Car care: It's all there - on the dashboard

By Jack Biddle

Innovation means more alerts to watch over

Each of your warning lamps has an important purpose and it's sensible to learn what they're all for.

Warning lights are not only there to alert drivers that a particular system has a problem or has been activated or deactivated; they can also be used as a driver alert.

Dashboard warning systems are nothing new. They have been around from almost day one of motor vehicle manufacture.

Initially, they were intended to remind drivers whether the main mechanicals of their vehicle were in good working order.

Engine oil pressure and the state of the battery charge were two of the main gauges or warning lights drivers kept a close eye on in those early days.

As motor vehicle innovation continues, drivers are facing an ever-increasing display of dashboard warning illumination every time the ignition is switched on.

While keeping an eye on those vital mechanicals is still important, onboard safety technology has increased and requires continuous monitoring to ensure its reliability and functionality.

Advancement in safety features means more and more vehicles can now automatically react to certain road conditions to help protect occupants against possible injury. In the pioneering days, Anti-Locking Brakes (ABS) was claimed as the hero innovation, but now features such as Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and multiple airbags have become standard on most new mainstream passenger vehicles.

The latest in on-board safety technology is basically there to instantaneously kick in, take control and react automatically if a vehicle is about to lose control and/or occupant safety is at risk. It may be the automatic activation of ESC and/or the deployment of airbags.

Hence the importance of having dashboard warning lights that allow continuous feedback and communication with the driver, as well as for a systems check and alert.

Each warning light has a specific job and a unique colour to highlight its importance. They are constant reminders to the driver that systems are either all-go or there is an issue that needs to be sorted. Once an engine has started and the electronic circuitry has done all its checks, warning lights usually go out unless the driver deliberately decides to either engage or disengage a particular electronic component. For example, the cruise control light will stay on if the system is set as will the ESC warning if the driver has the option and decides to switch it off.

But warning lights are not only there to alert drivers that a particular system has a problem or has been activated or deactivated; they can also be used as a driver alert.
For example, a change in road conditions after a drop in outside temperatures can bring on a warning light in some vehicles to warn of the risk of ice or a slippery road surface and to drive with extreme caution.

So it's a huge advantage for a driver to know exactly what each warning light actually does so they can react accordingly.

Warning light colour is important for drivers to understand so a decision can be made to keep driving or to stop and seek immediate assistance. Red is the go-no-further warning sign; orange is usually an alert that a particular fault has developed but it is okay to drive to a repair place - with restrictions in some cases.

While constant warning light illumination should never be ignored, it's the orange safety warning lights that drivers need to pay particular attention to.

If the airbag warning light (SRS) comes on and stays on, it is telling the driver there is a monitoring problem which means the system has been shut down and the airbags would not deploy in an accident. Same with ABS: the driver will retain normal braking but in an emergency stop the wheels could lock and the driver would lose the ability to steer away from potential danger.

So do you know what all those dash lights on your vehicle are for? Read the owner's manual if there's one in the glovebox, or ask your franchise dealer or local garage to walk you through what each light is for.

There's no question the modern motor vehicle is being made a lot safer but it's still the driver who has the ultimate control. Knowing what all those warning lights are for and what they do can help make drivers much better and more responsible.

- NZ Herald

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