A dashboard warning light came on!  What now?

A dashboard warning light came on! What now?

Dashboard warning indicators on modern vehicles comes in two varieties:  YELLOW and RED.  Just like with traffic signal lights, yellow is used to signal Caution, and red is used to signal STOP.

The most common YELLOW dashboard indicator is the Check Engine Light.  Common variations of the Check Engine Light include:

The following is taken from a typical ambulance owner’s manual:

Check Engine Light


This light is part of the vehicle’s emission control on-board diagnostic system.  If this light is on while the engine is running, a malfunction has been detected and the vehicle may require service.  Malfunctions are often indicated by the system before any problem is noticeable.  Being aware of the light and seeking service promptly when it comes on may prevent damage.


If the vehicle is driven continually with this light on, the emission control system may not work as well, the fuel economy may be lower, and the vehicle may not run smoothly.  This could lead to costly repairs that might not be covered by the vehicle warranty.
For YELLOW (Caution) dashboard indicators, the actions to take in our system are: 

  • Reduce vehicle speed and avoid hard accelerations.
  • Contact a Field Supervisor.  The supervisor should:
    • Consider calling for another ambulance to respond in your place.
    • Have you mark “Out Of Service Mechanical” as soon as you are clear from any case you may have been assigned to.
    • Make arrangements for the unit to go the City Garage as soon as possible.

RED dashboard indicators usually point to a failure in a particular system.  At this point, your unit has broken down!  Continuing to run a unit with a RED indicator will almost certainly lead to rapid and catastrophic mechanical damage, or an accident.

For RED (STOP) dashboard indicators, the actions to take in our system are:

  • Safely pull over and park.
  • Turn off the engine immediately!
  • Notify the dispatcher (“Virginia Beach”) that you are “Out Of Service Mechanical”.  If you are on a call, the dispatcher should replace your unit with another unit.  If you are already transporting a patient, the other ambulance will come pick up your patient.  It may be appropriate for your AIC (and possibly others, but not your driver) to go with the replacement ambulance to the hospital.
  • Contact a Field Supervisor.  The supervisor should:
    • Make arrangements to pick up any personnel who have stayed with the broken down unit.
    • Have the unit towed to the city garage.


Taking proper care of our vehicles translates to proper patient care.  It also protects the investments our community has made in us via donations and tax payments.  Mechanical problems are never welcome, but following the above guidelines will cause the least pain for the fewest folks in the long run.