You’re using your new car for the first time, and it’s perfect! The dash is clean, and you have everything you need in place. But then, something becomes amiss—the little dashboard light shaped like a battery suddenly comes on. What does this mean? Is your battery about to die? Does it need to be replaced? Is there some other electrical problem going on that means you need to go to an auto mechanic as soon as possible? Is it even safe to keep driving while the light is on?
Like all dashboard indicators, the battery light plays an important role in alerting you of the health of your vehicle. Most drivers, however, don’t know what it really means when the battery indicator comes on. Below, we’ll clear up some of these misunderstandings and explain what to do if your battery light comes on.
What The Battery Indicator Really Means
Most drivers intuitively assume that the battery light indicates a bad battery that needs replacing. What it really means, however, is that the alternator isn’t recharging the battery as it’s supposed to. Typically, as you drive, your battery is continuously recharged by the alternator so it never runs out of power. If something stops it from receiving this recharge, the problem is communicated through that little dashboard light. When this happens, it could mean the battery is bad and can no longer receive a charge—but this isn’t always the case. Problems with a number of other parts could also cause the alternator to not do its job, such as the battery cable, the alternator belt, or the alternator itself.
Regardless of the cause, it’s important to address the problem as soon as possible. Without receiving continuous recharge from the alternator, your battery has a limited supply of power to give before it runs out. It’s sort of like unplugging a phone from a power outlet and letting it run on battery power alone. The power will run out eventually, and this could put you in a very dangerous position if it runs out while on the road. All electrical systems will fail, including important safety features that rely on electrical power.
What To Do If Your Battery Light Comes On
First of all, it’s important to understand that you can still drive your vehicle safely if the battery light stays on. As long as your battery has power left, the vehicle will operate like normal. But while it’s ok to drive for a short period of time with the battery light on, you should make it a priority to get to an auto repair shop and diagnose the problem as soon as you can. In the meantime, there are a few ways you can conserve battery power until you can get your vehicle diagnosed and fixed.
- Keep the Engine Running—The most impactful thing you can do is to avoid turning your engine off no matter what. Starting the engine takes a huge amount of power compared to keeping it running, and it’s likely you won’t be able to start the engine again without receiving a jump.
- Don’t Use Unnecessary Features—While some electrical features are necessary, others such as the air conditioner, sound system, and interior lights should be kept off until you can get your battery charging again. Avoid using automatic features such as window controls, locks, and side mirror controls as well.
- Try Not to Let the Battery Get Too Low—Even if it doesn’t run out completely, car batteries aren’t designed to lose their charge so quickly. If you use up too much of your battery too quickly, there’s a chance it may become damaged and won’t be able to recharge even after fixing the original issue.
Once you make it to an auto repair shop, your mechanic will be able to diagnose which part is failing and recommend the best course of action from there.
It’s never a good feeling to see any dashboard indicator turn on, but now you’ll be better prepared if you ever see your battery light on. Your vehicle will be perfectly safe to drive as long as you make it a priority to get to an auto repair shop and use as little battery power as possible on the way over.