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The Big 3 Warning Lights: What They Are And What To Do

warning 20indicator 20dash

Your vehicle's warning lights are key communication features designed to inform drivers of problems or concerns with major vehicle components. Many under the hood problems are not evident to the naked eye, these indicators are in place to protect you. The problem is, most of us don't really know what warning lights we have and what they mean. Our owner's manual is the best resource for understanding and referencing the lights in your vehicle but if you've happened to misplace yours, we strongly suggest you visit your nearest dealership to order a new one. Also, many manufacturers offer online libraries of manuals as a resource for their customers. If you drive a 1996 or newer Ford vehicle, you can access your online owner's manual by CLICKING HERE.

ATTENTION FordPass customers, with connected features, you have access to your owner's manual right on the phone app. Plus, when you enable SecuriAlert you'll be notified of vehicle alarms directly through your phone's notifications. You'll learn about why the alarm set off, what to do and you can book in to your preferred dealership (hopefully us) quickly. For more information on FordPass please talk to any of our team members or CLICK HERE

For now, let's review three warning indicators on your vehicle. What do they mean? How do you respond to them?

It's worth noting, in most situations, you are best to get to your local dealership's service center as soon as possible. Our vehicles have become highly complex and our factory trained technicians can connect up to the proper diagnostic tools and take all the guess work and stress out of your repair.

The Braking System Indicators

Your vehicle's brakes are arguably the most important and life saving component of your vehicle. Ensuring these are in good working condition is necessary to your safety.

Before diving into what a brake warning lights means for you and your car, it's important to clear a few things up. We first need to understand that there can be multiple dashboard warning lights that pertain to the braking system and each light has a different meaning. 

Older vehicles had one brake light, simple. It had one job and that was to signal the driver that there was a problem with the brake system. Over time, the brake system on our vehicles became more complex and so our warning systems have also developed to better communicate the problem.

The Brake Light (Parking Brake & Brake Fluid)brake 20light 20indicator

The simplest (and oldest) light on your dashboard and the one most referenced to when they mention a brake system warning light. When the light comes on, it means one of two things. Either the hydraulic fluid (brake fluid) in the master cylinder is low, or the parking brake is engaged (pretty big difference in urgency, right?!). It goes without saying, first thing to check when you see this indicator light is if your parking brake is engaged. If so, disengage and the light will turn off.

Otherwise, your brakes are comprised of a network of tubes filled with Hydraulic oil. At one end of this network is a pump called the master cylinder. When you press down on the brake pedal, you actuate the master cylinder and put pressure on the fluid in the brake lines. Then at the other end of the network you'll find your 4 brake calipers (one on each wheel), these are the hyrdaulic clamping mechanisms that force your brake pads against your brake rotors. This causes friction to slow down and stop your car.

If the system springs a leak the fluid levels will consequently drop. This leak can cause your brakes to fail. To avoid this situation, a sensor was placed in the Master Cylinder that will trigger your brake light when the level gets too low. If this happens, get to your service center as soon as possible. 

ABS (Anti-Lock Brake System) Warningabs 20brake 20light

If the ABS warning light is on, it is an indication that there is something wrong with your anti-lock brake system. This is the component on your vehicle that helps you steer in emergencies by restoring traction to your tires. In other words, it prevents your wheels from locking up so you, the driver, can steer safely. Wheel sensors detect when your car's tires begin locking up and then they rapidly apply and release (pulse) the brakes to automatically keep your tires from skidding. When you feel or hear the ABS vibrating, continue to firmly press and hold the brake - then steer to safety. Common causes of 4-wheel ABS malfunctions include worn brake linings and air or dirt in the brake fluid. If you find the ABS is not working, you'll have to pump your brakes manually if the vehicle begins to skid. Then, you guessed it, get to your service center. 

Brake Pad Wear Indicatorbrake 20pad 20indicator

The youngest member of the brake warning light family. Many newer model vehicles now come equipped with this feature. Its name is pretty self-explanatory. Brake pads contain friction materials that grabs the rotors when you press down on the brake pedal. As the material wears away with time, tiny sensors detect when your pads are nearing their minimum thickness to alert the dashboard... it's time for a brake job.

Check Engine Light

check 20engine 20light 202This warning is likely the most dreaded of them all, and for good reason. The check engine system is primarily monitoring your engine and the emission control system. Both systems so closely interlinked that the health of the emission control system is a very good indicator of the overall health of your car's engine.

Step one: Check your gas cap! The indicator light can be triggered by a loose cap because the vehicle's computer system is receiving an error message of a leak in the vapor recovery system. Tighten or replace the cap and continue driving. It may take a bit before the indicator light goes off.

Second Important Step: Is the check engine light flashing or steady? This is important. If the light is flashing it indicates a more serious problem, such as a misfire that can quickly overheat the catalytic converter. Our emission control devices operate at high temperatures and can be a high fire hazard.

Here's a list of the top 10 check engine codes from 2018, according to CarMD

  1. (tied for first) Replace Ignition Coil(s) and Spark plugs(s)
  2. (tied for first) Replace Oxygen Sensor(s)
  3. Replace Catalytic Converter(s)
  4. Inspect or Replace Gas Cap, tighten if necessary
  5. Replace Ignition Coil(s)
  6. Replace Evaporative Emissions Purge Control Valve
  7. Replace Mass Air Flow Sensor
  8. Replace Evaporative Emissions Purge Solenoid
  9. Replace Fuel Injectors
  10. Replace Thermostat

Don't ignore this light. We've all wanted to play the avoidance game by sticking a piece of duct tape over the light, but trust us when we say this is not the best solution. Leaving this type of problem usually only causes more damage and costly repairs in the long run. If the check engine light is on, it's best to have the vehicle diagnosed at your service center. There are code readers available for purchase from some stores, however these aren't always accurate and some codes will require further troubleshooting and deciphering from a professional technician.

Oil Pressure Lightoil 20pressure 20light

An oil pressure light can illuminate for a variety of reasons: low oil levels, dirty oil, an oil leak, faulty oil pressure sensor or your oil pump needs replacing. 

Low Oil: If you oil seems to start flashing on when you are braking, there is a good chance your oil level is getting low. The fluid has room to slosh away from the sensor. The easiest way to check on this is to check your oil. The directions to do this for you specific vehicle will be found in your owner's manual. This is where you pop the hood, find your dip stick (usually a yellow or red handle), clean it off, dip it, check your reading and if residual oil is at or below the "add" mark, then it's time to get oil. 

Dirty Oil: As your oil runs through the engine it can pick up dirt, dust and small debris. This causes gunk to build up and cause blockages. It's these blockages that can trigger your oil light indicator. You can check this the same way you check the oil level. When you inspect the oil on the dipstick it should be clear, amber in colour and a bit runny. If you find it's very dark, thick and sludgy it's probably old and needs to be changed. 

Oil Leak: First, leave your car parked on a level surface for a few hours with a piece of cardboard underneath the engine. If you return and find a puddle of oil you likely a leak and should return to the service center. If you don't find a puddle, yet still suspect you have a leak, top up your oil to the full mark on the dipstick. Make sure the oil light is off when you turn on your car. Drive around and see if the oil light comes back on. Check your oil levels and if they have dropped, you'll need to get back to your service center for an inspection.

In Conclusion

You'll notice we mention "your service center" A LOT in this article. We understand that servicing and repairing your vehicle can feel expensive, inconvenient and sometimes quite unpleasant. This is why, one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your vehicle is to find a shop that you can trust and that offer you affordable, quality attention. 

You can avoid costly vehicle damages and safety issues by heeding to these warning indicators early. Visit our team at Drayton Valley Ford and Drayton Valley Quick Lane to keep your vehicle in tip top shape and operating safely. Our team's top priority is your complete satisfaction at every service visit. From oil changes to major repairs, we've got your back and will make sure you feel confident and reassured when driving. Don't forget to take advantage of our easy online booking and free pick up and delivery services for appointments.

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