How’s your genie lamp? (Or what ARE those lights on my dashboard?)

Ok, we’re not going to go through all of them (and there are a lot.  One guide lists 44 lights/warnings for new model cars.).  But here are the ones that might be most important (and what to do if one of these lights, lights up on you):

Low tire pressure warning light:  This doesn’t mean you need to top off the air pressure with a quick squirt from the air hose at the gas station.  This means there’s a hole and a leak in a tire – so you want to look at your tires ASAP.

This is particularly important if you have “run-flat” tires, because when you’re driving on those, you may not be able to tell you’ve got a flat.  Run-flats have stiff sidewalls that will you let you drive, for a time, on a tire without air.  But check your car’s manual for how fast and for how long you can drive safely (because too far and too fast means a blowout). (Note:  If your ride is older than 2008, it may not have this light.)

Low battery warning light:  Conveniently, this looks like a battery; well, a car battery.

This is your heads-up to change course and drive to your mechanic.  (And while you’re driving there, it’s a good idea to leave the stereo, the AC or the heater, whatever you can safely leave off, off – because they all draw electricity.)

The problem could be the battery itself, or the charging system (the alternator, and company).  But if you don’t get it checked straightaway, when you park and turn off the engine – that might be the last time you can start it without a call to AAA.

Brake warning light:  Take that one seriously, because without brake fluid, you’re without brakes, period.  Now, the brake light can mean a leak, it can just mean the car is low on brake fluid, or it can mean other problems with the brakes – so you want a knowledgeable eye to figure out what’s going on.Just in case though, one thing YOU can do is check your emergency brake.  If you’re driving with that on, you’ll get a light as well.

The genie lamp, aka the oil pressure light (see the little drip):  Like the brake warning, this can signal a leak, oil in this case.  Oil keeps the moving parts of your engine moving smoothly and cool-ly – so don’t fool around with this.  When you’ve stopped, and the engine is cool, you can check the oil yourself, and add some if needed (your car’s manual will tell you how). But if that isn’t the answer, then a trip to your mechanic probably is (the problem could be a leak, the oil pump, even something with the engine itself).

Temperature warning light:  Just like us, if your car is running a fever, it’s a sign something is wrong.  And like us, there are a lot of reasons your car might be overheating (among them, coolant leak, broken water pump, failed thermostat). Don’t, as in do not, drive the car when the temperature is all the way over in the red – that can result in serious (and expensive) engine damage. And do not, as in never, open the radiator to check the coolant level if the car is hot – that can result in serious burns.  Do get the car checked out though, as soon as it is cool enough to drive. (And one weird tip, if your car is just starting to overheat on a hot day, turn off the AC and turn ON your heater.  Weird?  Yes.  But what it does is blow some of that heat away from the engine, though.

And here’s your bonus light, the engine warning light:  You could spend all day on the internet, looking this up – and at the end of that day, you’d have almost as many explanations as you’d looked at pages. The short explanation is that usually, you can drive the car with the light on – but you shouldn’t drive it for weeks and weeks like that.  So yes, a trip to the mechanic – but not an urgent trip like the other lights.  (Most often this light signals a problem with your car’s emissions system, so we will breathe easier along with you, if you get this checked out and cleared up.)

Click here to read more about what’s new, what’s next and what it means for you.

Explore Stories
Imagine: Lighter Cars
Imagine: Lighter Cars
Gas Prices 101 August 16, 2018
Look! Up in the Sky! It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s a – blimp? August 8, 2018
Reinventing the wheel August 2, 2018