Thursday December 14 2017

Pay close attention to dashboard lights

Cars have been fitted with a lot of light

Cars have been fitted with a lot of light signals that alert drivers of not only mechanical problems but also remind them of certain functions and the car’s status.  

By Mustaf Ziraba

Deo Bwambale recently noticed a rare dashboard warning light instructing him to “eject menu”.
He had never seen this kind of light and did not understand what it meant until he sought the advice of a specialist.

“He [mechanic] told me my fan had been running in auto function,” he says, adding that in his five years of driving, it was the first time he was seeing the warning light.
Every time you start your car, lights illuminate on the dashboard.

Some warn you of certain dangers or are simply giving you a status update about your car.
When a dashboard warning light illuminates, you must never ignore it because it might be pointing to a more serious problem.

“Pull to the side of the road and find out what the problem is,” says Ivan Kyeyune, a specialised mechanic on Rubaga Road.
Dashboard lights, he says, are generally color-coded and they are distinguished by their colour illumination.

The usual colours are red, yellow and green, which have an intended similarity to traffic lights.
Just like traffic lights, red is instructive and when it illuminates you have to stop because it indicates a potential safety hazard or serious problem, according to Kyeyune.
However, it might also indicate an important reminder that needs immediate attention.

Yellow (sometimes orange) could be pointing you to the need to repair or service some parts while green is an indication that the system is operating normally.
But what are some of the commonest dashboard warning lights?

Oil pressure light
Typically represented by a stylised oil can, this is the mother of all warning light signs. If you see the low oil pressure light switch on, just stop the car as soon as you safely can.
Most oil pressure warning lights, according to Moses Mulima, a service mechanic in Kibuli, will illuminate after the engine has been damaged
“So when you see this light do not drive on before replenishing the oil. It indicates that the car cannot drive any further without the risk of being damaged,” he says.

Brake light
This denotes an exclamation mark in a circle surrounded by brackets. This usually means one of the two: You have not disengaged the parking brake or your brake fluid level is lower than recommended.
However, according to Kyeyune, if it is not the parking brake (hand brake) then you “have to ask the mechanic to check your brake fluid and find out why the light is illuminating”.

Battery light
This is represented by a battery symbol and it points to a possibility that your charging system is not functioning well.
This, according to Mulima, can also mean your car is drawing down the voltage in your battery without replenishing it.
The battery warning light, just like the one of oil and temperature require urgent attention.

Check engine
This is the most cryptic of all and it is represented by a stylised engine. It is just a light with no information telling you what the problem is. Sometimes it is followed by a blipping sound with barely any explanation.

However, according to Suleiman Settimba, a mechanic on Salaama Road, the light signals that you have got some trouble with your engine’s emission control systems.
“It may be as simple as a failing spark plug, or as complicated as a defective oxygen sensor or mass airflow metre,” he says.

Most modern cars, he says, have a limp-home mode that allows you to drive for a particular distance at reduced power but with bad fuel mileage.
“Although this does not stop you from driving home, you should check it out as soon as you can. Today’s cars often try to compensate when there is a problem; so you may not notice deterioration in performance but your fuel mileage shall suffer,” Settimba says.
This, he says, can be diagnosed by an engine code reader, which is available in many specialised garages and service points.