Key to vehicle dashboard warning lights

A few of the many different warning symbols that temporarily appear on your dashboard when you start your vehicle.

With all its flashing lights, colours and symbols, the instrument cluster can be one of the most confusing parts of a car to the average driver. While most are familiar with common icons like the turn signal arrows or windshield defrost, there are a plethora of hidden indicators, some that only make an appearance when there is a potential issue with the vehicle. Let’s go through a handful you may encounter from time-to-time.

Check engine

Ah, the dreaded CEL. This little warning shaped like a tiny engine means the computer has detected an error with the car’s emission system. Before you visit the shop, check if the gas cap is loose (or hopefully not missing) and restart the motor after tightening to see whether it goes away. If the CEL is blinking, the problem is more serious and requires immediate attention. 

Tire pressure monitor

The icon that looks like a horseshoe with teeth and an exclamation mark in the middle suggests the air pressure in one of your tires is significantly lower than recommended. Inspect the offending tire for any damage before refilling with air.

Traction control

This symbol has two versions: one is a car with squiggly tire marks underneath and the other is the same with the word “off” underneath. It either means the traction control system, responsible for keeping your vehicle stable in slippery situations, is on or off.

Oil pressure

Resembling a genie lamp with a droplet coming out the end, the oil pressure light is indicating the engine isn’t receiving a sufficient flow of oil. Take your car in for service as soon as possible.

Battery charge

A miniature battery indicator is signalling there is something amiss with the vehicle’s charging system. The issue could lie with the battery terminals, the alternator, or the health of the battery.


I wouldn’t blame you if you couldn’t figure this one out. Depicted as an exclamation inside a circle inside a partial circle, the brake warning could mean that the emergency or parking brake is on, or there is a general problem with the braking system like low fluid or worn pads. Drive with caution and then get it checked out.

Posted by Benjamin Yong

Benjamin Yong is a freelance journalist and communications professional living in Richmond, B.C. He is often found writing about cars and the auto industry, amongst other things, or driving around in his work-in-progress 1990 Mazda MX-5. Twitter: @b_yong Instagram: @popuplights