Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Is That An Idiot Light On the Dash....Or Not?!

Every time you start your vehicle you see a bunch of lights that come on on the dash. Most of them go out after a few seconds, once the computers have done their initial scan of the systems, but what happens if a light stays on or a light comes on while you’re driving? Should you care, or are they just “idiot” lights?

I think that a lot of people like to ignore problems with their vehicle because they are either afraid they’ll get ripped off  if they take it to a shop, or they don’t want to think about how much it will cost to fix it. That being said, here are some lights that you SHOULD NOT ignore.

Red Oil Light: This light comes on when there is a problem with the oil pressure in the engine. Because the oil is like the blood of the vehicle, it’s important to keep it changed and full. If this light comes on while you are driving you should IMMEDIATELY pull over and turn the vehicle off. This light is the last warning before engine damage can happen, not the “you’ve got 50 miles before you need to get it looked at” light. If the oil is low, it’s possible that you could add oil and see if the light goes out. Most likely you’ll need a tow to a shop to see what the problem is.

Check Engine Light: This is a light that a lot of people ignore if the vehicle is driving okay. Unfortunately, this could make the problem worse and possibly cause an expensive repair down the line. The check engine light comes on when a sensor gives a bad reading. Sometimes the light can be on for something as simple as not tightening your gas cap, but other times it could be something more serious. There are many places now that will read this code for free. You can even purchase a code reader like the one from CarMD for about $100 to tell you the code. You can then look up this code to see what the possible problems are. You always want to make sure that you have a trained technician verify the problem before replacing parts.

Battery Light: The battery light comes on when there is a problem with the charging system of the vehicle. This could mean a problem with the battery, the alternator or the belt that drives it. Driving with the battery light on could cause the vehicle to just stop running. Many times a simple jump will not be the answer to fixing this problem so be aware they you may need to be towed to a shop for repairs. You should always have the battery and the alternator tested as one can cause damage to the other.

Coolant Light or Temperature Gauge: If this light comes on or the temperature gauge reads closer to the H than the C it means that you have an overheating problem. You should never let the gauge go into the red as this can cause engine damage. This is another light or indicator that tells you to pull the vehicle over and shut it off.  You should not drive the vehicle until it cools and coolant/antifreeze is added. Remember, you should never open the cap to add coolant/antifreeze while the engine is hot or you could suffer serious burns.

 These are just four of the lights you should watch and take action if they come on. Look in your owner's manual for more information and what other lights may indicate. Knowing when to stop driving before damaging your vehicle and preventing costly repairs will help you be an informed driver and keep you safe on the road. 

Remember, knowledge is power.....use it!


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