Most cars these days come with those "driver information centers." While the one in my 2006 Impala is one of the simpler versions, it really does help me keep my car going. Perhaps you're one of those car chicks who has a couple lights appearing on your dash, but you're not really certain something should be done about it. Here's a few of the common lights and why you really should get your car checked out when they won't go away.
1.) Airbag: Your vehicle runs a self-diagnostic when it starts. If your airbag light remains on or is blinking, it needs service. It may not deploy in case of an impact, and that's a sure way to end your day in a bad way.
2.) Battery: Battery technology continues to improve year to year. We no longer need to replace the battery every couple years. 6 to 8 years is not uncommon. But when it goes, it goes. If your battery light won't turn off, head out to get the battery system checked and be prepared to replace it. Better to fix it with only a warning interrupting your day, rather than in the middle of the night in an empty parking lot.
3.) Change Oil: Many cars come with self-monitoring systems for oil. However, it isn't really checking your oil's viscosity (ability as a lubricant). Your car is only calculating how many miles it's been since a change. If your Change Oil light is on, it's been 7,000 miles since your last one. Failure to change it soon can result in metal on metal grinding in your engine. It won't end your car's life now, but it will shave many years of life off of it later. Change Your Oil!
4.) Engine: This one can be very misleading. That little light will come on for a wide variety of reasons. Some of them are minor. Some can be devastating. "Check Your Gas Cap" is the leading reason the Engine light will appear. The computer has detected there is a problem in the fuel/air mixture being delivered to the engine. While it is often the gas cap, the failure of manifold intakes, solenoids, filters and cracks in the engine block may also be the culprit. The only way to know it have your codes checked. Take the fifteen minutes and stop at a service station. Many places will check the code for free. Doing this could save you thousands of dollars down the line by making a simple repair now.
5.) Brakes: While your service station will often check your brakes for wear during an oil change, your car checks, too. If you've been notified by the car, you really need them fixed NOW. Worn pads and rotors lead to uneven braking, pulling to the side and even failure to stop under high speeds. It's your life. Listen to your car and your mechanic.
6.) Temperature: High temps in your engine will destroy your engine. Heat can warp the block, crack valves and melt seals. A high temp warning means you may be lacking coolant, have a crack in the radiator or just a bad sensor. It it's the sensor, have it replaced so when you really have a problem, you'll know.
7.) Tire pressure: Most of us don't have a light or warning on the dashboard for this one, but the new high-end vehicles do. And it's about time. When getting in your car every day, it's a good habit to walk around and make sure your tires are inflated. If they look a little flat, or you've got the snazzy addition to your car and it says low pressure, go straight to the gas-station and inflate your tires. You get better gas mileage, better handling and will get better tire life with a properly inflated tire.
And that's the basics :) No, nothing earth shattering. Listen to your car. It's trying to tell you how to keep it running for years and years to come. A little maintenance now means thousands of miles later.