Warning Light Image Fails

We are going to have a little here, pretty much at my expense.

We have long railed about the images chosen for warning lights. They are intended to be easily interpreted by the average driver, but nearly across the board are a total fail. Follow along to see why!



EngineCheck engineFor instance, the check engine light uses the image of an engine configuration that is rarely if ever seen anymore. A belt driven fan on the front and an air cleaner on the top.

An entire generation of drivers have never seen an engine like this, but they are supposed to understand and recognize the check engine light as an engine problem.

Oil can tooOil light largeThe oil light uses an image of an oil can that hasn’t been seen in 50 years. We went looking for images of this style oil can and found one — literally old and rusted. Drivers interpret warning lights through the filters of their own experience, and this one is more easily associated with a Aladdin’s lamp. Thank the movies and tv.

TPMS largeAnd then there’s the tire pressure warning or TPMS light. Again, it is meant to be easily recognized and understood, but its a slice of a tire! Who’s ever seen a slice of tire? Using their own experience, drivers calling service departments I’ve worked in have called this an exclamation point in parenthesis or brackets, an exclamation point in a horseshoe, flames – destined to be a classic! Remember, the light is a yellow amber color.

A wishbone, an exclamation point in a fish bowl. That even accounts for the lip. An exclamation point in a cup, And finally, my personal favorite, a candle in a glass!

Not a single caller ever described the light as an exclamation point in a slice of a tire.

So here’s the fun part. I paid a visit to a local Audi car dealer recently, and well here it is.

Tire sliceA slice of a tire.

I flipped it over to take the picture to be sure the tread was visible, because it wasn’t sitting on the shelf.

The dealer the piece to be able to point out reinforcement in the tread near the edges for cornering, certainly something Audi prides itself on. And they have a list of manufacturers who make sure their tires can be recommended by the company.

So, now we’ve seen a slice of tire and so too any number of customers getting service at this particular store. But having seen this, the warning light does not immediately become recognizable. Note the low profile nature of the tire that was sliced. This type of profile is seen on damn near everything today, again adding to the obsolescence of the warning light.

So we get to keep our reasoning. The typical warning light simply doesn’t reflect not only the real life experiences of drivers, they don’t even reflect the reality of today’s cars!

The upshot is this experience allows us to repeat a call to the industry to let the car talk to the driver. Its time for plain language explanations for what is wrong and should or needs to be done. Period.

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