The increasing complexity of modern cars has left the majority of motorists flummoxed as to exactly what all the little warning lights on the dashboard mean, according to research conducted by Britannia Rescue.

Its survey of 2,108 drivers suggested that a staggering 98 per cent of motorists do not fully understand what the range of warning lights – some of which point to critical component failures – are trying to tell them.

It’s not just the most complex cars that are confusing drivers, with 71 per cent unable to identify the 16 most common symbols such as fog light indicators and the engine fault light.

Worryingly, over a third of drivers did not recognise the airbag warning light, with 27 per cent of those surveyed mistaking it for a seatbelt fault warning.

Motorists aren’t completely to blame. With the raft of gadgets often fitted to modern cars, the sheer number of symbols can be overwhelming. The Mercedes E-Class for example, has 41 symbols, each relating to a separate on-board system.

Even the humble Nissan Micra has 21 different warning lights, showing that it’s not just advanced premium saloons that are befuddling their owners.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that many of these symbols are not universal to all manufacturers. Of the 15 most popular new cars on the roads, there are 99 different dashboard symbols, with only 12 being found on all models.

The confusion is leading to motorists ignoring the warnings, and potentially causing damage to their cars through continued use. 25 per cent of motorists have encountered one or more warnings – most commonly the engine, oil and battery warning lights – in the last 12 months, though almost half admitted to not knowing what it meant at the time,  with most on average taking at least 12 days to investigate the cause of the problem.

Six per cent of drivers admitted to leaving a warning light unchecked for well over a month.

Peter Horton, Managing Director at Britannia Rescue, said: "Dashboard warning lights are like alarm bells telling you something is wrong with your car and urgent action may be required, either to prevent damage to your car or for your safety.

“If a warning symbol lights up, you should stop in a safe place as soon as possible and check what the problem is. Keep your vehicle manual handy so that you can easily check what that symbol means as well as what action to take."

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