Warning Light Malfunction (Here Is How To Fix)

Warning Light Malfunction

Contrary to popular belief, it is unlikely that your warning light is malfunctioning. If you have a warning light malfunction, then there is a problem elsewhere in your vehicle.

A warning light isn’t going to come on for no reason.

On this page, our job is to help identify why you may have a warning light malfunction and, hopefully, provide a bit of information on how you can fix the problem once and for all.

Let’s jump right on in since we have a lot to cover here!

What Is The Warning Light?

Just so we are on the same page as one another, when we talk about the warning light in a vehicle, we are talking about the small light that comes on to indicate that there is an issue with your vehicle. This is sometimes called the ‘check engine’ light.

Some more modern vehicles have ditched the idea of a warning light, with many opting to give you more of an idea about what is actually causing the issues.

However, older vehicles (and perhaps those that are not quite so technically advanced) will have a warning light on them. When it comes on, it is a problem. 

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Can The Warning Light Malfunction In a Vehicle?

It can do, but it is probably incredibly rare. 

If your warning light comes on in your vehicle, you can safely assume that there is a problem somewhere in your vehicle that needs to be dealt with.

Honestly, the only thing that could really cause a warning light malfunction in a vehicle would be electrical or computer issues, so your lamp isn’t really malfunctioning, but something else in your vehicle is.

In incredibly rare cases, there could be an issue with the bulb for the warning light. However, we cannot stress enough how rare this is.

It is incredibly unlikely a bulb will burn out. Well, at least for the warning light. It isn’t on anywhere near often enough. 

Shortly, we are going to give you a quick guide to diagnosing any problem with your vehicle. If you can’t identify the issue, then talk to a mechanic.

It is likely that the problem is ‘hidden’ as opposed to being a genuine issue with your vehicle’s warning light. 

Why Does The Warning Light Come On?

The warning light does pretty much what it says on the tin. It tells you that there is a problem somewhere in your vehicle.

This could be something as simple as the gas cap on your vehicle being loose, or it could be a problem with the engine or the electrical system.

The problem is that the warning light itself isn’t all that descriptive of what the issue is. We will talk about how to identify the problem a bit later on.

It’s pretty safe to say that if you have a warning light on your vehicle, then it means that you have a problem that needs to be looked at in the pretty near future. If you don’t fix the problem, then things are only going to get worse for you.

Depending on what is causing the issue, it is still probably going to be safe to drive your vehicle, although you probably won’t want to drive it too much. As we said, the light is coming on for a reason. 

How Do You Reset a Warning Light?  

There are three ways to reset a warning light on a vehicle. Only one of them is going to be a long-term solution.

If you want a long-term solution, then you need to get to the bottom of what is causing that warning light to come on in the first place. Once that issue has been cleared up, then the light should turn itself off after a few miles. 

In older vehicles, you can disconnect the power to the vehicle. All you need to do is unclip the battery and you are done. Once you turn the vehicle back on, that light will disappear. Of course, as soon as the vehicle’s computer detects a problem again, then the light will come back on.

The third method is to use an OBD-2 scanner (more on that soon). Although, it will only work in some vehicles and, once again, the light is going to come back again.

So, the only way to properly reset a warning light is to fix whatever issue caused it to come on in the first place.

This is easier said than done since there are dozens of reasons why that warning light could be turned on. 

Identifying The Reason Behind The Warning Light

So, now we know that your warning light probably isn’t malfunctioning, let’s try and get to the bottom of why the issue is occurring in the first place.

Although, we must warn you that this is far easier said than done, particularly if you do not have a whole lot of experience when it comes to vehicles. 

OBD-2 Scanner (Or Talk To a Mechanic)

The simplest way to work out what is going wrong with your vehicle is to get your hands on an OBD-2 scanner or talk to a mechanic.

As you may know, your vehicle has a computer built into it. The computer is constantly analyzing for any issues with your vehicle. If an issue is detected, then that issue is ‘logged’ in the vehicle’s onboard computer. The warning light will then be displayed.

As we mentioned previously, you have absolutely no idea what that warning light means. The vehicle has decided to display the light, but there is no meaning behind it. This is where an OBD-2 scanner comes in. This device plugs directly into your vehicle’s computer.

After tapping a couple of buttons (what you do will depend on the vehicle you own), the system will give an error code.

This error code can then be compared against a list of manufacturer-issued error codes. This tells you exactly what the issue with your vehicle is. This will help you to fix it.

Every mechanic will have their own OBD-2 scanner to hand. However, you can also purchase your own for around $50, so it may be worth checking out, particularly if you are serious about your vehicle’s health. 

Over the next few sections, we are going to tell you what you need to be on the lookout for if you don’t have an OBD-2 scanner but, honestly, it is like finding a needle in a haystack, and things will be even more difficult if there is nothing to look out for and you genuinely do have a warning light malfunction. 

If The Light Is Solid 

This is the most common warning light that may appear on your vehicle. Luckily, it is one of the ‘better’ issues to be dealing with.

This is because a solid warning light often means that you have an issue, but it isn’t one that needs to be dealt with immediately, although you should probably have it looked at soon.

When the light is solid, there will often be an obvious reason why it has turned on. For example, if you have recently filled up your gas, then you may have left the gas cap off.

If the battery is old (more than five years), then it will probably need to be replaced.

So, this is what we think you should do, step by step:

  1. Walk around outside of your vehicle to see if there are any glaring issues e.g. missing gas gaps.
  2. Work out whether you can smell anything odd e.g. smoke, or whether something is getting hotter than normal in your vehicle.
  3. Listen for any rattling or strange sounds, etc.
  4. If you do not spot anything right away, just observe over the next few days.

Hopefully, by observing, you should have more of an idea about whether there is a serious problem with your vehicle.

If you still can’t spot anything, then you may have a warning light malfunction and you should head to a mechanic. 

If The Light is Flashing

If the light is flashing, then you have a major issue with your vehicle. The vehicle is basically screaming at you to get a problem looked at immediately.

By this point, any issues that you do have should be glaring. For example, you may have noticed that your vehicle is producing more smoke than normal, you may hear rattling sounds coming from the engine, or you may even notice that certain features in your vehicle aren’t working as well as they should.

In some cases, there may be other lights that appear on the dashboard. For example, if you get a warning light and a check battery light, then it is a battery issue.

If you get a warning light and a low fuel gauge, then there could be problems with the way the vehicle is getting fuel into the engine (or you are just out of fuel!).

If The Light Sporadically Comes On

If the light is sporadically coming on, then it is unlikely that you have a major issue with your vehicle. It is something that may appear every so often, but it isn’t something that is really worth worrying about right away. Although, you should probably keep an eye on your car.

If the light is sporadically coming on, then this may indicate a warning light malfunction. It could mean an electrical issue, or the bulb for your warning light may be going.

Once again, if you can’t work out exactly what is going on, then an OBD-2 scanner, or a chat with the mechanic, should help. 

Final Thoughts 

It is unlikely that you have a warning light malfunction. If you have a warning light that doesn’t turn off, then it means that you have a problem with your vehicle.

The light won’t disappear until that issue has been dealt with. 



Steve P.

Steve is an automotive technician, technical writer, and Managing Editor. He has held a lifelong passion for cars, with a particular interest in cars like the Buick Riviera. Steve is based in Boise, Idaho.

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