With all its flashing lights, colours and symbols, the instrument cluster can be one of the most confusing parts of a car to the average driver. While most are familiar with common icons like the turn signal arrows or windshield defroster, there are a plethora of hidden indicators, some only making an appearance when there is a potential issue with the vehicle. Let’s go through a handful you may encounter from time-to-time.
Ah, the dreaded CEL. This little warning shaped like a little engine means the computer has detected an error with the car’s emission system. Before you visit the shop, check if the gas cap is loose (or hopefully not missing) and restart the motor after tightening to see whether it goes away. If the CEL is blinking, the problem is more serious and requires immediate attention.
Tire pressure monitor
The icon that looks like a horseshoe with teeth and an exclamation mark in the middle suggests the air pressure in one of your tires is significantly lower than recommended. Inspect the offending tire for any damage before refilling with air.
This symbol has two versions: one is a car with squiggly tire marks underneath and the other is the same with the word “off” underneath. It either means the traction control system, responsible for keeping your vehicle stable in slippery situations, is on or off.
Resembling a genie lamp with a droplet coming out the end, the oil pressure light is indicating the engine isn’t receiving a sufficient flow of oil. Take your car in for service as soon as possible.
A miniature battery indicator is signalling there is something amiss with the vehicle’s charging system. The issue could lie with the battery terminals, the alternator, or the health of the battery.
I wouldn’t blame you if you couldn’t figure this one out. Depicted as an exclamation inside a circle inside a partial circle, the brake warning could mean that the emergency or parking brake is on, or there is a general problem with the braking system like low fluid or worn pads. Drive with caution and then get it checked out.
A seat-belted individual underneath a big round ball is how the airbag indicator is recognized. This illuminates if one or more of the airbags in the vehicle is deactivated, either due to an operational issue or a malfunctioning control unit. Driving without working airbags is never a good idea — make an appointment with the service department to have it looked at.