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Warning lights. What do they mean?

There's an increasing number of warning lights for us to take heed of. As soon as you switch on the ignition an array of different coloured lights with tiny icons blink at you. Most worrying, the results from a survey by AA Personal Loans suggest that the majority of drivers are confused by these symbols.

While failing to identify the front windscreen washer and wipe symbol is not disastrous, failing to properly identify the warning lamp indicating high coolant temperature could result in expensive engine damage.

We list common types of symbol and icon, what they mean and what you should do:

Brake warning lights. There may be one light for different warnings or up to three separate ones. If you suspect the light indicates low brake fluid level, do not drive the car. Check the brake fluid level and top up if necessary.

There may be a brake pad wear warning light (replace the pads, or have the job done, as soon as possible) or a handbrake 'on' light (release the handbrake fully).

Charge warning light. The alternator is not charging the battery. Stop, investigate the cause; this could mean a broken alternator drive belt. Other systems may use this belt - such as the engine coolant pump, or power steering - so the affects of a failure here could be serious if you continue to drive. If the belt is intact don't drive too far, have the alternator and wiring checked.

Oil pressure warning light. This means low oil pressure. If it comes on when you're driving, stop the engine immediately. Check the oil level and call for assistance if necessary.

Coolant temperature/level warning light. Stop as soon as possible. Wait for the engine to cool and then check the coolant level and top up if necessary. If the light comes on again soon, stop and call for assistance.

Diesel particulate filter warning light. This might mean you're releasing a toxic cloud of black smoke every time you press the accelerator and that means you could be causing damage to your engine. Don't leave it - get this checked out straight away.

Diesel particulate filter warning light. As above.

Engine management system warning light. The car can be driven, but the engine management system should be checked as soon as possible.

ABS warning light. This indicates a fault with the anti-lock braking system. The car can be driven, but the braking system should be checked as soon as possible. (The car won't pass an MoT with this light on.)

Airbag or SRS warning light. Again, the car can be driven but the airbag may not work if you have an accident. Get the airbag system checked as soon as possible.

Glow plug warning light (on diesel engines). This is just to tell you that the glow plugs are heating up in readiness for a cold start. You should wait for the light to extinguish before starting the engine.

Water in fuel warning light (on diesel engines). This means water needs to be drained from the fuel filter - a simple task, explained in the Haynes manual for your car. Don't leave it - water in the injection system can cause expensive damage.

Low fuel warning light. Fill up with fuel soon - do not risk running out and being stranded.

Low tire pressure warning light. This indicates under-inflated tires and could signify a puncture. You should check your tires.