(Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and End the Beep)

By far one of our most useful posts has been What does this light on my Subaru dashboard mean? And with good reason. It's a great quick-reference guide for almost every light that shows up on your dash. So, now you know what light corresponds to what system, but why do they light up? Should you do anything about it when they do? How involved is it, really?

Welcome to part two of our Technical Schmecnical deep dive on why these lights go off in the first place and what to do about them when they do. Part one concerned seatbelts and airbags. In part two, we're going to look at fluids and batteries.

First, did you know about this thing?

 Photo from the dash of the 2014 XV Crosstrek Hybrid

I know people who had been driving for almost two decades before they knew about this. This is sometimes a light, like this picture I took of a Crosstrek Hybrid. Sometimes it's a static item on your dash, like a little painted symbol of a gas pump. That little triangle next to the pump? That tells you what side of the vehicle the gas tank is on. So, if you're in a rental, you need to fill up, and you can't remember where it is during the walkthrough, you can just check your dash! New car, not used to it yet when pulling up to the pump? Right there! Fantastic!


It'll be in a different place on your dash, depending on your vehicle, but it will almost always be near the fuel gauge. You can see it right in the middle here on the 2014 XV Crosstrek Hybrid dash.

Low fuel warning light
What does this light mean?

You're low on fuel. The float that gauges how much you have is either at or very very near the bottom of the tank.

What should I do about that?

You should probably get some fuel.

Windshield washer fluid warning light

What does this light mean?

The reservoir of windshield washer fluid is low or empty.

What should I do about that?

It'd be a good idea to fill up. Wiper fluid tends to be pretty inexpensive, which is nice. You'll want windshield washer (also called screen wash) fluid to clean off dirt, bug guts, and (soon enough) snow and ice. Improved visibility is improved safety.

Oil pressure warning light
What does this light mean?

If this light comes on during driving (or if it doesn't turn off after the engine starts), it indicates that the oil pressure may be low and you won't have proper lubrication in the engine. DO NOT OPERATE THE ENGINE WITH THE OIL PRESSURE WARNING LIGHT ILLUMINATED AS IT CAN CAUSE SERIOUS ENGINE DAMAGE.

What should I do about that?

Stop the engine safely and check the oil level. If it's low, you really need to add some oil. If the oil levels are good or if the light persists, then the vehicle should be brought in immediately and checked. Schedule a service here or call 207-667-4641 or 866-709-4461.

Low engine oil level warning light

What does this light mean?

This illuminates when the engine oil drops to the lower limit.

What should I do about that?

If you see this light, park safely and check your oil level. Whenever the engine oil level is not in the normal range, refill the oil level to appropriate amounts. That all-caps orange text above is no joke. If the warning light comes on when the oil is in normal range or if the oil has been refilled to a normal range and the light persists, set up an appointment so we can inspect it.

Heads up:

For best results after refilling oil, the vehicle should be on a level surface.
The warning light may light up because of significant oil movement in the engine if:
  • the vehicle is considerably inclined on a hill or slope
  • the vehicle has continuously accelerated and decelerated (the momentum of speeding up and slowing down sloshes it around)
  • the vehicle is driven on a road that continuously alternates between inclines and declines
Thankfully, there are no mountains in Maine, so it's not like any of those will be an issue.

Coolant temperature warning light
We have a whole bunch on this here, but the short version is:
  • When the light is blue, the coolant temperature is low. This is why it lights up blue when you start your vehicle. It will turn off when your engine gets to appropriate operating temperatures.
  • When the light blinks red, the coolant temperature is high. It means your engine is close to overheating and you should stop safely and manage the overheating.
  • When the light stays red, your engine is very likely overheating. You should deal with the overheating and schedule a service immediately before the engine is worsened by further overheating or irregular wear by warped parts.

Managing overheating:

DO NOT REMOVE THE RADIATOR CAP UNTIL THE ENGINE IS COMPLETELY COOLED. Contents are under pressure, and there is an incredibly high risk of scalding if you loosen or remove the radiator cap while the engine is overheating.

   1. A. If there is steam coming from the engine compartment: shut off the vehicle, exit the vehicle, and move away from the vehicle. Call us right away. 207-667-4641 or 866-709-4461.

   1. B. If there is no steam coming from the engine compartment: let the engine run at idling speed. Open the hood to help ventilate. Make sure the coolant fan is working. If the fan is not spinning, turn off the engine and call us right away. 207-667-4641  /  866-709-4461.

   2. After the coolant temperature warning light has turned off, turn off the engine.

   3. After the engine is completely cooled, check the coolant reserve tank. If you have less than the LOW mark, add coolant until you get to FULL.

   4. If there's no coolant in the reserve tank, fill the reserve tank, then open the radiator cap and fill the radiator with coolant.

   5. Make sure the vehicle is safely operable when you turn the engine back on by paying attention to the coolant indicator light.

   6. Schedule a service as soon as possible by clicking here, or call 207-667-4641 or 866-709-4461.

Check your manual if you don't know where your coolant reserve tank is. If you can't find your manual, look it up here (goes back to 2000). On the 2015 Subaru Forester 2.5i, the tank is here:


Automatic Transmission oil temperature warning light

What does this light mean?

If this comes on while the engine's running, it could mean the transmission oil temperature is too high. 

What should I do about that?

If it comes on while driving, stop safely and let the engine idle until the temperature cools and the light goes away.

If the light flashes when you start your vehicle, it could mean that the transmission control system isn't working properly. Call us to set up an appointment to have that checked at 207-667-4641 or 866-709-4461 or schedule your service online.

Charge warning light

What does this light mean?

If this light doesn't turn off after the engine is started or if it comes on during driving, it means there's a good chance the charging system isn't working properly.

What do I need to do about that?

Stop the engine at the first safe opportunity. Check the alternator belt. If the belt is loose or damaged, contact us. That needs fixed. If the belt is in good condition, but the light remains lit, that needs fixed. You can call 207-667-4641 or 866-709-4461 or schedule a service online for as soon as possible.

The Deep Dive series:

Part one: Seatbelts and Airbags


Part two: Fluids and Batteries PLUS How to deal with an overheating engine

Part three: Moving parts and lights which includes that snowflake (sometimes orange snowflake) that shows up!

Were you looking for why your lights are still on in your Subaru even if you don't have the key in the ignition? Check out our post here.

For more information, Check out our FAQ.

Categories: Technical Schmecnical