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Understanding the 4 most common warning lights on your dash

When a light on your dashboard comes on, it is a sign that the computers controlling the vehicle's systems have detected a problem that could impact the emissions, performance and safety of the vehicle. These lights should not be ignored since failing to address any problems can increase potential repair and operating costs and also lead to a broken-down vehicle. Here are the four most common dashboard lights you're likely to see and what to do to fix them when they appear.

CHECK ENGINE LIGHT - The check engine light ( CEL ) or malfunction indicator lamp ( MIL ), is designed to alert the driver when there is a problem with the engine or transmission. The light is not activated at the first sign of trouble; rather, certain parameters must be met before the light is triggered. If lit up there is a problem that needs addressed, ignoring the light could lead to damaged powertrain components. If your vehicle has a flashing light this is an indication of a misfire and your engine or catalytic converter is suffering damage.

BRAKE LIGHT - The red brake light can come on for 3 reasons. First, it will come on when parking brake or emergency brake is activated. Second, it will come on when brake fluid in the master cylinder reservoir drops below a safe level. Third, it will come on when there is a leak in your braking system. A brake light needs immediate attention because its a sign your brakes have failed or will fail soon.

ABS LIGHT - When the ABS light is on you may be tempted to conintue to drive, as braking appears to be normal. The reality is that this light is activated when the ABS system experiences a problem. If you ABS system isn't working you are at a greater risk of losing control of the vehicle. The most common problem with ABS system is a wheel speed sensor, other problems could stem from malfunctioning sensors or poor brake pressures.

BATTERY LIGHT - Normally the battery light will come on when the engine is failing to adequately charge the battery; however, the light may illuminate on newer vehicles when the condition of the battery suggests there may be another problem with the charging system. Ignoring this light could potentially leave you stranded as when the battery drains or voltage drops it effects all sorts of computers and sensors on your vehicle. When the battery light is on simply running to your local parts store and replacing the battery may not fix the issue completely it will be necessary to perform different starting, charging system diagnosis on your vehicle to really be sure you have corrected the problem.

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