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The Meanings Behind 15 Symbols On Your Car’s Dashboard

Closeup of Dashboard Instruments


When something goes wrong with your car or if a feature you should know about gets activated, a signal funnels through the electrical system and into the dashboard. This illuminates a hieroglyphic, and these cover a wide range of issues—some of which may be serious. Here are the meanings behind 15 of these curious-looking markers (and what they look like, in case you need a mnemonic device to help your memory).

Your dashboard may be different and the symbols may have altered designs or indicate slightly different things, so be sure to consult your owner’s manual. Some of these lights could portend a serious malfunction. Don’t ignore them. When in doubt, have a professional check it out.

1. Engine Temperature Warning Light


What it looks like: A pirate ship with its sails down as if to say, “I’m just a normal boat, no pirates here.”

What it means: Your engine is too hot, friend. Here is a useful guide for what to do if your engine overheats.

2. Tire Pressure Warning Light

What it looks like: A Buckingham Palace guard telling you the field goal is GOOD!

What it means: The pressure in one or more of your tires is too low and needs to be attended to.

3. Oil Pressure Warning

What it looks like: You’re about to get three wishes.

What it means: Your engine is running low on oil, or there is a problem with your car’s oil pressure system.


4. Traction Control

What it looks like: Cthulhu wearing a fedora.

What it means: The car’s traction control system is engaged.

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5. Engine Warning

What it looks like: Yellow submarine, a yellow submarine, a yellow submarine.

What it means: It can blink on for a number of reasons.


6. Antilock Brake Warning

What it looks like: The cover of a fitness magazine.

What it means: There is an issue with your anti-lock brake system that needs to be diagnosed and fixed.

7. Automatic Shift Lock or Engine Start Indicator

What it looks like: The bat signal, if Bruce Wayne had been traumatized in a shoe closet instead of a bat cave as a child.

What it means: You need to engage the brake, either to start your car’s ignition or to get it out of neutral.

8. Battery Alert

What it looks like: Math lego.

What it means: The car’s charging system is short of power. You are running solely on battery.

9. Fuel Indicator Symbol

What it looks like: A snake-infested ATM.

What it means: You are running low on fuel. Fun fact: The symbol on the fuel gauge also has an arrow next to it—this indicates which side of the car has the gas cap. No more gas station three-point turns in rental cars ever again.

10. Seatbelt Reminder Light

What it looks like: James Carville wearing a bandolier.

What it means: Buckle your seatbelt, please.

11. Airbag Indicator

What it looks like: A man wearing a tie, shaking his fist at you as he falls down. Why did you push him?

What it means: There may be an issue with one or more of your car’s airbags, or the airbag system in general.

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12. Fog Lamp Indicator

What it looks like: A jellyfish leaping through a waterfall.

What it means: Your fog lights are on.

13. Security Light

What it looks like: They put a boot on your car and your car is also covered in icicles. This has been the worst winter ever.

What it means: You may need a key with the proper transponder in order to trigger the ignition. Or, there is something else wrong with your car’s anti-theft system.

14. Traction Control Malfunction

What it looks like: Pyramid on the dollar bill…or is that what the Illuminati wants you to think it looks like???????????

What it means: There is an issue with your anti-skid system, and it may be shut off completely.

15. Washer Fluid Indicator

What it looks like: A conductor’s point of view, tapping her music stand and preparing to lead an orchestra consisting of two candy canes that are stuck together.

What it means: The washer fluid level is low. Please fill that up when you get a chance.

All images courtesy iStock.


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