Munich. Sudden warning lights on the dashboard are a guaranteed killer for that pre-holiday trip euphoria. But should you drive on, stop immediately or head for the nearest garage? From ABS and airbags to engine control unit and oil pressure, TÜV SÜD’s experts explain how to react to the various signals.
Dynamo, brakes, oil pressure, ABS, stability control, airbags, windscreen wiper water, engine control – all drivers really should be familiar with the warning lights on the dashboard of their car. After all, they’re described in detail in the owner’s manual. But who actually takes the trouble to read up on them? So when a warning light goes on, drivers are naturally uncertain. Drive on or stop immediately? Call a tow service truck, or try and make it to the next garage? As a rule of thumb, Philip Puls of TÜV SÜD recommends, “Red means stop, but yellow or other colours are usually a sign that the driver can continue. If the light indicates a safety-relevant factor like the brakes, even an orange light is a warning to find the nearest workshop as fast as possible. But always take a look at the owner’s manual to make sure, and check all fluid levels too.”
Diminished accident protection: If the airbag warning light is illuminated, an appointment at the garage is essential. The warning may mean that one or more airbags will fail to function in an accident. These additional impact protectors conceal a mass of sensors and measurement and control components. If one of these is not working properly or fails altogether, the warning signal may light up – though often only occasionally. The red airbag warning light usually shows a pictogram of a seated person wearing a seat belt behind an inflated airbag. It is one of the indicator lights that should go out after a few seconds when the ignition is started.
Tip for holiday travel: As a general principle, you can carry on driving – but make sure to have the system checked at the nearest garage.
Impaired delay: ABS (antilock braking system) is one of the most important electronic safety systems. Like the airbag warning light, when this symbol lights up you need to visit the mechatronics expert at your garage as soon as possible. If this brake support system does not function, the brakes may lock on wet ground – preventing you from being in full control of the car when avoiding obstacles, and thus increasing the risk of an accident. The light is often activated by a faulty sensor on one of the wheels. Most of these orange warning lights show a stylised brake disc and the abbreviation “ABS”. This light should also go out after a few seconds when the ignition is switched on. As a further tip for your holiday travel, provided you pay extra attention to the road when driving, you can continue to the next garage to have the ABS checked out.
Lower directional stability: Electronic stability control (ESC, ESP and other abbreviations) prevents the vehicle from drifting. If the warning light is activated during driving on wet roads, the system has reached its physical limits and the vehicle is in danger of veering off track. Once the vehicle is back in lane the light goes out. Sportier drivers can switch the system off at the press of a button, leaving the warning light permanently illuminated. Like almost all electronic driver assistance systems, the orange warning light goes on when the ignition is switched on and then goes off after a few seconds (assuming the ESC system is activated). A tip for motorway drivers: when the light usually showing a circular arrow and an exclamation mark is illuminated the car wheels no longer have sufficient contact with the road surface, which occurs in situations such as aquaplaning. In this case, grip the steering-wheel firmly, take your foot off the accelerator and reduce your speed. If the light is permanently illuminated even though the ESC system is activated, continue driving – paying extra care – and check into your nearest garage.