More Electronics Makes for More Useless Symbols

We want to dive a little deeper into what is one of our main concerns here at, and that is the continued proliferation of symbols across the industry. And specifically with those associated with electronic systems.

We now host nearly 350 image and text symbols on the website, and estimate, rather conservatively, that 25% of them are directly connected to electronically controlled systems.


Narrowing this down, we are ignoring the 15 odd symbols we have that belong exclusively to electric and hybrid cars. We’re also staying away from a dozen or so indicators related to lighting systems. Most of this last group have been around for a while.

Smart Cruise Control Radar Warning IndicatorWhat we want to focus on are primarily systems related to driver assist functions as well as those that lean towards drive by wire. This last group covers systems like braking and steering that are now electronic or moving in that direction.

The warning light system got its start in an era when cars were essentially mechanical devices, and three systems required monitoring. By the driver! Oil or oil pressure, temperature and battery. These all had gauges, gauges that have now pretty much disappeared.

Now all of us are guilty of getting comfortable behind the wheel and ignoring the dashboard or more properly the instrument panel, and so, warning, or in the ultimate act of disrespect, idiot lights were developed to get a driver’s attention.

At that time, if a light came on, there was a plan of action — add some oil to the crankcase, add some water or antifreeze to the radiator, even add some water to the battery.

Electric Park Brake IndicatorIn todays world, the lights are essentially meaningless. What does a driver do if the Electronically Controlled Brake System symbol comes on? Or the symbol for Electric Park Brake? They are both fault indicators, but there is no fluid to top off of or reset switch to hit.

Electronically Controlled Brake WarningAlthough in point of fact, sometimes these problems can actually resolved by restarting the car.

There’s lots more of these that frankly have no user friendly solutions, just repair shop solutions. And we’ve come to believe that the warning light system has become essentially outdated and useless. And imagine the distraction these lights can cause in an era where driving distraction is all the rage. This, somehow, has slipped through the cracks.


We’ve advocated for years that vehicles to be given the capability to talk to their drivers and we’ll do it again now. In fact, our Talking Dashboards YouTube series is a tongue-in-cheek nod to the idea. There is simply no reason why a vehicle cannot talk a driver though one of these problems, right down to the problem code, if that’s what the driver requests. Being told whether or not the car is drivable and for how long at minimum would be extremely useful.

The computing power exists. Most new cars can be asked to find the nearest restaurant and take a vehicle straight to it or even schedule a service. From where we stand, a new vehicle can damn sure also provide useful information on a fault it has encountered in itself.

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