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We’ve all been there. We get back to our motorhome or campervan after a day out exploring and are looking forward to getting back to our campsite for the night. We turn the key in the ignition and, as usual, dashboard lights in different colours flash momentarily on the display. However, this time one or more stay illuminated. What could be the problem?

The team at Motorhome Protect not only want to get you the best campervan insurance, we also want to help you out in a whole range of situations. Read our guide to motorhome and campervan warning lights so that next time you’ll know exactly what to do.

Dashboard warning lights – the basics

When one or more dashboard warning lights stay on when the engine is running, they’re indicating there’s a problem in the motorhome or campervan system. The seriousness of that problem is often indicated by the colour of the light – going from red for the most serious, through amber, green and finally blue.

In general blue and green warning lights are less urgent, but we still advise you to take precautions to prevent potential damage to your vehicle or threats to your safety. If you’re unsure about what to do it’s always best to stop in a safe place and consult your vehicle’s handbook for further advice.

Dashboard Lights

Keeping on top of vehicle maintenance is an important part of responsible ownership. So, if red and amber warning lights are appearing then it's often best to get them checked by a professional as soon as possible. While some will be obvious and easily remedied by yourself (such as a low fuel warning) others (such as oil or brake warnings) relate to major systems and might require a trip to the garage.

Finally, while many warning lights in modern motorhomes and vans are common to all makes and models, their precise locations, look and meanings can vary. Study your handbook to get to know what they mean for your home on wheels. And if you’re lucky enough to own a vintage camper such as a VW bay or split screen then be aware that warning lights and sensor systems have come a long way from the 1950s.

Whatever the problem, make sure you’ve got breakdown cover to complement your campervan insurance – give Motorhome Protect a call today.

Red light warnings

Engine oil pressure

This is one of the most serious warning lights to be aware of. An oil leak, a faulty oil pump or too little (or too much) oil can cause seriously costly damage to the engine. So, never ignore this light. Instead stop when it’s safe to do so and get out the handbook. A simple oil top up might remedy the problem. But if it doesn’t then get to a garage ASAP or call for assistance.

Brake system alert

Hopefully this just means you've left the handbrake on when setting off. So, make sure the handbrake is off. If the light doesn’t go out, or it appears while you're driving, then pull over safely and call for help. The vehicle won’t be safe for driving if there’s a problem with the brake system.

It could be the brake fluid needs a top up, or you’ve a faulty brake pad wear sensor. The problem is you have no way of knowing if it’s a more serious issue. If the pedal feels mushy when you press it, or slowly sinks to the floor, it’s a sure sign you can no longer rely on the brake system.

Battery warning

There could be many different problems here.  It might be as straightforward as a faulty battery needing replacement. However, it could be due to a wiring problem or, even more seriously, a fault with its alternator or drive belt. If the alternator drive belt has broken then the battery won’t receive a charge.

This can lead to a range of problems including failing headlights, faulty power steering, or even the engine overheating. You’ll need a garage to check your battery and charging system to find the fault.

If you find yourself stuck with a flat battery, your campervan insurance may include breakdown cover. Check your policy to see what’s included.

Temperature warning

If this light appears then stop the vehicle as soon as possible, the engine is either running too hot or there isn’t enough coolant in the system. Again, this can be traced back to a number of issues, all of which could leave you stranded at the side of the road!

Once the engine has had time to cool down check the coolant level. If it’s too low then it could be you’ve got a leaky, clogged or broken radiator. If this is the case then you might also spot coolant dripping out.

A faulty water pump or a head gasket failure could also be the problem and can cause irreparable engine damage if you ignore the warning signs. If your vehicle keeps overheating, then another trip to the garage is in order.

Airbag warning

This light indicates a fault with at least one element of the airbag safety system. Depending on the age, make and model it could be a problem with the airbag system itself, the system that detects the front passenger or the seat belt pretensioner system. Get it checked immediately.

The light could also appear if the airbag system has been turned off manually – so, check this hasn’t happened accidentally.

Power steering warning

Modern vehicles have some sensitive systems in place to help with driving. If this light appears then it could be as simple to fix as to reboot the onboard computer system. Try turning off the vehicle for 30 seconds and then turning it back on again. If the light doesn’t go out then get help. Driving a large vehicle without power steering will make it harder to manoeuvre and could be dangerous, particularly at high speeds.

Amber warning lights

Check engine

Even if your van seems completely normal to drive, this is a very important light to get checked. It could be a fault with anything from ignition to fuel injection. The onboard sensor systems are doing their job and warning you of a potential problem before it’s too late. It could be a minor issue like a broken sensor, or something more serious such as a problem with the emission control system. You won’t know without a proper diagnosis from a professional. When it comes to preventing potential damage to such an expensive part of your van it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Engine Check

Anti-lock brake system (ABS) warning

Whether stopping suddenly or in difficult driving conditions, countless accidents have been prevented by the important safety feature that is ABS. If the light comes on by itself then you should be safe to continue your journey, as long as there aren't any noises or warning signs coming from the wheels.

Take extra care, particularly during wet or icy driving conditions. Your van's braking distances may increase and you could skid during hard braking. Get to a garage as soon as possible so the ABS can be checked out.

However, if the ABS warning comes on at the same time as your brake warning light, there could be a major fault with the brakes. Slow down gradually and avoid braking suddenly. Don’t drive until the problem has been sorted.

Low-fuel warning

This light pretty much does what it says on the tin. It comes on when the amount of fuel in the tank has dropped below a certain level. After the light has come on you’ve usually got around 50+ miles of range in which to get to a fuel pump. So, you’ve been given fair warning!

Running out of fuel is a bad idea for many reasons. Not only does it put you and your passengers in unnecessary danger (stranded at the side of a potentially busy road) but depending on the age and make of your vehicle, it could cause mechanical damage.

Always err on the side of caution, if the low fuel light comes on then start looking for a service station!

Diesel particulate filter (DPF) warning

In our environmentally conscious times, it’s important that harmful smoke and soot particles are captured by a vehicle’s DPF. However, if the amount produced is too much for the DPF to handle then it can become clogged, triggering the light. To clear the DPF a common tactic is to drive around for about 10 minutes at over 40mph (when safe to do so). Hopefully this clears the DPF and the light disappears.

But if the light doesn't disappear then you’ll need to get to a garage to see what the problem is. It’s better to get professional help quickly as replacing a clogged up DPF can become expensive.

Tyre pressure sensor warning

In many modern vehicles, tyre pressure monitoring systems constantly check the amount of air in the tyres. If there’s a pressure drop, it’ll light up the warning. Always heed this warning as low tyre pressures can affect braking and cornering and even cause a blow-out. When you’re driving a large vehicle like a motorhome this doesn’t bear thinking about. So, stop the vehicle when safe to do so, check the tyre pressures and inflate if necessary.

Traction-control warning

This light usually appears if the wheels of your motorhome or campervan lose (or are close to losing) grip, such as on a slippery road surface. If the light’s on constantly, it probably means it’s been accidentally switched off or there’s a fault. If switching the system back on doesn’t remedy the problem then you’ll need to get the system checked.

Brake pad wear warning

If this warning light comes on, it means the sensors have detected at least one brake pad is nearly worn out. Fitting new ones is a priority as if they wear down completely braking performance will be dangerously affected and you could do some serious damage.

Glow plug warning

Instead of spark plugs, diesel-powered motorhomes and campervans use so-called glow plugs to get the engine running. Whether it’s the plugs themselves or the systems that control them this needs to be sorted.

Other than the warning light, you might not notice much wrong at first. However, problems with glow plugs can soon cause ‘knocking’ that’ll make your engine sound a bit rough and not run as efficiently or smoothly as it should.

Bear in mind that the amount of trouble you get often comes down to how many glow plugs are used by your vehicle. For example, if your motorhome’s engine only needs one glow plug you might only experience some hard starting and a few misfires. But, if the vehicle requires three or more then having a faulty glow plug could stop it from even starting at all.

Seatbelt warning

Do you or your passengers not have your seatbelts fastened? If so, there’ll usually be a light and even an alarm to tell you so.

Door/bonnet warning

Just like the seatbelt light, these lights don’t usually mean there’s anything wrong with the vehicle (unless the door sensor is itself faulty). Instead, they tell you that one of the openings has not been shut properly. With everything else you have to think about when getting underway these are very useful for avoiding costly accidents.

Campervan insurance from Motorhome Protect

While there’s no handy dashboard light to tell you when your campervan insurance is up for renewal, our helpful team of insurance specialists are always on hand to help you with your policy.

From journeying to stunning out-of-the-way places to popping along to some of your favourite local spots, whatever adventures you’ve got planned Motorhome Protect will make sure your motorhome or campervan is covered whatever happens.

Cover from our panel of leading insurers can come with a range of benefits including:

  • Cover for up to 365 days a year, which can include foreign use
  • Cover for your campervan while you’re converting it
  • Unlimited EU cover
  • Up to £3,500 of cover for your camping personal effects
  • Value up to £150,000

Get a campervan insurance quote from Motorhome Protect today.

Policy benefits and features offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.