This article originally appeared in Issue 6Â of our...
We've all heard stories of less-than-reputable mechanics scamming clueless customers with stories of blinker fluid and muffler bearings. Of course, we all think, “that would never happen to me!”—but how knowledgeable about automotive troubleshooting are you really? If a light on your dashboard comes on, will you be able to correctly identify its meaning without digging for the owner's manual?
This question becomes especially important if you find yourself in a survival situation. Let's say you're caught in the early stages of a hurricane, and you load up your car with your belongings and hit the road to evacuate. If a light on the dashboard comes on unexpectedly, you'd better know whether it's a friendly reminder (e.g. replace your windshield washer fluid) or an urgent warning (e.g. low oil pressure or a punctured tire).
The following infographic shows 64 of the most common vehicle warning lights, and can help you quickly identify a problem without relying on an owner's manual or Internet search.
Even if you know these symbols in your own car, you may find yourself driving a friend's vehicle which uses new or different symbols, so it's wise to study the entire list. For example, glow plug and DEF lights won't show up in gas-powered vehicles, but they're important in diesel cars and trucks. Most cars won't have even half these lights on the dashboard, but if you're behind the wheel of a European luxury car, you may end up with a cryptic warning about magnetorheological shock absorber failure (yes, that's a real car part).
It's also important to remember that these lights are not standardized from one vehicle to the next, so you may encounter symbols that vary from those pictured here. However, this guide should at least give you a solid head start towards understanding vehicle warning lights.
For more learning materials on the subject of dashboard lights, check out this interactive warning light guide from Autozone, or this article from AutoGuide.