Understanding Your Buick or GMC’s Emergency Lights

The modern car has a ton of emergency lights to catch your attention scattered across your display.

Hopefully, you don’t see them all too often.

But it’s understandable that, once you do, panic might immediately set in. For most people, they go right to thinking the worst. The good news is, understanding your car’s emergency lights will help you figure out which ones are fine, which need immediate attention, and which ones are not a worry in the very near future. So let’s walk through what the different emergency lights are, how they display, and what they mean.

Understanding Your Buick or GMC’s Emergency Lights at Jack Giambalvo Buick GMC in York, PA | Dashboard lights lighting up in a car

Color Coding

A lot of life is color coded. We’re trained to see yellow and think “caution,” or red and think “danger.” Your car’s lights work much the same way.

Green and blue lights on your dash generally are just indicators that a feature is engaged. They don’t indicate danger, they are just a sort of head’s up to the driver. Yellow lights, however, are more cautionary. They’re things you need to pay attention to – and are sometimes indicators of dangerous situations. If you see yellow lights on the dashboard, it’s no reason to panic, but you’ll need to be extra attentive. Red lights are not good. Red lights generally indicate system failures, or high danger situations. These lights need your attention as soon as possible.

There are also some other colors that pop up, particularly tan, light yellow, or white. These are generally systems indicators that don’t need attention at the moment.
So what are many of the individual causes of these lights?

Understanding Your Buick or GMC’s Emergency Lights at Jack Giambalvo Buick GMC in York, PA | person driving car with warning lights on the dash

Green Lights

Since these are not necessarily concerns, we don’t need to go too in depth. These are the turn signal indicators, the cruise control indicator, the headlights indicator and the high-beam indicator. They are pretty much telling you “this is working, it’s fine, just know that it’s on.” You may sometimes see it in the form of a green shoe in a circle – that’s the automatic shift lock or engine start indicator. This means you need to engage the brake in your vehicle to start your car, or get it out of neutral. Not a concern, just a head’s up.

Yellow Lights

Yellow or amber lights are the most common ones you’ll see. These indicate the need for caution, and are particularly relevant to control issues with the vehicle such as traction concerns. These include:

  • Tire Pressure Warning LightTire Pressure is outside of the normal safe operating range. Inflate or deflate when able.
  • Anti-Lock Brake Warning Light – An error in the ABS system may prevent your anti-lock brakes from working properly. That being said, this comes on at every vehicle start as an indicator the system is checking itself.
  • Traction Control MalfunctionTraction control system may have a broken or damaged sensor, or may otherwise be malfunctioning. It may not behave as you hope if loss of traction happens.
  • Check Engine Light – Probably the most familiar, and can mean a lot of things. sIt can indicate an open or cracked gas cap – or it could mean your engine has low oil pressure. If flashing, that indicates a serious problem that needs to be addressed soon, and could cause serious damage if ignored. If you see this light, you should immediately schedule service for your vehicle.
  • Low Fuel Indicator – Go fill up your gas tank! Unless you feel like walking to the next gas station.
  • Air Bag Indicator – There may be an issue with your airbags, or the system itself. Get them checked out, as they may not protect you as they should in the case of an accident.
  • Fog Lamp Indicator – Your fog lamps are on. Great if you’re in low visibility, not great if you aren’t – these lights can be harsh on other drivers’ eyes in clear conditions.
  • Security Light – There may be an issue with your vehicle’s anti-theft systems.


Understanding Your Buick or GMC’s Emergency Lights at Jack Giambalvo Buick GMC in York, PA | Indicator light on dash showing that the gas level is low

Red Lights

Red lights indicate the need for immediate concern. These are often indicators of a severe system issue, or a danger to the vehicle or occupants. They include:

  • Oil Pressure Light – You’re low on oil, or it isn’t being circulated properly. Low oil can cause increased engine wear and more.
  • Engine Temperature Warning LightYour engine is overheating. Add coolant as soon as possible to prevent a seize-up.
  • Traction Control Light – Your vehicle’s traction control system is working, which means the road conditions are hazardous. Proceed with caution.
  • Battery Alert – There is an issue with the vehicle’s charging system – which, weirdly enough, is more likely to mean it’s NOT the battery that is the problem. Can also mean issues with cables, the alternator, and more.
  • Brake Warning Light – Handbrake or parking brake is still on. If it is always on, it can mean loss of hydraulic pressure in the brake system or low fluid levels in the master cylinder. Investigate immediately – the worst kind of car is the one that can’t stop.
  • Seat Belt ReminderBuckle up!


Understanding Your Buick or GMC’s Emergency Lights at Jack Giambalvo Buick GMC in York, PA | Dashboard lights indicating that seat belt is not buckled, a door is open, and tire pressure is low

White Lights and More

These lights are usually unique to the make or type of vehicle. For instance, diesel vehicles will have their own unique lights including glow plug indicator lights, fuel filter warning, exhaust fluid light, and more. Likewise, some vehicles may have unique systems – they could be anything from a white light indicating that there is an obstruction in a blind spot, to pointing out that the speed limiter function has been activated on your vehicle. Check your vehicle’s manual for a comprehensive guide to lights on your car.


When you understand your car’s emergency lights, you are not as likely to panic when they come on. This primer, plus your vehicle’s manual, will help you understand those lights and react accordingly. Get to know your vehicle, and you’ll get the most out of it! Do you have more questions about the lights in your vehicle? Need to schedule a service appointment? Contact our staff at Jack Giambalvo Buick GMC.