How to Decode your Dashboard Indicator Lights Picture: Keyhole cutout on beige brick wall with light coming through.

You’re on a long drive, rocking out to your favorite playlist, and it happens. A light flashes before your eyes. It’s a dashboard indicator light. But what does it mean?

Dashboard indicator lights can look different in various models, and some are more time-sensitive than others.

The following are a few common dashboard indicator lights and what they mean for you.

Tire Pressure Sensor (TPS) Warning Light – When you see this light, it means that at least one of your tires is low on pressure. This could mean a few different things, but it’s always something that needs to be addressed immediately. Outside temperature changes can change your tire pressure. Tire pressure changes by about 1psi for every 10-degree temperature change. So, if your tires are already a little low, a drastic temperature change can put it over the edge. But sometimes, tire pressure warnings are a sign of more imminent danger. It’s possible that something popped a hole in your tire and it’s quickly losing air. In this case, you could get stuck with a flat soon.

Oil Warning Light – Most people know oil changes are important, but they don’t know quite how crucial they are to the health and longevity of your car. Oil helps lubricate your engine, and in doing so, it ushers debris out. After pulling debris over time, the oil gets thicker. The thicker it gets, the less lubrication it provides. Ideally, you should get your oil changed before the light goes on. Without lubrication, your engine can seize. Get to the auto mechanic or change the oil yourself as soon as you see this light.

Battery Warning Light – If the battery warning light comes on, you may be lucky. It means your battery is running low, but you may still have time to get to safety or even for a mechanic. If you want to extend your battery’s short remaining life, turn off your air conditioning or heater and rear window defogger. Then, it’s probably time to change your battery. Get to a mechanic or an auto parts store if you can change it yourself.

Hot Warning Light – When you see the hot warning light, your engine is in danger of overheating. This is an emergency situation. Pull over immediately to a safe spot, open the hood and call a tow truck. If you ignore this light, you can warp your cylinder head or completely destroy your car’s engine. You’ll end up with a bill for a minimum of $1,000. Not exactly worth it to get somewhere faster, is it?

Check Engine Light – This light is a little more complicated. It could have many root causes, but it ultimately means that something is wrong with your engine that could damage your catalytic converter. If this light goes on, it’s probably best to pull over and call a tow truck. A tow truck may run you about $150, but a new catalytic converter can cost $1,500.

To keep your car running smoothly, get regular maintenance and keep your fluids topped off. A little maintenance can help prevent those lights from illuminating in the first place.