The Stanley Subaru Scoop

(To beep or not to beep)

By far one of our most useful blog 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 three 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 and part two covered fluids and batteries. Here in part three, we'll look at moving parts and lights.


Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS) Warning light

What does this light mean?
For details on how Subaru brake systems work, check out this post. Your ABS light will come on for a few reasons when the car is working normally:

  • The light will illuminate for two seconds when the ignition is turned to the on position
  • The light will turn on and then off when the engine is started
  • The light may come on and stay lit after the engine has started then turns off when the vehicle reaches about 25 mph / 40 kph
  • The light may come on during driving but then turns immediately off

What should I do about that?
If the light does the above, you're fine. If, however it does any of the following, you should schedule a service appointment to have the system inspected and repaired:

  • The warning light does NOT illuminate when you turn the ignition to on
  • The warning light stays illuminated and doesn't turn off when the vehicle exceeds 25 mph / 40 kph
  • The warning light comes on while driving
If the warning light comes on, but the Brake Warning Light is off, the brakes will work, but the ABS function will be disabled.

Sometimes the ABS warning light will come on when the vehicle has a low battery, like after it's been jump started. It's due to low battery voltage and doesn't indicate malfunction. The light will turn off with a fully charged battery (either a replacement or if your battery fully recharges).

Brake warning light

What does this light mean?
This light comes on when the parking brake is engaged. It will turn off when the parking brake is disengaged. Easy enough. It also turns on if the brake fluid has dropped below the MIN mark, indicating the minimum level of appropriate brake fluid in the reservoir. If the light comes on during driving, it could mean that the brake fluid has dropped below this level or it could mean the brake pads are worn.

What should I do about that?
If you see this light come on, safely pull over and check the brake fluid. If the fluid is below the MIN marking, either fill it up if you have some or have your vehicle towed to us. It's not safe to drive.

The warning light may also come on if there's a problem with the Electronic Brake Force Distribution system (EBD) which we described in more detail here. If there is an issue with the EBD, this light will come on along with the ABS light. Even if EBD isn't functioning, conventional braking will still work. You will want to set up an appointment as quickly as possible.

If the Brake and ABS light come on together, you'll want to do these things:

  1. Stop the vehicle in the nearest safe, flat spot you can reach.
  2. Shut down the engine and apply the parking brake.
  3. Restart the engine. Release the parking brake.
  4. If both lights turn off, the EBD may be malfunctioning. Carefully drive to the nearest Subaru dealer and get the system inspected. If both warning lights stay lit, shut down the engine again, apply the brake, and check the brake fluid level.
  5. If the brake fluid is above the MIN mark, carefully drive to us so we can inspect your EBD. If the brake fluid is below the MIN mark, it is not safe to drive. Have the vehicle towed to us for repair.

Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) warning light

What does this light mean?
When the ignition is turned to the ON position, the low tire pressure warning light will come on for about 2 seconds while checking the TPMSystem. If there is no problem, and the tires are properly inflated, the light will turn off.

If the light stays on or comes on during driving, it means you have at least one tire that is likely significantly underinflated. Underinflation leads to greater wear on the tread, decreased gas mileage, and can negatively impact handling and stopping.

The Subaru Tire Pressure Monitoring System also comes with a malfunction indicator. If the TPMS blinks for a minute then stays illuminated, then begins blinking again (and so on), that indicates a malfunction with the TPMS that could be for a number of reasons including a replacement wheel or tire that impairs TPMS's ability to function.

What should I do about that?
Each tire (including the spare) should be checked monthly when cold. They should be inflated to the inflated pressure recommended by your manufacturer. If you don't know what it is off hand and you don't want to bother flipping through your owner's manual to find how much air to put in, the driver-side door frame has a plate with the VIN and tire pressure or, like with this 2012 Outback, a plate with the VIN and a sticker with the recommended tire pressure for each tire. You'll notice that the tire pressure is higher up front because the front of the vehicle is under greater load, and the higher pressure compensates.

Properly inflated tires will make for a smoother ride, lengthen the life of your tires, and improve your gas mileage.

If the light doesn't come on for the two seconds it should when your car starts, if the light stays illuminated after you've thoroughly checked all your tires, or if the malfunction sequence occurs, you should get it into a shop to have your system inspected and repaired.

For more on TPMS, check out this post dedicated to it, and just as a reminder, TPMS should not replace normal tire maintenance.

All Wheel Drive (AWD) warning light

What does this light mean?
(We have some previous posts talking about how Subaru symmetrical AWD works if you're interested.) This light comes on if there are tires of differing diameters on the wheels or if there is excessively low tire pressure in the tires.

What should I do about that?
If the AWD is flashing, driving can damage the powertrain. As soon as you can, park in a safe place and check your tires to make sure they're all properly inflated and the same size. If it's an inflation issue, fix that as quickly as possible, ideally before driving any farther. If the tires are mismatched, they need to be replaced right away. If neither of those are applicable, bring it in for an inspection.

Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) warning light

What does this light mean?
This light comes on and turns off for a few normal reasons, blinks if Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) is engaged, or stays on if there's an issue. The VDC warning light will illuminate and turn off as part of normal function under these circumstances:

  • The warning light comes on for about two seconds when the engine is started.
  • The light comes on right after the engine starts but immediately turns off.
  • The light comes on when the vehicle starts but turns off when driven.
  • The light comes on if the vehicle stalls, stays on when the engine restarts, and turns off once the vehicle starts moving

The VDC warning light flashes during activation of your Subaru's skid suppression function and during activation of the traction control function.

What should I do about that?
If the stuff in the normal category up there happens, you're fine. If it flashes during instances of low traction and stops once traction is regained, you're fine. If it is outside of those categories, you should bring it in. For instance:

  • If the warning light doesn't turn on when you turn the ignition to on.
  • The light comes on and stays on while the vehicle is running.

Note: In especially cold weather, the VDC warning light may stay illuminated after starting your vehicle until the engine is warmed up.
Note the second: If ABS is out, so is VDC. Normal braking will work, but you should get that fixed right away.

Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) OFF

What does this light mean?
The VDC system is probably malfunctioning and is currently unavailable.

What should I do about that?
If this light doesn't turn off after the car is started, you need to bring it in for service immediately.


What does this light mean?
We've got all kinds of information on X-mode here. This basically lets you know X-Mode is on.

What should I do about that?
If you don't want X-Mode on, turn it off. If you do want X-Mode on, you're solid. The driving information display can be turned off if you want. To do so, tun the ignition to the LOCK/OFF position and press the + button next to the clock display for approximately 5 seconds. The driving information display will blink for about three seconds to let you know the driving information display has been turned off. To turn it back on, do the same thing.

Hill Start Assist / Hill Holder

What does this light mean?
This light comes on in manual vehicles when you activate Hill Start Assist (also known as Hill Holder). When stopping on a hill, both the clutch and brake are fully depressed. When Hill Start Assist is engaged, keeping the clutch fully depressed keeps the brake engaged, making it less daring to move your foot from the brake to the accelerator. As the clutch is released, so are the brakes.

What should I do about that?
You can turn on or off Hill Start Assist with the toggle of a button.  Check your owner's manual for where the button is on your vehicle. Hill start assist will work after you've already come to a stop, but it works better if it's on before you start braking. The hold is not indefinite, but Nick in our Parts Department really likes his, and he says it lasts for about 10-15 seconds.

Cruise Control indicator light

What does this light mean?
This light comes on to let you know the cruise control function has been activated.

What should I do about that?
Choose what you want to do about cruise control--set your speed, disengage. If this light comes on with the Check Engine light, avoid driving at high speeds and bring your vehicle in so we can inspect it as soon as possible.

Cruise Control Set indicator light

What does this light mean?
The speed for your cruise control has been set.

What should I do about that?
You can enjoy the sweet technological magic of cruise control. Or you can disengage to readjust the speed or return to manual control. You do what feels right.

Hill Descent Control indicator light

What does this light mean?
This comes on while the Hill Descent Control function is in standby. It will flash if Hill Descent Control is in active use. It will turn off if Hill Descent Control is unavailable.

What should I do about that?
Have a controlled downhill ride.

Door open

What does this light mean?
If any door or rear gate isn't fully closed, this light comes on. It will come on whether or not there is a key in the ignition switch and regardless of what position the key is in the ignition switch.

What should I do about that?
Check before you drive that the light is off. If it's still on after you're in and you've closed the door, double-check your door and then the others as necessary. A door improperly latched isn't secure and can be dangerous.

Power Steering

What does this light mean?
This comes on when the ignition is first turned to on and turns off after the engine starts. Doing so means the warning system is working properly. If the power steering light comes on while the engine is running, it means there's likely an issue with the power steering system.

What should I do about that?
Driving with the light on can be driving without power steering which makes for greatly increased resistance when turning the wheel. If the light comes on when the engine's running, you should bring your vehicle in so we can take a look.

Heads up, there are a few things that will limit the amount of power assist available to you:

  • The steering wheel is used frequently with sharp turns and cuts while the vehicle is maneuvered at low speed, like during difficult parallel parking.
  • The steering wheel has been in a fully turned position for a long time.

Power steering is limited in these cases to prevent the system components (like the control computer and drive motor) from overheating.
There will be more resistance on the wheel during use at this time, but the power steering isn't malfunctioning. Normal steering will come back shortly. However, if the limiting is triggered too frequently, it could lead to a malfunction.

Access Key

What does this light mean? What should I do about that?
This works in a few different ways, so I'm going to let the 2015 Forester 2.0 XT Touring Owner's Manual take it:

Icy Road Surface warning light

What does this light mean?
This light comes on if the temperature gauge registers a temperature at or below 37 degrees Fahrenheit / 3 degrees centigrade. This light is only available in certain models and certain packages. it will interrupt the information display for a few seconds before the display returns to normal.

What should I do about that?
Be aware that road surfaces may be icy, and you may want to drive with a little extra caution. Keep in mind that the temperature gauge only measures the air temperature around the gauge and may not necessarily reflect an accurate air temperature for you or the vehicle as a whole. Also keep in mind you should check driving conditions every time you get behind the wheel. This warning is just meant to be a little reminder.


Headlight indicator light

What does this light mean?
You've got headlights on, dude.

If the switch is in the auto position, the indicator light will light up only when your headlights come on automatically.

What should I do about that?
Nothin' if you want your headlights on. Toggle the switch if you don't.

High beam indicator light

What does this light mean?
Your high beam lights are on.

What should I do about that?
Just remember to turn off your high beams when there's oncoming traffic or if you're following. Here in Maine, you've got to dim high beams at least by the time you're within 500 feet of oncoming traffic or by the time you're following another vehicle within 300 feet.

Automatic beam leveler warning light

What does this light mean?
This light comes on if the automatic beam leveler isn't working properly.

What should I do about that?
If this light doesn't turn off after about three seconds after the ignition has been turned to on, bring it in so we can take a look.

Front fog light indicator light

What does this light mean?
This light comes on if your fog lights are on for those vehicles that have fog lights.

What should I do about that?
Revel in your superior visibility.

Turn signal indicator lights / blinkers

What does this light mean?
Your turn signal's on. If both are simultaneously flashing, you've probably engaged your hazards.

What should I do about that?
If the indicator lights don't blink or if they blink rapidly, the turn signal bulb may be burned out. Check to see if you have a non-functioning bulb, and replace it if necessary. You can get parts here.

Hazard warning flasher

What does this light mean?
The hazard warning flasher is used to warn other drivers when you have to park your vehicle under emergency conditions.

What should I do about that?
To turn on the hazard warning flasher, push the button with that symbol on the instrument panel. Turn them off by pressing the button again. Hazards will work regardless of the position of the ignition switch. Note: turn signals won't work when the hazards are active.

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.

We've got you covered.

or call 207-667-4641 / 866-709-4461

Categories: Technical Schmecnical


mary bonham
I just got a 2015 Subura Forester and Just noticed when the motor is off and the key is out the ABS brake light keeps flashing on and off
Post Follow Up
Spencer Patterson King
Hi, Mary,

Your ABS light shouldn't be on at all when the key is out of the ignition. You might want to double-check that it isn't your anti-theft security light that blinks. The security light is just left of the speedometer, is red, and blinks regularly when the key is out of the ignition. Because it blinks somewhat quickly, it can be really hard to tell (especially if you're outside your Forester) that it looks like a little padlock in front of a front-view of a car silhouette.

If it is definitely your ABS light blinking, though, please bring it in, because that needs inspected.
Post Follow Up
Rómulo Chávez
I have a Subaru Impreza XV 2010, the Vehicle Dynamics Control Warning Light doesn't turn off at all even when I am driving. Does this mean it is malfunctioning and how can ir can be erased?
Spencer Patterson King
Hi, Romulo,

You should definitely bring it in to have it looked at. Vehicle Dynamics Control is keyed into several systems, and if one of them is malfunctioning, that could not only affect your vehicle's performance, but your safety. You can schedule an appointment here.
I have a 2014 Forester. It was purchased in Feb 2014 and currently has about 7000 miles. Recently made a 1400 mile road trip. On the last day of the trip, when I started the car, I noticed several messages appear on the screen including...oil maintnenace required, tire inspection required, maintenance required immediately. As I could not get my car in to a Subaru dealsership I went to an Oil Can Henry's. They changed the oil, put in a new oil filter, checked the tires, checked the coolant, etc. The car is running fine, but the darn warning messages still appear everytime I start the car. Do I have to take it into a dealership and pay again to have the messages switched back off? All of the services were performed as needed. Thank you!
Spencer Patterson King
Hi, Jan,

It may be that the service provider either forgot or didn't know to adjust the maintenance settings for your Forester. If the messages are reminders, you can turn the messages off yourself. The instructions to reset the lights are in your owner's manual. If you have a 2.5i, the instructions begin on 3-66 of your manual.

You are certainly more than welcome to bring it in and we can do it for you.

If you have concerns about whether they are merely the reminders or warnings/indicators, you should either check your manual or call your local Subaru dealer to make sure. Driving with a warning indicator could lead to some more costly repairs if there is an untreated problem.
Bonnie Maris
My 2012 subaru legacy has the vehicle dynamics control, brake, cruise, and check engine light on all at once. The dealer said it was just the gas cap. Got gas again one week later and now the lights are all flashing again! Is this the gas cap as they say? Or r they trying to avoid repairs that they will have to cover under warranty?
Spencer Patterson King
Hi, Bonnie,

We're sorry to hear you're having trouble with your legacy. The gas cap was the easy fix (and probably exactly why it was recommended--reasonable expectation it's the cause, easy to fix, cheap to fix!), but if it's still giving you trouble, it really does need further diagnosis to figure out what's going on, whether it's the same problem or a different one, and how to best resolve it.

As for warranty, it would be pretty exceptional for a dealer to avoid a warranty repair. At Stanley Subaru, we very hard to ensure that we are available to amend anything that comes under warranty at the earliest possible convenience to our guests. Dealers are generally quite amicable to warranty service visits, so I would hesitate to say anything about that.

Best of luck!
Chris Mozee
My ABS light as well as the hill light came on inside my 2012 STI? Should I be worried? Thanks.
Spencer Patterson King
Hi, Chris,

If the hill assist was right after starting the vehicle so you could shift into gear, it's entirely possible the ABS light was still in its diagnostic cycle and not actually indicative of use. If it wasn't right after starting your STI, it could still be fine: the ABS light will come on when ABS is active. Depending on the surface you were driving when you were using hill assist, the ABS could have activated to ensure smooth control. If the lights are off and the issue hasn't happened again, you can probably afford not to worry about it too much. If it wasn't either of those instances or if you still have any concerns, a hands on look from a Subaru-certified technician is the way to go. Unfortunately, without looking at it ourselves, we can't say for sure one way or the other.

Hope that helps!
Hi l have a subaru legacy 2004 touring wagon recently the sport indicator started blinking while l was driving should l worry
Spencer Patterson King

So, obviously you should get that checked out if you haven't already. It's not something that means you need to stop driving immediately, but you should get it inspected as soon as possible. The blinking sport indicator could point to an issue with your Vehicle Dynamics Control or Anti-Lock Brakes. It wont' be undrivable, but again, getting a once-over at your earliest convenience is a good idea.
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