10 Dashboard Symbols Likely to Confuse Any Driver
Today’s modern vehicle will speak to you in ways that yesterday’s car wouldn’t. With all the new technology inside of them, they’re getting more expressive than ever. And when something goes wrong, they let you know well before you breakdown. The language of cars – “dashboardese” – is a series of bright, blinking and colourful symbols that serve as indicators and warnings. However, modern dashboard symbols are getting harder to decipher, and they can lead to worry or panic when they suddenly light up. If you’ve lost your owner’s manual or for some reason don’t have time to read it, here are a few “translations” for the confusing symbols that may appear on the dashboard.
1. Brake fluid low
When you see what looks like the front profile of Pac-Man sobbing between trapped brackets, that means your brake fluid levels are getting low. Pay close attention to the feel of the brakes. If it feels spongy or mushy when you push down on them, it’s a sure sign that a fluid change is necessary. You can change them yourself if you have experience doing so, but it’s always better to take it to your mechanic.
2. Brake light failure
What’s this? It looks like it can pass off as a symbol for a frat house in some ivy-league university. It’s actually a sign to warn you about brake light failure. Don’t waste time if you see it. Driving with broken brake lights are dangerous for the mere fact that a driver who’s tailing you may not notice that you’re braking until it’s too late. Ideally, a certified mechanic is the right person to rely on for brake light repair.
3. Catalytic converter warning
Upon first glance, you might think of this as a symbol that belongs in a restaurant kitchen. It looks like a grill with steam rising from the top. However, this indicates a catalytic converter warning. It’s one of the few dashboard symbols that deal with this part. Essentially, what you’re dealing with here is likely to be a damaged or overheated catalytic converter that needs immediate attention. Head right over to the repair shop if you see it.
4. Dirty air filter
It’s hard to describe exactly what this looks like. We’d say it’s a diagram for a missile launcher spraying rockets in the wrong directions. But the real meaning behind this symbol is that you have a dirty air filter. Fixing a clogged air filter is quick, easy and often overlooked. However, getting a dirty filter replaced for a cleaner filter improves fuel efficiency and engine performance.
5. Fog lamp indicators (front, rear)
These mirroring symbols look like a pair of eyes with matching tribal tattoos. But they’re really your fog lamp indicators, both front and rear. Which is which? The symbol with the squiggly lines before the D-shaped icon represents your front fog lights. The symbol with the D-shaped icon before the squiggly lines represents your rear fog lights. There’s nothing to worry about here since they illuminate simply to let you know that they’re on.
6. Security light
This is one of the few dashboard symbols that aren’t so obscure. Of course there is some trickery here since the key is supposed to be a clever visual pun that replaces the bottom half and rear wheel of a car. The icon in play here is your security light. If it flashes, that could mean you need a key with a proper transponder to switch on the ignition, or it may indicate a problem with your anti-theft system. In most cases, you’ll have to visit your dealer to have the issue fixed.
7. Tow hitch warning
Separate the symbols and they are clear as water. You’ve got an open lock and a hitch. Put together, they just look like two random objects sitting in the lost and found. However, this is a tow hitch warning light, and it’s actually very important. This icon lets you know that the towing hitch is incorrectly engaged – either because it’s extended or retracted – and needs adjusting. To make that light disappear, you’ll have to adjust the hitch so that it is in the right position.
8. Tire pressure warning
This icon can come across as a beaker with a grooved bottom and an exclamation mark plastered on it. But what it’s really telling you is that you have an issue with tire pressure. Generally, this light comes on when the pressure falls below an acceptable level (although it comes on in some vehicles when the pressure is too high as well). A simple fix is to measure the pressure with a gauge, either at home or at a gas station, and of course, inflate or deflate the tire as needed.
9. Traction control malfunction
This symbol is a strange collection of icons like the tow hitch warning mentioned above. It’s a weird blend of a webpage refresh icon and attention sign – a perfect symbol for traction control malfunction (maybe not). When this icon flashes, it is telling you that your anti-skid system isn’t working properly, and to turn it off completely. That’s not good in wet or icy conditions. If the problem is persistent, you’ll have to take your car into the dealership or mechanic for inspection.
10. Windshield washer fluid low
Finally, we have this image – two candy canes conjoined in reversed-fashion, sinking into a rounded trapezoid with a needle sticking through it. It’s a complicated mess for a very common and simple fix – a low level of windshield washer fluid. Fortunately, it’s probably the easiest thing to fix on the list. When you have a moment, fill up your washer fluid.
The Alphabet of Dashboard Symbols
Hopefully, you wont shift in a Type-A state of mind when warning light or indicator turns on. We repeat – don’t panic! The purpose of these dashboard symbols is to alert you on something that needs attention, and that usually happens well before damage occurs. These symbols are frustrating because they seem confusing for no apparent reason. And that’s why you should read your owner’s manual. It is a dictionary for your car since it details all the various symbols on your dashboard, and what they mean.
If you lost your manual, you can try sites like JustGiveMeTheDamnManual.com – they provide booklets for countless vehicles. Finally, it’s vital that you take the right action if indicators and warning lights start appearing. Whether that means taking it into a mechanic shop, adding fluid or just turning something off, give it the necessary attention. After all, you won’t be able to say you weren’t warned.