Many Drivers Can't Identify Mission-Critical Dashboard Lights

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The tire-pressure light is the least recognizable warning light, according to a new survey.

Dashboard Lights
One has to question the effectiveness of warning lights, especially in cases where well over a third of drivers can’t guess what they mean.

Almost half of drivers would not know what to do if their car's tire pressure or brake system warning light flashed, and almost 20 percent of people don't even know what the low-fuel light means, according to an survey. commissioned a survey of 2,000 drivers asking them to identify definitions for 10 common dashboard lights. Icons for partially closed doors, air bag problems and child safety lock activation were correctly identified more often than warning lights for tire pressure, brakes, low fuel and engine overheating.

Many drivers (82 percent) don't think cars have too many warning lights, but not everyone knows what they mean. Here are the percentages of drivers who could not identify the following automobile warning lights:

  •     Tire pressure warning – 49 percent
  •     Brake system warning – 46 percent
  •     Cruise control activated – 42 percent
  •     Fog beams activated – 40 percent
  •     Electrical problem warning – 24 percent
  •     Low fuel warning – 17 percent
  •     Engine temperature warning – 17 percent
  •     Child safety lock activated – 11 percent
  •     Front air bag needs service – 10 percent
  •     Open door warning – 7 percent

"One has to question the effectiveness of warning lights, especially in cases where well over a third of drivers can’t guess what they mean," said Michelle Megna, Managing Editor.

Respondents were asked to rank the level of confidence they had in knowing what various warning lights mean with "very confident," "might know" and "probably wouldn't know."

When asked how confident they would be in knowing what the lights meant without referring to their owner's manual, just 37 percent of drivers said they were "very confident." Nearly half (49 percent) said they "might know" and 12 percent admitted they "probably wouldn't know."
Men felt more confident than women by a 19-point margin. Here are confidence-level results broken down by gender:

Very confident
Men: 47 percent. Women: 28 percent.

Might know
Men: 28 percent. Women: 56 percent.

Probably wouldn't know
Men: 9 percent .Women: 15 percent.

“Despite all the advances in car technology, mysterious warning lights persist,” said Megna. “Maybe it’s time do something revolutionary, like use words instead of icons.”

VIN, PSI, D2: Whaaat?
Vehicle identification numbers (VIN) are used to match vehicles to owners, indicate which plant made the car, and identify the make and model, among other things. But just 18 percent knew the information contained in a VIN.

Drivers fared better when asked the definition of PSI and where to locate it: 89 percent knew it stands for pounds per square inch, a measurement used for tire pressure, and that the recommended pressure is stamped on tire walls.

As for that somewhat mysterious D2 on your shift options, 71 percent knew that it is used to manually decelerate -- for instance, when climbing or descending steep hills. Women know what D2 means more than men: 75 percent of females correctly answered compared to 66 percent of males. Eight percent of men said you use D2 for parking lot driving; 4 percent of women thought so.

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Methodology commissioned a survey of 2,000 licensed drivers age 18 and older. Respondents were split evenly between males and females and distributed across age groups according to Census data on age distribution. The online-panel survey was fielded in October 2013.

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Michelle Megna
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