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'Idiot' enlightenment

Microsoft IES Logo By Charles Plueddeman for MSN Autos of Microsoft IES | Slide 1 of 13

Demystifying the pesky little instrument-panel warning lights adorning your car's dash

My father still calls them "idiot lights," referring to the array of warning indicators found in an automobile's instrument cluster that over the years have replaced analog gauges. By the 1970s, the only real "instruments" left on most dashboards were a speedometer and a gas gauge - possibly a tachometer. Fact is, warning lights are less expensive than gauges, and probably more attention-grabbing for the typically disengaged driver. So they serve their purpose. But over the years, these clusters of illuminated icons have grown more complex and, as a result, more confusing. Heck, some of today's cars and trucks have more glowing dashboard lights than a Christmas tree. Knowing what they mean, and what to do when one flashes, is important for your safety and because the correct response could save you a huge repair bill.You can view all of your car's instrument panel indicators by switching the ignition key to the "on" position (one click short of starting the engine). Each icon represents a system on the car, from a floating thermometer for engine temperature to a cross-section of a tire with an exclamation point for one of the newest warnings, low tire pressure. Your owner's manual offers a short explanation of what each means, and how you should react. But because you probably won't read your owner's manual, you should at least flip through the gallery, and become "idiot enlightened."
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