When they tell you at the service center that you should come in every year for new oil and filters, it’s not to get money out of you. The oil and other elements in the car go through wear and tear and therefore need to be changed regularly. Fortunately, cars can already tell each other about the necessary actions and today they can even communicate remotely with the service, which immediately recognizes what is needed and prepares for it.

A modern car speaks for itself

Since the beginning of the 90s of the last century, cars have been full of computers and cars collect the necessary data from many sensors. Information and possible errors are stored in memory and the services can then find out what is wrong. Today, car control units are no longer only responsible for the operation of the engine and other systems, but can also inform the driver if something is happening or the car wants something.

Low oil level? Coolant temperature too high? The car knows all this information and, if necessary, the driver can also communicate it. That’s why you should know what the lights mean. The explanation of the most important ones is always given in the vehicle’s user manual, in modern cars with digital displays it is usual that, in addition to the light coming on, an audible signal is also triggered and a message describing the problem and possibly also a recommendation is displayed, for example: “Low oil pressure. Stop the vehicle immediately and turn off the engine!”

Know your warning lights so you don’t panic unnecessarily

For an experienced motorist who knows his car inside out and knows how to fix things himself, we are not writing anything new now, but many people do not understand and do not understand the meaning of the individual warning lights. Either they overestimate their importance and scare them unnecessarily, or, on the contrary, they do not react to really serious problems.

Photo: Škoda Auto

There can be a lot of things shining at you in the car, but usually only the yellow and especially the red lights have some fundamental meaning and relate to the operation and function of the vehicle. Red means a problem, when you have to stop immediately, turn off the engine and solve the problem – most often by towing it to a service center.

We have already covered this in separate articles, so we will just remind you of the meaning of the most important indicator lights and their color design. As a general rule, if something is yellow (or orange) there is a problem that you should deal with, but you can proceed with caution.

Of course, it depends on what the problem is. A warning about a low washer fluid level is not a problem that would immediately threaten the operation of the car and its reliability. But, for example, a warning about a low level of oil, coolant or battery charge is already a problem that should not be underestimated. As soon as the oil pan or coolant level indicator lights up yellow, you can continue driving, but we recommend that you slow down and deal with it at the next opportunity (for example, at the next gas station). You can easily top up the oil and coolant yourself.

Once something turns red, it’s a serious problem that requires you to stop the vehicle immediately and turn off the engine. Typically, this is an indication of low oil pressure (red oil pan) and a cooling problem (red coolant temperature indicator), sometimes a red battery symbol also appears, which usually means a charging failure (mostly when the belt driving the alternator breaks). You will drive with it for a while, but modern cars with a high consumption of electricity to drive on-board systems and engine components will easily drain the battery after 10 km of driving.

Photo: Škoda Auto/Garáž.cz

These warning lights are probably the most important for the reliable operation of the car. As soon as the oil pan or the coolant symbol lights up red, stop and turn off the engine immediately! A yellow oil pan means that the car does not have enough oil and needs to be topped up (usually one liter).

An engine failure indicator, popularly known as a vacuum cleaner, roast chicken or helicopter, can mean anything related to engine management. Most often it is a problem with the emission system (EGR circuit, catalyst), but it can also be a problem with injection, turbocharger regulation, etc. Usually the car jerks, the engine switches to the so-called emergency mode and the car drives with reduced power and limited speed. But it needs to be addressed.

Regular inspection or emergency repair?

It is also necessary to distinguish when the car has a technical problem directly threatening its reliable and safe operation, and when a scheduled service is just around the corner. The car lets you know about acute problems right away, turning on the warning light and sometimes beeping.

Scheduled service doesn’t scream at the driver that much. As a rule, it only appears after switching on the ignition and usually a month or 1000 km before (it depends on how you have set the service intervals). Most often, the indicator light of the illuminated key will appear, or the “Service” indicator light will light up. Only after exceeding the planned date (most often at fixed annual intervals) will the service icon start to glow continuously and yellow.

Photo: Dalibor Žák

In the vast majority of modern cars, a warning about an upcoming (or already missed) regular service check is displayed after the ignition is switched on and shortly after starting. Some cars have fixed intervals, others variable intervals calculated according to the way of use.

Service intervals are set differently, not only within a model range, but even between individual cars with the same engines. For example, it also depends on what market the car was intended for and what oil specification it uses. For example, for Skoda cars, the original service intervals are listed on the vehicle’s nameplate (QI6 for a variable interval and QI4 for a fixed interval with a limit of 15,000 km or one year).

Many modern cars can already display information about service intervals and planned repairs in the on-board infotainment. In addition to the remaining kilometers or the time until the next oil change, the car can estimate, for example, the service life of the brake linings, for diesels the remaining amount of AdBlue or other necessary additive is displayed, other information can also be displayed.

Not all cars will tell you they need a service

However, not all cars have a function to warn of an upcoming service, and the driver has to monitor it himself. That is also why it is good to get to know your car well and find out these things. As already mentioned, service intervals also vary within the model range and some cars have set bi-annual inspections but variable oil service intervals. And “car inspection” and “oil change” are not the same thing.

Photo: Dalibor Žák

For many cars, you can already find at least basic information about the service interval and the remaining time in the on-board menu. Attention, a service inspection does not have to be the same as an oil change! Some cars have an “inspection” once every two years, but the oil is changed for example after a year and a certain mileage (most often 15 to 20,000 km).

This is sometimes confusing, which is why we often recommend, especially for older cars, to stick to fixed annual oil change intervals of 10 or 15,000 km. If the car does not have the function of displaying service intervals, you need to keep an eye on it in the calendar. But this is uncomfortable and easy to forget.

Here it is also necessary to point out that for some cars it is very easy to reset the warning information about the approaching or even exceeded service. Unfortunately, many fraudsters who want to “make” a used car more attractive before selling it do just that. And you don’t know that you are running over oil and other necessary service operations. “Sure, sir, the wiring has just been replaced,” the salesman will yell over the phone. “But come on, there’s another interested party coming here who has cash,” adds the seller, so you don’t delay. This is also why it is necessary to verify this information via the service book and ideally a branded service. Any gaps in your service history should be a big warning to you.

Photo: Dalibor Žák

Access to such information is of course useful for users, but it should be noted that it is very easy to “reset” this information. The car does not have a warning light to tell when the old oil has been drained and new oil has been put in. Be careful with used cars without a service history. And, for example, there is no warning about the approaching timing belt replacement interval in cars.

Did you know that today car manufacturers no longer provide the classic paper service book for cars? Alternatively, it is only available as an accessory for careful motorists. Today, service records are recorded electronically and it is then much easier and more reliable to verify them. On the other hand, you don’t have anywhere written in black and white what and when to change. And some service operations, although not officially listed in the service plan, are better to do preventively so that the car really works reliably. An example can only be oil changes in certain types of automatic transmissions, although the car manufacturer does not directly prescribe the change.

Modern cars already talk to remote service

Today’s cars are already able to self-diagnose to a large extent, they usually know about an approaching problem in advance, before they start to “haunt” the driver. And since the cars can be connected online, this function has started to be used precisely for the communication of the cars with the service. The mass expansion of these functions occurred mainly from 2018. Since then, cars sold in the EU have been compulsorily equipped with the eCall system.

These privileges are not intended only for expensive luxury cars or electric cars. Even completely ordinary ordinary cars have them. For example, Škoda Fabia or Kamiq can talk to the service remotely. The car operator just chooses a preferred service partner (i.e. which service they want to go to) and then communicates with them by email or phone. However, you can also download a mobile application where you can see the status of the car and service functions directly.

Photo: Škoda Auto

In addition to the service, you can of course also have access to the service records. For example, Škoda cars have been able to connect a mobile app directly to service information for several years, so you can have everything under full control. In addition, your car can talk to the service and let it know in advance that a necessary service is coming.

This proactive service function is activated when the car reports an upcoming regular service check or even a fault. Variable service intervals are also predicted if the car does not have a fixed mileage until the next oil change, but calculates it from operating values ​​and load. This proactive service function is activated when the car reports an upcoming regular service check or even a fault. Variable service intervals are also predicted if the car does not have a fixed mileage until the next oil change, but calculates it from operating values ​​and load.

Your chosen service has all this information ahead of time. He can therefore prepare and immediately offer you time slots in the workshop and then contact you to agree a suitable date together and, if necessary, to order the necessary parts for you. Since the selected service knows the vehicle data, they will prepare all the necessary documents in advance.