This Is What The Lights On Your Car Dashboard Mean – And How To Ensure Your Car Battery Never Dies Again
Those dashboard lights aren’t for decoration – they serve an important purpose and tell you when all is not well with your car. Here’s what the important ones mean.

May 15, 2018

Emergency triangle on the road. Stopped car

In a study of 2 000 people, 9 out 10 people had a warning light pop up on their dashboard that they could not identify. 27% said they couldn’t identify the ‘check engine sign’. In short, most people drive around not actually knowing when their car might be a danger to themselves or others on the road. That’s not very promising.

Related: 6 Motor Skills To Make You A Better Driver

Ever climbed into  your car when you’re in a rush, put the key in the ignition and… nothing. Your battery is dead. It always happens at the most inconvenient of times. But if you better understood the warning signs and knew how to look after your battery, and prolong its life, you would never have to deal with that.

That’s where we come in. We’re here to give you the full breakdown so you don’t breakdown.


The engine’s coolant isn’t doing its job or has leaked out. If you don’t act fast, your car will overheat. And let’s be clear, you don’t want your car overheating.

Your Move: Stop the car and let it rest for an hour. To speed the healing process, fill the water tank with cold water. But watch out: the engine may already have been affected, so you’ll need to have it checked by a mechanic.


The oil pressure is too low and you’re running dry somewhere.

Your Move: “If you ignore this signal, you run the risk of engine failure,” says Derek Hall-Jones, divisional manager for road services and technical at the AA. Stop as soon as possible or drive carefully to the nearest petrol station. Check the oil level and top up if necessary. There may already be damage, so if the dipstick comes up dry, rather have it towed to a mechanic.

Related: How To Save Your Body On A Long Drive This Holiday


’Tis but a scratch: your car’s brake pads are worn.

Your Move: Replace those pads as soon as possible. “If you’re on a maintenance plan, check your service book to see when last they were replaced,” says Hall- Jones. “If there are grooves carved into the rotors, they’re long done, but it’s best to have a pro check it out.” Also, check whether your brakes are losing their effectiveness. This could be a sign that you’re using the rotors to slow down… and replacing those is an expensive exercise.

Internal Bleeding

You have an emergency on your hands: your car is losing brake fluid while driving or your pads are worn to nothing.

Your Move: Stop! You’ll have to get towed, because you can’t drive without functioning brakes. (But before you panic: this light also comes on when you’ve engaged the handbrake. Check that before you call roadside assistance and make an idiot of yourself.)

Related: Train Like A Race Car Driver

The Runs

This light usually flashes after one of the wheels has lost traction (so don’t be alarmed if it flashes after an aggressive pull-away), when the electronic stability programme kicks in.

Your Move: Nothing’s broke, so carry on – but carry on slowly, so that you don’t skid off the road. Seriously, we know you’re loud and proud. But rather just pull-off at a reasonable speed.


The battery light is an indication that there is a battery charging problem. If the battery light comes on whilst you’re driving, the most common problem is a broken alternator belt.

Your Move: Your car can still run when the light is on because it can use energy that is stored in the battery. If it comes on whilst you are driving, drive to the nearest garage (it won’t damage anything). But you want to get to the garage before your battery dies, because at that point, nothing will work.

Your real move when it comes to your battery however? Prevention and protection. According to SA’s most trusted battery specialist, Battery Centre, whilst some batteries do fail prematurely, a lot of people simply neglect their car batteries which causes a major decrease in their battery’s lifespan.

Related: Should Your Next Car Be a SUV?

Guilty? Us too. But luckily the guys at Battery Centre have let us in on some industry secrets for ensuring the health and longevity of your battery:


  1. Subject your battery to high or low temperature cycling. Keep your battery at a near constant temperature
  2. Buy refill battery water from unreliable places. Only buy from reliable auto shops and ensure the container is sealed.
  3. Buy refill battery water in large amounts or store it indefinitely as it ages and gets contaminated with chlorides, which poison the electrolyte. Only buy it in small amount, okay?


  1. Give regular attention to your battery’s health.
  2. Keep the battery lid and terminals clean.
  3. Get your battery serviced by certified battery specialists. They will check the electrolyte levels and top it up with the right battery water. They can also advise you on how best to treat battery terminal corrosion.

With a little love, attention and advice from battery experts you can actually extend the life of your battery.