Q. My college-age twins are heading off to college, and I am worried they might not recognize the warning lights on the dashboard or worse yet, just ignore them. Can you give me a crash course in how to educate them about dashboard lights?
A. Remember flash cards? Many of us learned our three Rs—Reading, ’Riting and ’Rithmetic—using them.
When it comes to that Libertyville or Mundelein college-age driver heading to school, you might want to add a fourth “R”—Riding—to the list, because that “flash” is more likely to be a dashboard light illuminating vs. card stock being held up.
When a dashboard light comes on, your young motorists need to know how critical a particular warning light is and whether they need to:
- Pull over ASAP.
- Keep driving but head directly to an auto repair shop.
- Keep driving and schedule an appointment for service at their earliest opportunity.
All those green, orange, blue or red illuminated symbols might seem like ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics to your college drivers, so we’ve prepared a mini Rosetta Stone-like guide to help prepare even the most disinterested driver with some behind-the-wheel know-how.
You’ve been warned
Be aware a light might function differently depending on the situation. For example, a flashing check engine light is a sure-fire signal to get that car into a service facility immediately. However, a constantly illuminated check engine light will buy you more time until you can make an appointment with Auto Lab.
When these lights come on, you should pull over safely ASAP:
- Engine Temperature/Coolant Light (A hot set of wheels is a cool thing; an overheated engine is not.)
- Oil Pressure (This is a potentially engine-frying hazard.)
- Powertrain Malfunction (Something might be amiss with your transmission. Indicates either a malfunction or a high transmission temperature.)
When these lights come on, you should head directly to an auto repair shop:
- Battery or Alternator (A power outage can be enraging, and your car may not restart if you pull over and turn the engine off.)
- Flashing Check Engine Light (This is more critical than the Check Engine Light staying on steady.)
- If a combination of warning lights are displayed or if your dashboard lights up like a holiday tree.
When these lights come on, you should schedule an appointment at your earliest convenience:
- Brake Light (Stopping when you want to is such a great feeling.)
- Tire Pressure Monitor (Underinflated tires not only compromise safety, they slurp gas.)
- Parking Brake (A constantly illuminated one of these could mean more than just an engaged parking brake.)
- Airbag (Only a crash test dummy would risk faulty airbags.)
- Traction Control
- Bulb Failure (There’s a reason the roads suddenly seem darker at night.)
- Tire Rotation (Passed your 7,000-mile mark?)
It’s also a good idea for young drivers to review non-warning dashboard lights, such as those indicating whether high beams (often blue), fog lights (many times green) or blinking hazard lights are engaged or if the cruise control is on or if the doors, hood or trunk are open. Ditto for traction control and four-wheel drive indicators.
Study the owner’s manual
Don’t fret if you don’t know what every dashboard light symbol means. Today’s cars have so many different warning lights that it’s almost impossible to know what these all mean. Encourage your young drivers to know the important indicator lights, and for the rest, they should look them up. The best place to look for a symbol is the owner’s manual which always should be kept in the car, not at home.
Before your student heads off to school, stop in for a complete auto repair checkup at Auto Lab.