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What Do My BMW Warning Lights Mean?

Your BMW has a sophisticated computer system that runs everything from the ignition timing to the power windows. It also monitors all the various vehicle systems and alerts the driver when a system is failing or needs attention. This is where your warning lights come in. BMW warning lights use a color-coded system where most red lights indicate a serious issue and amber lights typically indicate faults of some kind that are less pressing.

Your BMW has a sophisticated computer system that runs everything from the ignition timing to the power windows. It also monitors all the various vehicle systems and alerts the driver when a system is failing or needs attention. This is where your warning lights come in. BMW warning lights use a color-coded system where most red lights indicate a serious issue and amber lights typically indicate faults of some kind that are less pressing.

Warning Lights

A red warning light indicates that there is problem with the vehicle that could cause an immediate mechanical breakdown or safety issue. 

Charging and Electrical System

The charging and electrical system warning light looks light a car battery, basically a rectangle with two small terminals on top. This can indicate that you have issues with your battery, alternator, or any of the other components of the charging system.

Brake System

A red light that says BRAKE or has a picture of a circle with an exclamation point inside and a bracket on either side indicates that there is an issue with your brake system. It would be wise to have them checked by a mechanic, since faulty brakes are a major hazard to everyone on the road.

Parking Brake Indicator

The parking brake indicator looks like the regular brake light, but it has a P inside the circle. This light tells us that the parking brake is engaged.

Oil Warning

The oil warning light looks like an old-style oil can, usually with a drop of oil coming out of the tip. If it illuminates, it means that your oil level is low, and you should add a quart as soon as possible. Most BMW engines do not have a dipstick, so you must check the oil using the dash information system.

Engine Temperature 

The engine temperature light shows a picture of a thermometer standing in water. If this light illuminates it means that your coolant temperatures have risen to a level that could damage the engine, often because of a bad water pump. You should safely pull over and turn off the engine. It’s not advisable to continue driving the vehicle at this point.

Air Bag Warning

This symbol looks like a person sitting with a seatbelt and a large, filled circle in front of them. It indicates that there is a problem with one of the many air bags in the vehicle. 

Fault Lights

This group of lights shows faults with the vehicle that can impact the operation of the vehicle, but don’t necessarily portend a safety or mechanical threat that must be dealt with immediately.

Check Engine Light

This light looks like an engine and can mean a few things. Maybe a cylinder is misfiring, maybe the gas cap is loose, or maybe there are other electronic or sensor issues within the engine. Your best bet is to use a code reader to access the OBD2 port and read the code that the engine management software is sending. That will tell you exactly what the issue is.

Check Control Message

This fault light looks like a filled triangle with a black exclamation mark in the center. You’ll see it in your dashboard information center when there is an issue like a burnt-out bulb that needs to be addressed. Use the BC button and toggles on the turn signal stalk to navigate that menu and determine the details of the issue.

Key Fob Malfunction

The key fob malfunction warning looks like an AA battery with a key poking through it. This usually means that the battery on your key fob is low. Some models charge the battery while in the ignition.

Low Brake Pad Indicator

This light looks like the brake system light from above, but it is yellow and the brackets outside of the circle are dotted. It gives you the warning that you will need to change the brake pads as soon as possible. 

Anti-lock Brake System Fault

This looks just like the brake system light from above, except it is yellow and has the letters ABS in the middle of the circle. It indicates that your anti-lock brake system needs servicing and may not operate according to spec.

Tire Pressure Monitor 

Your tire pressure warning light is yellow and looks like the cutaway cross section of a tire, with an exclamation point inside.

Steering Trouble Indicator

An icon that looks like a steering wheel with an exclamation point beside it indicates that there is a problem with the steering system. 

Dynamic Stability Control

The dynamic stability control, or DSC, light looks like an arrow encircling a triangle with an exclamation point inside. The DSC monitors all your wheel spin, steering angle, and anti-lock brake sensors to determine if the car is out of control and needs intervention to correct a slide or skid. If you’re driving in slippery conditions and the DSC is off, the car will not correct an oversteer or understeer situation, so be very careful. You can manually disable the DSC by pressing and holding the DTC button on the dash, if needed.

Transmission Fault 

This indicator looks like a red gear with an exclamation mark inside. This could indicate that your transmission fluid is low, or that you have other drivetrain problems that need to be dealt with.

Check Gas Cap

This fault indicator has a picture of a loose gas cap, or the words CHECK GAS CAP. It simply means that you need to tighten the gas cap.

Low Fuel Warning

This light looks like a gas tank with a hose and will light up when the tank is becoming low. 

Low Coolant Warning

The low coolant warning light is a picture that looks like a fish tank with a cap on one side at the top. Be sure to top up your coolant level, to avoid overheating your engine and causing damage.

Low Washer Fluid Indicator

This is a very standard symbol, a windshield with dashed lines depicting water squirting over it. You can fill you washer fluid by accessing the blue filler cap under the hood.

Frost Warning Indicator

When the temperature drops below the frost point, your BMW expresses its concern by showing you a picture of a triangle with a snowflake inside and striking a chime through the audio system.


BMW makes great engines and have historically been a ton of fun to drive. If you stay on top of your maintenance and head the warnings from your dashboard, you can have many good years with your ultimate driving machine.

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