Electric car warning lights: reliability problems explained

What your electric car dashboard is trying to tell you

John Evans
Aug 2, 2021

The rising numbers of electric cars have also brought an increase in the types of warning lights that you might see on your dashboard.

You might be driving your battery-powered vehicle along when a tortoise warning light pops up. Or you may see a symbol that indicates the pedestrian alert isn't working and your car is no longer generating a sound to warn of an electric vehicle's otherwise-silent approach.

As symbols aren't always common from one manufacturer to another,  it's easy to get confused about what exactly your car is trying to tell you.

We've listed a dozen electric car warning lights below that you're most likely to come across. If you don't find what you're looking for here, then it's worth checking the separate article on dashboard warning lights common to all cars. Alternatively, you should find an explanation in your vehicle's handbook.

You can see at a glance how serious any issue is, thanks to a standard colour code:

  • Red symbols are the most serious warning. It's best to stop the car to investigate.
  • Amber or yellow symbols are warning of less serious issues or imminent problems (such as low fluid levels). They will need looking at as soon as possible.
  • Green, blue or black and white symbols provide information and are not warnings.

Electric car warning lights

Click on a symbol to jump to a description of what it indicates and the best way to respond.

Should I sell an electric car if a warning light comes on?

It depends on the fault. Some issues are cheap to fix. However, if the light indicates a fault with something costly such as the battery, you should have the problem diagnosed before making your decision. Manufacturers often offer extra warranty cover on batteries, so you may be able to get any serious problems fixed free of charge.

Will a warning light affect my car’s trade-in prospects?

An electric car is particularly sophisticated and any fault, especially with its electrical system, will require the services of a specialist garage, to diagnose and repair. This won’t be cheap. For this reason, any dealer considering an electric car with one or more warning lights glowing is likely to reduce their offer.

Ready to drive

What to do Drive away when ready

With no engine under the bonnet of electric vehicles, there's no audible sign of whether they are on and ready to drive off, or whether they are switched off. That's why they feature a light to tell you. Several manufacturers avoid the confusion of a symbol altogether, simply displaying the word "Ready" or "Go". If it doesn't light up when you start the car then there's a problem.
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Eco mode

What to do Expect slower acceleration

If you're looking to eke out as many miles as possible from your batteries, then you'll want to be in Eco Mode. This restricts acceleration, which can be particularly draining on the battery, trading reduced performance for increased efficiency. If you see this lit up unexpectedly, then the chances are that you've pressed the button by accident and will need to switch it off if you're after more speed from the motor.
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What to do Disconnect the cable before driving away

The plug and cable light tells you that the car is plugged into a charging point and unless the battery is still being charged, you must disconnect it before driving away.
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General fault

What to do Follow the accompanying instructions on the display screen

Because of the complex nature of electric cars, some manufacturers choose to group a range of warnings under one warning light, like this spanner symbol, for example. This could signify a number of issues including: Electrical system check (pedal sensors, 12V battery or traction system at fault), and Battery charge impossible (the charging system is faulty). As with petrol- or diesel-powered vehicles, the spanner may also indicate that a service is due - this would normally be accompanied by a message on your car's display.
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Limited power

What to do Take the vehicle to an approved dealer

It looks comical but the limited power warning light couldn't be more serious. There’ll be a reduction in the car’s speed and depending on the make and model, a message explaining what’s wrong. There are a number of possible messages ranging from low power extreme battery temperatures - perhaps after a long ascent - or a fault with the electrical system.
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Pedestrian alert

Electric cars normally broadcast their arrival with an electronic sound that's broadcast at slow speeds. it gives pedestrians an audible warning that a virtually silent car is creeping along the road, in an effort to avoid collisions. Some models allow you to switch the system off, which illuminates the symbol. If it lights up at any other time, then this indicates a fault with the alert.
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Low battery

What to do Recharge the battery as soon as possible

In general, you'll see a low battery light when your you have around 10-12% charge remaining, giving you a nudge to plug in. Some companies have made it look similar to the low fuel warning light of a petrol or diesel car, others use the image of an almost-empty AA battery. At around 5% charge it typically flashes to tell you power will shortly run out. It's an extra warning on top of the power reserve indicator, which constantly shows how much electricity is left and normally how many miles you can drive before running out.
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Electrical fault

What to do Take your car to be inspected/call a recovery service

An exclamation mark over the image of a car or battery (see below) indicates an issue with the electrical system involving either the batteries, motors or wiring. This can be shown as an amber warning, which should be checked by a workshop as soon as possible, or a red symbol, which could lead to the car shutting itself down or running on reduced power (when it would be accompanied by a tortoise symbol or similar).
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Serious electrical fault

What to do Drive to a dealership/call a recovery service

This battery symbol is used by some manufacturers instead of the car with an exclamation mark above. It works in the same way: an amber light warns of a problem with the electrical system, which could include the batteries, motors or wiring, a red light indicates a more serious fault, so the car may shut down or operate with reduced power.
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Master warning

What to do Follow accompanying instructions

Much like the spanner symbol, this is a general warning of a serious fault, and you can expect more information about the cause and what you should do in a separate panel of the dashboard. The light can be amber or red, depending on the severity of the issue.
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Battery temperature

What to do Stop the car outside

This symbol is used to indicate a high engine temperature in a petrol or diesel car, and it's equally as serious in an electric vehicle, because it's linked to the temperature of the battery pack. If the car's cooling system fails and the batteries do overheat, this can result in a fire, so you should stop the car outside and call for assistance. In some cars, the symbol appears over the image of a battery.
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12V battery charge

What to do Drive to a garage immediately

This symbol has exactly the same meaning for petrol, diesel and electric cars. That's because electric vehicles still have a 12V battery, which provides the trickle of power required when the car is turned off. If the charge is low, then your car may not charge or start.
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