.

Yellow – Component may not be working correctly, seek advice.

Red – There is a problem with the component, stop driving, seek professional assistance from a motor trade expert.

Brakes

The brake system, parking brake or brake fluid warning light remains on after you fully release the parking brake, or comes on when driving, it may indicate that the brake fluid level is low.

It may be that you have left the handbrake engaged slightly while pulling away, check it is fully released. It could be a brake pad wear sensor is faulty, but there may also be a more serious issue with the braking system. You should not risk driving with your brake warning light on, the brakes are one of the most important safety features of your car.

Engine Management also known as the ECU

When the engine management light is illuminated it is often accompanied lack of power or stuttering as you accelerate. But this could indicate several faults, from minor issues to a large mechanical issue, so it is particularly important to get the vehicle checked over by a motor trade expert even if it feels completely normal to drive.

Engine Temperature also known as Coolant Temperature

If the engine is overheating, this could mean coolant (antifreeze) levels are running low, due to a leak or larger problem, like a head gasket. Coolant absorbs heat from the engine to prevent overheating, a yellow warning light will normally come on when coolant levels are running low.

If a red light appears you should stop the vehicle immediately to stop causing irreparable damage. Wait until the engine has cooled off before checking the gauge or to see if there are any obvious leaks. But do not take any risks if you are unsure of the problem, call for recovery if you have breakdown cover.

Engine Oil

An oil warning light is one of the most serious warning lights of all. The oil warning light illuminates when either the oil temperature gets too high or the pressure is too low. A leak, a faulty pump or too little (or too much) oil can cause damage to the engine.

Have a look for any obvious oil leaks under the car, and then check the oil levels, topping up if necessary. If the light remains on, there could be a much more serious issue that requires a garage to investigate. Garages will have a motor trade insurance policy in place so they can drive your vehicle if necessary.

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Power Steering also known as EPS or EPAS

This warning light indicates that there is a problem with the power steering, you may still be able to drive if the power steering system fails, but it will become more difficult to manoeuvre the vehicle and you could cause more damage to it. You will need to have it looked at by your local motor trade mechanic.

Airbag also known as the supplemental restraint system (SRS)

If this light turns red it means that the airbag safety system is not working correctly, so you will need to get this looked in to immediately as may not go off in a crash, or even deploy unexpectedly.

There are many more lights than listed here, the general rule if an orange or red warning light comes on while driving is to pull over when safe to do so and consult your vehicle handbook for advice before driving any further.

Unless of course it’s obviously not a serious problem, like windscreen wash or fuel for example, in which case the light should go back out once you’ve topped up at the next available opportunity.