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Do You Know What Your Dashboard Warning Lights Mean?

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Digital dashboard cluster of a Mercury Grand Marquis (via Ruben de Rijcke)

Digital dashboard cluster of a Mercury Grand Marquis (via Ruben de Rijcke)

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We see them every time we start our cars. From time to time, we see them while we're driving, and we're filled with a dark mix of fear and dread. But really, how many of our cars' warning lights can we properly identify?

Across the Pond, Brittania Rescue wondered the same thing, so they commissioned a study to find out. The study asked 2,018 British drivers to identify common warning lights. The results weren't very encouraging. 

Most vexing is the fact that 98 percent of those surveyed didn't know what the most common warning/information lights on their dashboard meant. That's despite the fact that, within the previous year, 25 percent of respondents had seen one or more of those lights illuminated. (Though it may explain why 6 percent of respondents left a warning light unchecked for over a month.)

The problem seems to stem from two separate but related factors:

  • There isn't much consistency in warning lights from one automaker to another. What may look like a tire-pressure warning on one model could look entirely different on another. In fact, of the 99 different warning lights included in the study, only 12 were found across all models.
  • Different vehicles can contain vastly different numbers and assortments of warning lights. In the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, for example, there are 41. At the other extreme, in the Volvo S 40, there are just 21. 

This issue isn't likely to go away. As new technology gets heaped upon new cars, so do a host of new potential problems -- and a host of strange, new warning lights. The fact that we're driving less these days won't help our familiarity with those lights, either. 

Thankfully, there are a couple of fixes waiting in the wings. Apps like Automatic and touch-sensitive dashboards should offer additional information about warning lights, making it easier for drivers to figure out what's wrong and how to repair  it.  

In the meantime, click through to the Mail Online to test your own knowledge of warning lights. 

[via John Voelcker]


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