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Is there a hierarchy of importance for warning lights on the dashboard? – Brian, Mississauga, Ont.

While there are no regulations regarding interior warning lights and their colours, there are common themes that most manufacturers follow. In simple terms, think of it like a traffic light.

Safety hazards and serious malfunctions need immediate attention. For example, brake failure, low oil and engine overheating lamps are typically red – indicating to the driver to stop and seek immediate service. In extreme examples, these lamps may flash, adding an audible beep to attract the driver's attention.

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The check engine light and maintenance required are typically in the yellow/orange family and are secondary in importance, but shouldn't be ignored. As a side note, the check engine light will flash when the engine is misfiring, indicating potential damage to the vehicle's catalytic converter.

Green and blue are normal vehicle operation colours such as the low windshield washer indicator and high beam indicators.

Many customers call in from the side of the road to ask if they can continue to drive while a dashboard light is illuminated. Stopping and towing the vehicle has the potential to save an expensive repair should the vehicle be overheating or with no oil. However, when the check engine light is illuminated but the car is driving normally, you should be okay to get home to schedule an appointment at the earliest convenience. Continual driving with an engine light on may or may not cause major grief, this is always a judgment call that you have to make.

Lou Trottier is owner-operator of All About Imports in Mississauga. Have a question about maintenance and repair? E-mail globedrive@globeandmail.com, placing "Lou's Garage" in the subject area.

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