The Language of Love: A Guide to How Your Vehicle Communicates

Show your vehicle some love this Valentine’s Day by learning its wants and needs.

AAMCO  | 02/10/2023
Vehicle Maintenance

Banner image of Valentine's Day-themed illustration of vehicle dashboard warning lights explained

Valentine's Day is a time to show your loved ones how much you care, and that includes your vehicle. While your ride may not be able to express itself through words, it has its own unique way of communicating through its dashboard lights. Understanding what these lights mean and addressing any issues they indicate can help you build a better relationship with your car or truck, keeping it running safely, smoothly, and dependably for years to come.

Feeling under the Weather: What Your Vehicle Dashboard Lights Actually Mean

When something feels off to your vehicle, it communicates the issue through the warning and alert lights on your dashboard. Just like you don’t always know what illness is causing your stomach to turn knots, your car or truck doesn’t always know the exact problem. However, it can still tell which part of its body needs attention. By understanding each dashboard light, you’ll be able to address the pain point for your vehicle sooner, helping it feel 100% again.

NOTE: These lights may vary or not be available depending on your vehicle's make, model, and year. 

Valentine's Day-themed illustration of vehicle dashboard warning lights explained

Check Engine Light

The CEL is a catch-all for any issues related to your vehicle’s internal operations. The problem could be as small as a loose gas cap or as significant as transmission failure. The best thing to do is to take your vehicle to your local auto repair technician to pinpoint the issue.

Oil Pressure Warning Light

Typically shaped like an old oil can or a genie lamp, this light indicates a malfunction in your vehicle’s oil pressure system. It illuminates when there is a drop in oil pressure, indicating that the lubrication of the engine’s internal components is inadequate and requires immediate attention. If ignored, it could result in a severely damaged engine or even catastrophic engine failure due to excessive friction and heat. It is essential to check your vehicle’s oil levels regularly. 

Engine Temperature Warning Light

When this light, comes on, which looks like a thermometer floating in water, it means the engine is overheating. There may not be enough coolant or oil circulating to keep the engine at the right temperature. The best thing to do is pull over immediately and let your engine cool down. Don’t open the hood, as you could get burned by steam and hot metal. Excessive heat is a killer to many critical components of your vehicle, including expensive ones like your engine and transmission. Once your vehicle begins to overheat, it's imperative to take action quickly. 

Battery Alert

The dashboard light that looks like a battery indicates an issue with the vehicle’s battery or charging system. Other symptoms include fading headlights or even your vehicle not starting at all. If this light comes on, get your car or truck into the shop before it needs a jumpstart.

Seat Belt Reminder

This indicator light is your vehicle’s way of showing it cares about you and your safety. Seatbelts can decrease serious auto accident injuries by almost half, according to the CDC. So let your vehicle hug you a little tighter for a safer ride.

Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS)

The indicator that looks like a flat tire with an exclamation point in the middle signals a problem with the pressure of your tires. Either you have one or more tires going flat or filled with too much air. The best way to correct this is to stop and either fill up with more air or deflate the extra. If your tire repeatedly loses air, you likely need a tire repair. 

Low Fuel Alert

While you likely know what this alert looks like, it’s important not to let it go unnoticed. If your vehicle is low on fuel, find the nearest gas station and fill up. You never know what weather or traffic will come your way, and before you know it, you could run your vehicle all the way to empty and get stuck. Running low on fuel can also cause problems with your fuel pump or even damage your catalytic converter if you stall out from a lack of gas. 

Anti-lock Brake System Light (ABS)

Your vehicle’s ABS keeps you safe by pulsing the brakes to keep the wheels from locking up when you brake hard. If this light is on, you should get your vehicle to an auto technician as soon as possible. This safety feature is an important part of your vehicle, and you don’t want it malfunctioning.

Service Vehicle Soon Indicator

If you see an image of a vehicle with a wrench on your dashboard, routine maintenance, like an oil change or an air filter change, is needed soon. While this doesn’t mean you need to seek help for your vehicle immediately, you should get your vehicle scheduled at your local auto repair center for any routine checkups.

Airbag Warning Light

The dashboard light that shows a large circle in front of a sitting person signals an issue with one or multiple airbags or even the entire system. Because airbags are a major safety feature that saves lives in accidents, you should have an auto technician check this out immediately.

Brake System Light

A circle containing an exclamation point, or just the word “BRAKE” in red, will signal that your parking brake is engaged or there is a problem with the braking system. First, check if your vehicle’s parking brake is engaged and try resetting it. If the light remains on, take it to an auto repair technician to diagnose and fix the problem.

Subtle Language of Love: The Nuance of Color

Once you know the meaning of each symbol on your dashboard, the next step is to understand how your vehicle uses color for enhanced meaning.  


Indicator lights of these colors are typically informative in nature and are your vehicle’s way of saying, “Hey, FYI….”. These usually mean you put something into operation, or your vehicle is letting you know that a particular program or feature is running. These colored lights are typically not cause for concern.


Lights that are orange or yellow are more concerning. Your vehicle uses these colors to tell you something is off. While it’s not an emergency, it needs to be taken care of sooner than later if you want your vehicle to keep running for you.


If any light comes on in red, it’s a clear cry for help from your vehicle. This color signals that something is wrong with your vehicle and will soon inhibit its ability to function. If you want your vehicle to last a long time, you’ll need to address these lights quickly.

Flashing at engine start up

Many automobiles will flash their dashboard lights on upon starting up and then turn them off. This is normal and doesn’t signify any issues. It is just your vehicle’s way of determining that the lights are working.

Flash on, then steady

A steady dashboard light indicates an issue with whatever part or system the light is tied to, as explained above. The light should turn off once the problem is fixed.

Consistent flashing

Generally, any flashing dashboard light indicates a problem that needs attention. A flashing check engine light is incredibly serious, and you should pull over immediately. However, a flashing tire pressure light usually means the battery for a sensor needs replacing, or there is an issue with the sensor. If you see dashboard lights flickering or flashing in general, it could indicate a problem with your alternator, and your vehicle’s battery could be dying and needing replacement. Any flashing dashboard night should be checked out by a technician.

Some Final Tips for Building a Relationship with Your Vehicle

Now that you know what to look for, don’t wait for your vehicle to tell you something is wrong before you take care of it. Follow these tips to extend the time you spend with your ride.

  • Be a good listener
    Listen to the noises your vehicle makes. Get your car or truck checked out immediately if you notice strange sounds like clunking, knocking, whirring, or buzzing.
  • Pay attention to the details
    Get in the habit of doing routine checkups with your vehicle, looking at things like tire tread, fluid levels, and other easy checks. Taking care of the small stuff helps keep your vehicle happy.
  • Have a spa day at the shop
    Along with routine checkups, take your car or truck in for regular maintenance like oil and air filter changes. Your vehicle with thank you after a nice refresher at the auto shop.
  • Go easy
    While your vehicle can endure a lot, driving with care will help it last much longer. Avoid aggressive driving, speeding, and carrying heavy loads.
  • Read a book
    Ever wish a relationship came with an instruction manual? Well, guess what, your vehicle does! It’s the owner's manual, and reading it will help you know all the unique details about your vehicle so you can give it the best care possible.  

AAMCO Can Help Keep Your Partnerships Strong

As with any long-term relationship, communication is key. You can better understand your vehicle's love language by paying attention to your dashboard's warning and operational lights on its dashboard. Now you can show your car or truck the love it is asking for and deserves by bringing it to an AAMCO Center near you, where we can check any issue your vehicle indicates. Give us a call so we can help you maintain a long, loving relationship with your vehicle.

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