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Automotive Articles

What's With Those Noisy Lights?

(NC)—Not too long ago, you hopped in your car and turned the key. A couple of lights flashed for a second, the motor started and you were ready to go. Not true anymore. A modern car or truck has bells and whistles and flashing lights galore – most of which briefly light up or sound off, as you settle in and start the engine. So what do they all mean, and how much attention should you pay to them?

Well let's find out. But keep in mind that not all vehicles will have the same type or number of lights, bells, whistles or computer generated voices. And before we start, there are a couple of key points to remember. All of these devices have the same basic purpose. To communicate with you. Sometimes this communication is about friendly advice; like your keys are still in the ignition.

Most of the time, this communication is an important warning that you should acknowledge, respect and act upon. So let's start with leaving the vehicle.

• Ding, ding, ding or beep beep beep – You have just left the car, the door is still open and the car is talking to you. Most likely you have left your keys in the ignition or your lights are still on. Relax. It happens to everybody.

• Ding ding ding again – You're in the car and you've started the motor. For the next few seconds you hear the ding. Most likely that's because you haven't fastened your seatbelt. So buckle up right away. In fact, you should buckle up before you turn the key. This is one ding you should never hear.

• Lights Galore – When you first start your car or truck all sorts of lights flash and then you never see them again. Below, we are going to talk about those lights and how you should react to them. Which is great. But what is more important is that you read your owner's manual carefully. That way, you will know exactly which lights are which, and if your car is different in any way.

• Seat Belt Light – Pretty obvious. You didn't pay attention to the ding ding ding. Once again, don't do this. Fasten your seat belt for your own good.

• Airbag Light – Usually orange in colour, it flashes briefly as you start the car and often shows what looks like a person holding a beach ball. If this light comes on when you are driving, take your car to your dealer as soon as possible. Your airbag system might not be working properly.

• Brake Light – Usually red, it often shows a little round disk or the word "brake". It indicates that your handbrake is on and that you should release it before driving away. If the light does not go out after you have released the handbrake, it could indicate low brake fluid or a malfunction in the brake system. Call your dealer. Do not drive the car until this problem is fixed.

• Temperature Light – Often looks like a little thermometer. If it goes on when you are driving it means your engine might be overheating. This can be caused by not enough coolant (antifreeze and water) or not enough oil. Stop the car to let it cool down, then add coolant and/or oil if necessary, or call for help. Always use brand name coolants and high quality motor oils like Castrol GTX or Castrol Syntec. They provide superior protection for your engine.

• High Beam Light – Usually blue. Indicates that your high beams are on, which you should always be aware of. Remember, only use your high beams when necessary.

• Engine Check Light – This one is a little tricky as its function varies from car to car. But basically, it is part of your engine diagnostic system and is indicating that something is malfunctioning. This problem could be very minor, like a fuel cap not properly attached, or something potentially serious. The best idea is to drive carefully to your dealer as soon as possible. But not before you have got your haircut, finished your shopping, whatever. Just don't go on any trips.

• Alternator / Battery – You can drive with a dead battery and a good alternator or a good battery and a dead alternator. But not for very long. If this light comes on you have an electrical malfunction. It might be as simple as a loose engine belt, or something more serious. Attend to the problem quickly.

• Oil Light – This is one of the most important lights. It indicates that oil pressure is too low. If it goes on while driving, stop the engine as soon as possible and check the oil level. Add a high quality oil like Castrol GTX if necessary. If the light stays on when the engine oil level is normal, stop the engine immediately and call your dealer for service.

• ABS / Anti-Skid Light – This important light will normally flash when your ABS system is actually in use and remain off the rest of the time. Often the same light will flash if an anti-skid or traction control system is actually in use, and once again, remain off the rest of the time. If this light comes on during normal driving, your brake system might be malfunctioning and you should see you dealer as soon as possible. Note: In some vehicles you can turn off the ABS or traction control system, and the light remains on all the time.

• Big Brother Lights – These convenient little guys tell you what you should already know. Which means they are possibly the best loved lights of all. They include, in no particular order, lights that warn you about things like low fuel, low windshield washer fluid, doors that are ajar, trunks that are open, defoggers that are still on, heated seats that are still hot, brake pads that are almost worn and everybody's favourite, catalytic converters that refuse to convert.

• Sayonara – Some cars, trucks and SUV's aren't satisfied with beeping and dinging and flashing at you. They talk. And say things like "your fuel is low, your fuel is low, your fuel is low….." . You get the idea. And being Canadian, they talk in French and English. On that note, sayonara.

A wealth of interesting and valuable information on motor oils and lubricants can be found at or other well known petroleum web sites.

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