6 car warning lights you should never ignore

If you’ve driven a vehicle for any length of time, then you’ve probably seen — and probably ignored — a few warning lights in your time.

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As today’s vehicles have become more sophisticated and dependent on technology, the number of warning lights has multiplied, and they have become far more sensitive to the inner workings of your car.

If you’ve driven a vehicle for any length of time, then you’ve probably seen — and probably ignored — a few warning lights in your time.

A recent study by CarMD showed that over 50 per cent of people driving with the check-engine light on have driven like that for more than three months.

I’ve heard horror stories where drivers have failed to heed critical warning lights, hoping that a problem would magically go away. Their naiveté inevitably led to major engine failures and costly repairs.

Almost every day, service departments at new car dealerships run diagnostic tests and perform repairs on vehicles, where warning lights have alerted drivers about a potential problem.

Dashboard warning lights are designed to detect signs of engine failure or mechanical/operational malfunction. If it’s a critical warning light, the issue should be addressed immediately.

In some cases, this means pulling the car over and having it towed to a repair facility. Sometimes a self-diagnosis can identify the problem. In my experience, it’s always better to err on the side of caution than to pretend a problem doesn’t exist.

Ignoring a critical warning light not only jeopardizes the safe operation of your vehicle, it could compromise your manufacturer’s warranty coverage as well.

Here are some common critical warning lights that are installed on modern passenger vehicles and light duty trucks:

Oil Pressure Light. This light refers to possible low oil levels, a worn or broken oil pump or excessive main bearing wear. Ignoring it could result in a seized engine or major engine damage.

Brake Warning Light. This could refer to driving with the handbrake engaged, low brake fluid level or worn out brake pads. Brakes are the most important part of your vehicle; they affect the safety of the driver and all occupants. Don’t ignore this light!

Air Bag SRS. If this warning light comes on, your air bag is not going to inflate on impact, which could jeopardize your safety. Malfunction is usually caused by a crash sensor fault, bad electrical connection or air bag module malfunction.

Engine Temperature Light. This means the coolant level is low, the cooling fan isn’t working or the thermostat is failing to open. If this light flashes on, stop driving immediately, turn off the engine, and seek mechanical assistance. Driving while the temperature light is on can do serious and expensive engine damage.

Battery Charging System Warning Light. This usually refers to an alternator failure, loose or torn alternator belt, faulty battery or a broken wire. The light indicates a problem with the charging system; get it repaired at your earliest convenience.

Tire Pressure Warning Light. This light could be triggered by a flat tire, low tire pressure, tire pressure light not reset or bad air pressure sensor. Excessively worn tires or insufficient tire pressure not only affects fuel economy, it poses a risk.

Some warning lights are less critical than others, such as Service Engine Soon, Seatbelt Warning Light, Low Fuel, Door Ajar, Over Drive Off and Service Reminder.

Whether you own or lease a vehicle, warning lights (critical or not) should never be taken lightly. In some cases, a flashing light represents nothing more than a loose connection, or an on-board computer module that has to be reset, which is a quick and inexpensive procedure.

For more information about warning lights, consult your owner’s manual or contact a service advisor at your local new car dealership.

This column represents the view of TADA. Email or visit Sandy Liguori, president of the Toronto Automobile Dealers Association, is a new car dealer in the GTA.

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