Idiot light

Idiot light

Idiot light is a mildly derogatory term that refers to a simplistic method of displaying information about a system (e.g. an engine, or a piece of factory equipment). Usually found in display panels, such as an automobile dashboard, idiot lights consist of an illumination source (usually an incandescent light bulb or an LED) with an explanatory symbol or text label. An "idiot light" will only turn on after a malfunction has occurred, providing no warning in advance, nor details of the malfunction's extent afterwards.

Use in cars

An example of an "idiot light" is an oil warning indicator in an automobile. When an oil related problem is sensed a light is illuminated on the car's dash (usually in red). The "idiot" factor refers to the popular belief that the car maker decided that most drivers lack the technical expertise to properly understand gauges, and the car maker preferred to cut costs by not including such instruments. In contrast, an oil pressure gauge allows the driver to see oil conditions at all times, allowing problems to be monitored before they become critical.

Historically, the "check engine" light, which is usually an orange light overlaid with a symbolic representation of an engine, is also called an "idiot light". This is particular to some older car models, which have an unlabeled red light ("trouble" indicator). In particular, early 1980s Fords without the instrument option had only one light, which indicated low oil pressure, overheating and carburetion problems without distinguishing between them.

In modern electronic fuel-injected cars the "check engine" light usually only indicates minor problems that do not require immediate attention.Verify source|date=January 2008 It might, for instance, indicate that the fuel-injection computer has detected a reading from a failed sensor and has changed to open loop mode, meaning that the computer is no longer adjusting the engine's parameters according to conditions and exhaust. If this is the case, performance and gas mileage will suffer and the catalytic converter may be eventually damaged. Mechanics often refer to this state as "limp-home mode." A comprehensive instrument panel includes both gauges and alert lights: gauges to give a precise indication of coolant temperature, oil pressure, charging current, and voltage; and lights to catch the driver's attention when readings approach the "danger zone".


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • idiot light — n. Informal any of various lights on an instrument panel or dashboard that remind or warn the operator or driver of something * * * …   Universalium

  • idiot light — n. Informal any of various lights on an instrument panel or dashboard that remind or warn the operator or driver of something …   English World dictionary

  • idiot light — n. a light (instead of a meter) on a car’s dashboard that indicates the state of various things concerning the operation of the car. □ I don’t want idiot lights. I want meters! □ The idiot light went on, and I knew I was in some sort of trouble …   Dictionary of American slang and colloquial expressions

  • idiot light — A warning or caution light in the cockpit, in lieu of an instrument, which shows the functioning or malfunction of a certain system. Idiot lights may be provided in lieu of ammeters, the engine oil pressure gauge, etc. In these instances, they… …   Aviation dictionary

  • idiot light — noun a colored warning light on an instrument panel (as for low oil pressure) • Hypernyms: ↑red light, ↑warning light • Part Holonyms: ↑control panel, ↑instrument panel, ↑control board, ↑board, ↑panel …   Useful english dictionary

  • idiot light — See idiot lights …   Dictionary of automotive terms

  • idiot light — noun Date: 1966 a colored light on an instrument panel (as of an automobile) designed to give a warning (as of low oil pressure) …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • idiot light — noun Any warning light or indicator on the dashboard of a car, designed to alert the driver of problems, such as the parking brake being on or the oil being low …   Wiktionary

  • idiot light — noun (C) AmE informal one of the lights in a car that warns you when something is wrong …   Longman dictionary of contemporary English

  • idiot light — n. red or flashing lights on dashboard panel of a car that warn the driver of a problem …   English slang

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