Understanding common dashboard symbols on Electric and Hybrid cars
In 2019, almost 10 per cent of cars sold in the UK were either electric (EVs) or hybrids and the number is on the rise. But with new technology comes new information presented to the driver. So what do you need to know?
Some things haven't changed...
Many aspects of electric cars and hybrids are exactly the same as with their petrol- or diesel-powered alternatives. So dashboard symbols for items not relating to engine type should be familiar. These include the basics such as lights and parking brake. They also include symbols for items such as bulb failures, low washer fluid, heated rear window on, lane assist, tyre pressure sensors and everything else we’re used to seeing.
Symbols you may be unfamiliar with in a car which has an electric motor will generally relate to batteries, charging and power use. Before we look at the main ones, it is worth noting they are still categorised by severity.
• Red alerts are serious. If you see a red symbol appear, it is best to stop and investigate immediately.
• Amber and yellow are used for warnings. It’s still important to understand these - and act where necessary. They might indicate low fluid levels, for example.
• Other colours, such as green, white or blue, are for information. A blue thermometer-shaped light is sometimes used to indicate your engine hasn’t warmed up to full operating temperature yet, for example.
Usage and driving symbols
Ready to drive
In a petrol or diesel car, there is the gentle thrum of the engine to tell you it’s running but not in an EV. And hybrids often don’t use their engines at low speed. So this simply tells you the car is ready to go.
Eco mode is available on many petrol and diesel cars and the principle is the same with an EV or hybrid: the car will provide less power - and therefore more modest acceleration - in order to conserve the energy in the battery.
Low battery charge level
This is will indicate you only have a limited range of ‘electric miles’ left and should seek a charging point for your EV. The range will be displayed clearly.
Charging cable plugged-in
Electric cars should stop you driving off if they detect that the cable is still plugged-in; this message is simply a reminder.
EV not available
This symbol is used in hybrids when the car can’t be driven by its electric motor alone and so needs to use petrol or diesel. This could be down to the battery needing charging (for example if you have been driving in EV-only mode). Or it could occur if you are driving higher speeds or under harsh acceleration when the car requires energy from the petrol or diesel engine.
Just as a ‘regular’ engine has a cooling system, so do the high voltage batteries for hybrids and EVs. If there is an overheating fault, it could lead to a fire, so you should stop immediately.
Electrical fault warning
This could relate to
any aspect of the battery, wiring or motor so it is best to get it checked-out
quickly. It might be accompanied by a worded message to provide greater detail.
Serious electrical fault warning
If it’s red, it’s serious and should be investigated before driving further.
Just like any petrol or diesel car, EVs and hybrids also use a 12 volt battery - to power everything except the main drive motors. This warning will be used if there is a problem with its charging or the battery itself is low. It is important to have this checked soon or you could lose power to important things like lights and power steering.
Different manufacturers use slightly different
symbols but most cars are able to provide some textual information in the
driver display to support warnings or errors. And if in doubt, refer to the
manual or contact your dealer.
About the Author
Andrew is a freelance motoring journalist with a background in IT and the vehicle leasing industry. With a lifetime’s passion for all things automotive, he can be found behind the wheel of everything from vans to supercars. In addition to reviewing the latest vehicles and technology, Andrew also runs a couple of classic British motors. He lives at the edge of the Peak District with his son and cat.
Andrew Wright @theMotorWriter
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