Express Lube locations

225 S Western Ave, Waupaca, WI 54981
1436 Neva Rd, Antigo, WI 54409
1133 Grand Ave, Rothschild, Wi 54474

Full service repair

323 S Western Ave, Waupaca, WI 54981
201 Central Bridge Street, Wausau, WI, 54401


Crack the Code: What are Your Dashboard Lights Telling You?

Your dashboard lights are meant to inform you about the needs of your car, helping protect its vital systems from damage and keep you safe. Unfortunately, besides the obvious gas pump telling you to get fuel, many of the car light symbols remain a mystery. So, as they illuminate, their appearance is more likely to leave you feeling panicked rather than well informed and ready to seek repairs. If you’d like to change all that, it’s easy to do by learning the most common car symbol meanings. Here’s what you need to know.

Crack the Code: What are Your Dashboard Lights Telling You?; graphic of dashboard symbols

Meanings of Common Car Light Symbols

Back in the day, vehicles only had gauges and little else to let you know trouble was brewing. Modern cars have at least a dozen dashboard lights on tap to help you stay ahead of the game. While they all deserve a prompt response, the following demand a trip to the shop to avoid dealing with major issues down the road.

Check Engine

A small outline of an engine or the words ‘Check Engine’ can pop up to let you know that your motor is not a happy camper. If you’re lucky, it’ll just be a loose gas cap, but it could also mean that your engine has a knock or misfire. So, get it checked out to avoid catastrophe.

Coolant Temperature

When your engine’s coolant temperature increases beyond the ideal level, a small red thermometer surrounded by waves will appear. If you keep driving after that, your car could overheat, causing severe damage to your engine. To resolve the issue, your tech may need to change your head gasket, thermostat, or other cooling system components.

Transmission Fluid Temp

Your transmission is equally sensitive to high temps, so it has its own light that looks like an exclamation point inside of a gear. If you see that, your gearbox is getting far too hot for its own good. It may need fluid, replacement of internal parts, or a complete overhaul, all of which your tech can figure out through key diagnostic steps.

Oil Pressure

Your engine needs to maintain the ideal oil pressure level to keep all the moving parts well lubricated. If the pressure levels drop, then an oil can dash light will appear to let you know. The fluid could be low, pump might be bad, or worse. At that point, all you can do is get off the road and call for a tow to prevent internal damage to your engine.


If a battery with a plus and minus symbol appears while driving, it is a clear sign that your car’s charging system is malfunctioning. You might have a loose battery cable, broken belt, or electrical gremlins afoot. Keep driving with this light on and your engine may stall or refuse to start up after you turn it off.

Other Key Dash Light Symbols

Beyond the five listed above, your car has many other dash light symbols to pay close attention to, such as:

  • Power Steering: A steering wheel with an exclamation point
  • Tire pressure: An exclamation point inside an open circle
  • ABS: A circle with ‘ABS’ inside and two curved lines at each side
  • Traction: A car with two wavy lines underneath the tires
  • Airbags: A small circle next to a person seated with a seat belt on
  • If any of these lights stay on, it’s time to get your car looked at by a professional.

When to Get Your Car Right into the Shop

If you are ever unsure about your dash light meanings or otherwise feel like your car needs service, get in touch with our team at Little Wolf Auto in Waupaca WI. We will help you decipher the code, pin down the diagnosis, and repair the issue in full. You can request an appointment by filling out our online form or by giving us a call at 715-258-0200. Either way, we will find a convenient date and time for you to come down to the shop – or we can use our onsite tow trucks to bring your car in for you.