Understanding what your vehicle is trying to tell you isn’t always easy

What do you do if you slide behind the wheel of your new vehicle, push to start and … nothing. It’s not the battery – you’ve checked the lights and the radio is blaring at 100 decibels, so the battery is obviously operating just fine. Then you notice this little gem shining brightly at you from the instrument control panel:


If you see this and guess that your vehicle likes the shoes you are wearing, you would be incorrect.

If, however, you speak “dashboard symbol,” you likely recognize that, if you expect your vehicle to take you to your intended destination, stepping on the brake in order to start the engine would be a good place to start.

Dashboard symbol is not an easy language for everyone to learn, especially when you’ve just upgraded your 1987 Dodge Shadow to the latest and greatest, with all the bells and whistles. There are some basics, however, that can help determine what your level of concern should be and, possibly, whether you will be spending your day in the waiting room of your friendly, local service guy.


For example, let’s start with color. Generally, you can think of the color of the symbol you see in much the same way you think of a stoplight:

  • Red means stop. Your vehicle is warning you this is something serious (a potential problem or safety issue) that needs to be addressed ASAP.
  • Yellow means proceed with caution. The system in question is warning you that it needs your attention – possibly soon. If you ignore it and it eventually begins flashing at you, the system likely needs immediate attention.
  • Green (sometimes blue) means go. There isn’t anything “wrong” per say. Your vehicle is simply telling you a system is on, operating properly or, as in the example above, waiting for you to take the appropriate action in order to get things moving.

Next, does the symbol have words or letters included in it? Chances are likely that if your ESP indicator is on, your vehicle isn’t telling you it can predict your future. But there may be an issue with your electronic stability program.

Don’t stress if you are dashboard-symbol challenged.

Luckily, DashboardSymbols.com has a handy guide of more than 150 different symbols. If you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for, there’s probably something close that can help. And, they even sum up for you which are the most serious, requiring immediate attention.