Ford warning lights – what they mean and what do you need to do

Not sure what that yellow flashing symbol on your Ford dashboard means? Read our guide to find out what each warning light means and what you should do if they light up. 

Modern Ford cars – including popular models like the Focus, Fiesta, Transit, Ka and Ranger – are filled with lots of sensors that monitor how each system in the car is behaving. The lights on the dashboard display which systems are in use and highlight when one of those systems is not working as it should.

The lights on a Ford dashboard follow a traffic light colour system:

  • Green: the system is working correctly or is currently in use
  • Yellow: something is not working correctly - take extra care and check it out as soon as possible
  • Red: there is a serious, and potentially dangerous problem - stop driving as soon as it is safe to do so

But what do all those different symbols mean? We’ve put together this guide to help you understand what the different yellow and red warning lights on your Ford dashboard mean, why they come on, how urgent the problem is, and what you should do when you see them.

Brake system warning light

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The brakes are one of the most important safety features of your car, so it’s essential to act immediately when you see this warning light.

If the light is red and it remains on after you fully release the parking brake, or comes on when you’re driving, it may indicate that the brake fluid level is low. Unless you know how to check your brake fluid levels yourself, this will be one for the professionals. 

If the ABS (Anti-lock Brake System) warning light is also illuminated, this signals that the braking system has malfunctioned and your brakes may not work properly. Pull over and stop as soon as it’s safe to do so – keep your speed low and avoid braking suddenly.

Don’t risk driving when your brakes are not functioning properly: call for recovery.

If you need assistance you can call the RAC on 0330 159 1111, whether you are a member or not. You can also get immediate cover, which might work out cheaper if you are not a member.

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Anti-lock Brake System (ABS) warning light

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ABS is an important safety feature that really comes into play when you need to make an abrupt stop, or in difficult driving conditions like icy roads.

The ABS light will come on briefly to indicate when the system is in use, but if it stays on it may indicate a fault. If the ABS light comes on by itself you should still have normal, unassisted braking, so it's safe to continue your journey – but keep your distance, take extra care, and get it checked as soon as possible.

If it comes on with the brake warning light, it could indicate that the brake system is failing and you should stop straight away and call for recovery. 

For roadside assistance, you can call the RAC on 0330 159 1111, even if you’re not a member.

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Brake Pad warning light

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If this light comes on it means a sensor has detected that your brake pads are too thin. This warning light should come on before the brake pads become dangerously thin, so you have time to get them changed.

You should replace your brake pads as soon as you can though, as if they wear out completely it could be extremely dangerous.

For more information, read our guide to brake pads.

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Service Engine Soon warning light

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Commonly known as the check engine light, when this warning light is illuminated it’s often accompanied by tell-tale signs that the engine is not working properly, such as a lack of power or stuttering as you press the accelerator.

This light could indicate a number of faults, from minor issues like a broken electrical sensor, to a much larger mechanical issue, like a fault with your emission control system or catalytic converter.

How long can you drive with check engine light on?

If the check engine light comes on, you should get it checked as soon as you can. By continuing to drive you risk causing further, potentially irreparable damage to your engine. 

Use our search tool to find your nearest RAC approved garage.

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Engine Coolant warning light

Coolant fluid absorbs the heat from your engine and disperses it through the radiator to prevent your engine from overheating.

This yellow warning light will come on when coolant levels are running low, to remind you to top them up. 

Avoid making any long journeys without enough coolant: you should stop and top up as soon as possible, otherwise you risk causing serious damage to your car. Wait for the engine to cool down before topping up.

If this light comes on often, get your car serviced to check there isn’t a leak somewhere.

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Engine Coolant Temperature warning light

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This light will come on when the engine is overheating. This could mean that coolant levels are running low, perhaps due to a leak in the system, or it could be a sign of a larger problem, like a head gasket failure.

If this light is red, you should stop straight away – without enough coolant, your engine could get so hot that it effectively welds itself together, causing irreparable damage.

Stop and wait until the engine has cooled off before checking the gauge on the side of the coolant tank under the bonnet, topping up as required. Read our guide to checking your engine coolant.

While you’re under the bonnet, have a look to see if there are any obvious leaks. If you can’t see any and the light goes off after topping up, then you should be fine to continue your journey. If the light comes back on again after topping up, you should get it checked out to fix the underlying problem.

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Engine Oil warning light

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The yellow oil warning light comes on when either the oil temperature gets too high, or the oil level or pressure is too low.

If the oil is not lubricating the engine effectively, it could lead to expensive or even irreparable engine damage, so it’s important to act quickly.

When this light comes on, you should stop as soon as possible and turn off the engine.

Have a look for any obvious oil leaks under the car, and then check the oil levels, topping up if necessary. If the oil levels are fine, then the oil pump may be faulty. In this case, call for recovery, as driving any further could damage the engine. 

Watch our video guide to checking your car’s engine oil.

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Battery Charging System warning light

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If this light comes on when you’re driving, it indicates that the battery is not charging. This could be due to a problem with your car’s electrical system and have several causes, such as a faulty alternator, faulty battery, bad electrical connection or damaged cabling.

Your car will run as normal until the battery is dead, but once it is drained, nothing in your car will work – so get to a garage quickly before you run out of juice.

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Airbag warning light

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When this light goes red, it means that at least one element of the airbag safety system is not working correctly: either the airbag system itself; the front passenger occupant classification system (which detects the front passenger’s weight and position in order to safely deploy the airbag); or the seat belt pretensioner system, which tightens the belt in the event of a crash. 

If the airbag system is not working properly, it may not go off in a crash – or in some cases it could even deploy unexpectedly and cause a crash. Either way, the airbag system is an incredibly important safety feature of your car, so if this light comes on please get it checked out immediately.

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Stability Control warning light

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This warning light indicates a problem with traction control. It lights up when the stability control system is intervening – for example, if you’re driving on a slippery road. If the light stays on, it means traction control is not working properly.

This indicator will light up, along with the word ‘OFF’ if the system has been deactivated, in which case you may have inadvertently turned it off.

To check, try stopping and restarting the engine. If the light remains on after restarting, get it checked at a garage, as traction control is an important safety feature. 

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Powertrain warning light

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This warning light usually indicates a problem with your car’s automatic transmission.

It might turn on because the transmission fluid temperature is higher than normal – or it could serve as a reminder that your transmission fluid levels are getting low and need to be topped up.

When this light comes on, your Ford may automatically go into a ‘safe’ mode to help prevent further damage, in which case you will notice a drop in the car’s performance. 

If you have the skills and confidence, you could check and top up the transmission fluid yourself. However, it’s wise to get any problems checked by a professional, as continuing to drive could cause more extensive damage and automatic transmissions can be expensive to replace.

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Tyre Pressure warning light

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Many Ford cars are now fitted with tyre pressure monitoring systems that will let you know when the pressure falls. This could happen over time or it could be because of a puncture.

Either way, low tyre pressure can cause unsafe driving conditions, so reduce your speed and try to avoid braking suddenly or making any violent steering manoeuvres.

Most petrol stations and garages will have an air compressor you can use to check your tyre pressure. Top up the air in the tyres according to the vehicle manufacturer specification in your owner's manual.

If you have a puncture, watch our video to learn how to change a tyre in 10 simple steps

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Power Steering warning light

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This warning light indicates that there’s a problem with the power steering.

If the power steering system fails, you will notice that the car is harder to manoeuvre and you should take extra care – it could be dangerous to drive at high motorway speeds without power steering assistance.

If you have a hydraulic power steering system, a malfunction is often linked to low levels of power steering fluid.

Stop as soon as you can to top up your fluid levels, if you know how, but bear in mind that this will be a temporary fix; for steering fluid levels to drop there must be a leak in the system that you will need a professional to repair. 

For electric powered systems, this problem could be as simple to fix as rebooting a computer.

Find a safe place to stop and try turning the car off and back on again after 30 seconds. If the light stays on you should take your car to get checked as soon as possible.

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Engine Air Filter warning light

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Your engine’s air filter stops dust and other debris from getting inside your engine. If this warning light comes on it means that the filter has become clogged and is limiting the airflow into the engine.

It’s safe to continue driving with this warning light on, but the reduced airflow will affect your car’s mpg efficiency and performance. 

Replacing the filter is a straightforward job for your local mechanic, or you could even replace it yourself. If you decide on the DIY route, check the owner’s manual to see if you need to reset the system afterwards to clear the light. 

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Water in Fuel warning light

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Diesel fuel filters separate out the traces of water found in diesel fuel before it gets into the engine, where it could cause damage.

This yellow light indicates that the diesel fuel filter is full and needs to be emptied. On some vehicles you will need to empty the filter manually, whereas on others, this may be done automatically.

Check your owner’s manual to see how it works on your Ford model. If the filter should empty automatically, this warning light may mean that this system is not working properly, in which case you should get it checked out as soon as you can. 

Although you are safe to continue driving with this warning light on, you should empty the fuel filter as soon as you can – if water begins to seep into your engine, it could cause serious damage.

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Glow Plug warning light

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This light will normally turn on when your Ford diesel engine is warming up. Wait until the light goes off before starting your car. If this light is flashing, it indicates that it’s not working properly and the glow plugs may need replacing.

Get it checked as soon as possible. A fault with the glow plugs may put the engine into safe mode to prevent any damage to the engine, so you may experience a noticeable drop in performance until the problem is fixed.

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Fuel Cap warning light

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In order for the fuel system to work properly it needs to be completely sealed from the outside. This light will come on to warn you if the fuel cap is not properly secured, meaning that there is essentially a leak in the system.

Pull over as soon as it is safe to do so and make sure the fuel cap is fully closed. It may take a while for the light to go off once you’ve continued driving. 

If the light doesn’t go off in a day or two, check the fuel cap to see if there is any damage. If so, you may have to get it replaced.

If it looks fine, and is definitely secured properly, there may be a leak somewhere else in the system that is tricking the computer. Take your car in for a service to find out what’s going on.

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Auto Start/Stop warning light

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In modern Fords, the Auto Start/Stop system automatically shuts down the engine temporarily when you’re stationary to reduce fuel consumption and emissions. 

A fault in the system, indicated by this warning light, could have several causes. You’ll be fine to continue driving but you should take your car to your dealer so that they can check the error code and identify the root of the problem.

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Forward Alert warning light

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Forward Alert is a safety feature available on newer Ford cars that uses a sensor to scan the road ahead, measuring the distance and relative speed of the vehicles in front, so that it can warn you if you get too close.

It prepares the brakes for emergency braking if it senses that you’re in danger of collision, adding extra force to your brakes. If a crash is imminent, the system will automatically apply the brakes and retract the seatbelts to brace you.

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Lane Keeping Aid warning light

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Many modern Ford cars have a camera sensor on the front windshield that detects white and yellow lines on the road. If you’re driving over 43mph and the sensor detects that the car is straying from the lane, without the indicators having been turned on, this warning light will come on and the steering wheel will vibrate.

If you’re slow to react, the system will then automatically intervene to steer you back into the lane. 

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Blind Spot Monitor warning light

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Ford’s Blind Spot Information System (BLIS®) uses radar to check the blind spots on either side of your car and then displays an orange light in the corresponding side mirror if it spots a vehicle you can’t see. 

If this warning light comes on it indicates that the system is not working properly, and it should be accompanied by a message on the display that explains the problem. Often this is due to dirt or debris blocking the sensor, but it could also be heavy rain or snowfall blocking the radar signal.

Try clearing the sensor and restarting the car to clear the light.

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