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Warning lights are on your dashboard for a reason一they’re your vehicle’s way of telling you that something is wrong, and you need to make a quick trip to a certified auto repair shop soon.

There are a couple of lights you’ll see throughout your vehicle’s service life, including the check engine, traction control, coolant temperature, battery service, and more.

But perhaps one of the car warning lights that’s confusing a lot of drivers is the triangle icon with an exclamation point in the middle.

What Does a Triangle With an Exclamation Point Mean?

A triangle with an exclamation point is called the master warning light or general warning light.

It won’t tell you exactly what’s wrong with your vehicle, but it indicates an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. In most cases, this indicator will be accompanied by other warning lights.

Triangle Light On Dash: Is It Red or Yellow?

The exact meaning of an illuminated general warning light will depend on your vehicle’s specifications, but in most cases, it can either be a minor or major issue that’s represented by two colors: red and yellow.

Yellow Warning Light

A yellow triangle with an exclamation point is usually a non-critical warning. It indicates that the problem you’re dealing with won’t necessarily put you in danger while you’re on the road, but you should still have your vehicle checked.

Common Causes of an Illuminated Yellow General Warning Light

Here are some of the most common reasons a yellow general warning light can pop up on your dash.

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Bulb Failure

Your vehicle has several lighting and signaling systems with specific operating characteristics.

Over time, the exterior lighting, headlights, brake lights, turn signals, flasher units, and courtesy lights can fail, prompting the general warning light to appear.

Faulty lighting won’t affect your vehicle’s drivability, but you might have trouble navigating through low-visibility roads, increasing the risk of getting into an accident.

Low Tire Pressure

Most vehicles have a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) that warns the driver if the tire pressure has dropped by as much as 25% or 8 psi.

If the tire pressure is too low, a warning lamp or display message can appear on the dash together with the general warning light.

Faulty Anti-Lock Braking System

The anti-lock braking system (ABS) prevents the wheels from locking up during sudden braking. It also decreases the risk of skidding and helps the vehicle stop in a straight line.

A functional ABS system helps the driver maintain steering control during heavy braking conditions, such as a panic stop.

Issues like a malfunctioning ABS control module, low hydraulic fluid levels, and damaged wheel speed sensors are common culprits of a faulty anti-lock braking system.

Engine Maintenance

For some models, the general warning light can appear if it’s almost time for certain maintenance tasks.

Oil changes, coolant top-ups, battery performance checks, and filter replacements are some tasks you might need to catch up on once the general warning light appears.

Red Warning Light

Meanwhile, a red warning light with an exclamation point is a more urgent warning. It usually lights up when there’s a safety-related issue or a problem with the engine’s condition.

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Common Causes of an Illuminated Red General Warning Light

The following issues can trigger a red general warning light.

Overheating Engine

Defects in the cooling system are the most common causes of an overheating engine. If a red warning light appears on your dashboard and you’re sure that the engine is overheating, you might want to inspect the engine for the following:

Brake Problems

The braking system is arguably one of the most important mechanisms in your vehicle.

On average, brakes are applied about 50,000 times a year, making them wear and tear components that should always be checked regularly.

A pulsating or sinking brake pedal, increased stopping distances, and squealing noises are symptoms that require immediate attention.

So when the general warning light pops up and you’re having trouble with your brakes, bring your vehicle to the nearest auto repair shop right away.

Transmission Issues

The transmission is responsible for providing high torque output at low speeds and low torque output at high speeds for maximum fuel economy.

Like many components, the transmission requires regular maintenance. Failure to keep up with basic tasks can lead to drivability problems and an expensive repair bill.

Hesitation, slipping gears, fluid leaks, shuddering, and delayed shifting are common problems associated with the transmission.

Faulty Airbag System

Like seatbelts and retractors, airbags minimize passenger injury in the event of a collision.

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Unfortunately, airbags can develop a couple of problems that can cause the general warning light to illuminate.

In that case, sensors, airbag module, clock spring wire coil, control module, and other wiring should be checked for faults or defects.

Low Oil Pressure

Proper lubrication is critical to any engine operation. The oil pressure must be high enough to lubricate the bearings and create an oil flow that will help the system cool down.

Oil pressure occurs when the capacity of the oil pump is larger than the engine leaks.

Excessive leaks, a worn-out oil pump, and oil viscosity are factors that affect oil pressure.

Other Meanings Behind the Master Warning Light

There are some vehicles that have their own definition of an illuminated master warning light.

A yellow warning light with an exclamation point, for example, is associated with stability problems in European cars.

For many Honda vehicles, this type of warning pops up when the Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) feature is experiencing issues.

A Closer Look at Honda’s VSA

honda vsa activation indicator light
For many Honda vehicles, this type of warning pops up when the Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) feature is experiencing issues. Image credit: Honda.

Honda’s VSA feature is designed to enhance vehicle control when accelerating, cornering, and braking.

When activated, the system can apply brakes to individual wheels and reduce the throttle.

The VSA feature also helps the vehicle maintain stability even when driving on surfaces with a split coefficient of friction (e.g., one wheel is on an icy road while the other is on dry pavement).

About The Author
CarParts Research Team
Written By Research Team

Automotive and Tech Writers

The Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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