What’s Up with All the Warning Lights?

By Jim Taddei - December 20th 2011

Do our cars have too many warning lights? A lot of us may think so, but for years, warning lights were the best way vehicle designers had to inform the driver of a potential fault.

Most of the time, yellow lights are cautionary and should be attended to sooner than later, while red warning lights usually indicate faults where immediate attention is necessary. Many drivers treat all warning lights the same—they either respond to all lights with a sense of urgency, or ignore the lights and continue to drive until a part or system fails completely.

Over the last few years, even vehicle designers have realized that the number of warning lights on dash boards has become extreme. To combat this problem, text displays began appearing on the luxury vehicles and have now made their into most vehicles. The advantage to these text messages is that they offer better communication so the driver knows exactly what is wrong and how soon it needs to be addressed.

On most vehicles nowadays, these text messages are used to supplement the traditional warning lights, which continue to have their place, but are often used for the vehicle’s critical systems. By using a combination of warning lights and text messages, designers are hoping more drivers will be able to make sense of what the warning light and/or text message is telling them and respond properly.

No mater how a vehicle displays its warning information, it is up to the driver to determine the severity of the message or warning light displayed. The definitions for all of a vehicle’s warning messaging are found in the owners manual. If you read no other part of your owners manual, you should at least look at the section on warning lights and messaging. While some warning indicators have become very similar across vehicle makes and models, most are still very model specific. If a light or message displays that you are not familiar with, don’t ignore it—consult your owners manual as soon a possible to determine its exact meaning and what you should about it.

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