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posted: 4/21/2013 4:41 AM

Know the difference between red, yellow and flashing lights

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You should pay attention to dashboard lights.

If one of your warning lights illuminates, do you know what to do? If it is one of the red lights that turns on, this generally means you need to find a place to safely pull over and stop the vehicle.

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If it is an oil light, continuing to drive could put your whole engine in jeopardy. It is an indication that you have lost oil pressure because of a pump failure or a total loss of oil.

If the temperature light illuminates, you most likely have an engine that is overheating and continued driving can also do engine damage. You can try turning on the heater; this may pull enough heat off the engine to turn the light off. However, if it doesn't you need to stop the car to prevent serious damage.

Another red light would be the battery light, which indicates your engine is no longer charging the battery. Within a short while the battery will run out of charge and the engine will stop. If it is night, this will happen sooner because the headlights will pull the battery down fast. You will probably not harm the vehicle further but it could stop running in a dangerous spot.

There are several yellow lights that warn you service is needed on a particular system. The first is the dreaded "Check Engine Light." This one is telling you some reading in the car's computer system is not right, which means one of the components has failed and is not meeting it's designed parameters. Unless this light is flashing, you can continue to safely drive the car until you get it into your repair shop. If it is flashing, you will want to stop the vehicle as soon as possible so that no further damage will occur.

Another yellow light would be the TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system) that I wrote about recently. This warning light is letting you know you have one or more tires low on air pressure or there is a failure in the system. You will want to check your tire pressure as soon as possible and get any low tire checked for a leak.

If proper air pressure does not resolve the problem, you may have a problem with the sensors in the TPMS.

Next is the ABS (anti-lock brakes)/Traction Control light. If this light is illuminated you will not have anti-lock brakes and the traction control will not function. With that light on, your brakes will work but they will not go into anti-lock if you encounter a skid condition. You should get this repaired at your earliest convenience.

The last yellow light is the SRS (supplemental restraint system) light. This lets you know there is a fault in the air bag or seat belt systems. This light should not be ignored as air bags will not deploy in an accident if this light is illuminated.

All of these warning lights are important and should not be ignored. For more information, consult your owners manual, but be sure to get any of these repaired as soon as possible.

• Douglas Automotive is at 312 S. Hager Ave., Barrington, (847) 381-0454, and 123 Virginia Road, Crystal Lake, (815) 356-0440. For information, visit douglasautomotive.com. Send questions to underthehood@dailyherald.com.

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