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Don't be clueless about those symbols

2015-03-03 08:29

ARE THE IMAGES UNRECOGNISABLE? Many drivers don't know these symbols. Do you? Image: Shutterstock.

LONDON, England - Just bought a new car? We bet there are some symbols on the facia that are a mystery to you or you've found hard to understand.

So, bone-up with us...

The chief examiner of the UK's Institute of Advanced Motorists, UK, Peter Rodger, has some advice.

For a start, he says, it’s important you know the difference between front and rear fog-light switches and when to use them. The front fog light switch will have a symbol like this (top left in picture below).


These lights have a wide, flat-aimed low beam that doesn’t reflect back and dazzle you like the full beam headlights will when the weather is murky – you should use these if visibility is 100m or less. The rear fog light symbol will look like this (top, middle). You should use it when visibility is severely reduced. However, in normal conditions they will dazzle other drivers and mask the brake lights so don’t forget to turn them off.

The rear demister switch will look similar to this. (top right). The rear window has an electric heater built into it to clear the mist quickly. You can also use this switch to melt frost during the winter months, but make sure the rear window is clear before you drive off; use a scraper to help if necessary.

The rear window heater uses a lot of power and will increase fuel consumption significantly, so most will turn off automatically after ten minutes or so.  If yours doesn't, remember to switch it off when the car warms up and the window stays clear on its own.


The airbag warning symbol will generally be a red symbol. This light will come on with the ignition and then go out.  If it remains on, there is a fault with the airbag system which must be put right.  If a front passenger airbag is fitted, it can usually be switched off in case a baby seat is fitted in the front.  There will be an amber warning light to remind you that the protection is switched off, like this (bottom left). The airbag must be switched back on to protect a front passenger once the baby seat is removed.

Some cars lock automatically once they start to move.  If yours does not have this feature, think about using the door lock switch to ensure the personal safety of women drivers in particular. The switch will look similar to this (bottom, middle).

The anti-lock braking system (ABS) prevents your car wheels from locking up by automatically controlling the brake pressure during an emergency stop. It’s important to check that this is working properly by checking that the ABS light comes on when you switch on the ignition and then goes out after a few seconds. If this light (bottom right) remains on, there is a fault with the ABS which must be repaired as soon as possible. Similar symbols warn of brake fluid loss or that the parking brake is applied, but different cars use the symbols in different combinations, so make sure you understand what your car is telling you when one of the brake warning lights shows.

Rodger said: “Knowing how the equipment in your car works properly could potentially save your life. Also knowing your car’s equipment allows you to concentrate on dealing with the conditions outside the car far better.

“And remember, when in doubt – read the owner’s handbook.”

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: The front fog light switch; rear fog light symbol; rear demister switch; the anti-lock braking system; door lock switch; crash-bag warning symbol.

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