BMW E36 Blog

BMW E36 Warning Lamps

21st May 2008

BMW E36 Warning Lamps

posted in Electrical, Technical Info, Tips & Tricks, Uncategorized |

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I read many posts about people asking about special symbols and warning lamps that turn on in their BMW E36 cars and they don’t actually know what they mean. While some warning lamps are self explanatory, some of them are mysteriously weird and I honestly don’t know how the car designers chose them.

Today, I’ve prepared a legend of all (well, I’m not sure if I’m missed something or not) the symbols that you may see in the dashboard of your BMW E36. Below you will find the symbol (indictor) lamp a long with possible reason why it’s turned on.

BTW, I took these from the BMW E36 owners manual, you can refer to that post and download the whole manual if you like.


turn signal left right green Turn signal left/right, green
Flashes when the turn signals are in operation.
battery charge current red Battery charge current, red
Goes out after the engine has started.
If the lamp comes on during normal vehicle operation:
The battery is no longer being charged. Indicates a defect in the generator drive-belt or the charging circuit. Tony: Maybe the alternator has a problem too.
high beam blue High beam, blue
Lights up when the high beams are switched on or the headlamp flashers are activated.
engine oil pressure red Engine oil pressure, red
Goes out after the engine has started. May come on briefly at idle when the engine is hot, but must go out again at higher engine speed.
If the lamp comes on during normal vehicle operation: stop vehicle and switch off engine immediately. Check engine oil level; if necessary, add oil. If oil level is correct: contact your BMW Retailer. Tony: Maybe your car is leaking oil, check for that too
foglamps green Foglamps, green
Lights up whenever you switch on the foglamps.
airbags red Airbags, red
This lamp turns on for an operational check when you turn the ignition key to position 1. If, at the operation check, it does not go on, or goes on while driving, have it checked at your BMW Retailer.
automatic transmission yellow Automatic transmission, yellow
Goes out after the engine has started.
asc t automatic stability control plus traction yellow ASC+T (Automatic Stability Control plus Traction), yellow
Goes out shortly after the ignition is switched on:
System OK.
abs antilock brake system ABS (Antilock Brake System), yellow
Goes out after the engine has started. If the lamp comes on during normal vehicle operation:
ABS has been deactivated in response to a system malfunction. Conventional braking force remains unimpaired.
brake pad wear yellow Brake pad wear, yellow
Lights up when starter is actuated and goes out when the engine is started. If the lamp comes on during normal vehicle operation:
replace brake pads immediately.
brake hydraulics red Brake hydraulics, red
Goes out after the engine has started. If the lamp comes on during normal vehicle operation:
low brake fluid.
parking brake red Parking brake, red
Goes out after the engine has started. Comes on when you engage the parking brake.
check engine emissions related systems Emissions-related systems
Lamp goes out once engine starts. If this indicator lamp lights up during normal vehicle operation, either continuously or intermittently, this indicates a fault in one of the emissions related electronic circuits. Although the vehicle remains operational, you should have the systems checked by a BMW Retailer at the earliest possible opportunity. Tony: This indicates that you’re having a problem and you should check it as soon as possible
please fasten safety belts red Please fasten safety belts, red
(With acoustic signal if the driver’s belt is not buckled). Lights up briefly when the ignition key is turned, and then goes out (in some models it goes out after you fasten safety belts).
rollover protection system yellow BMW Convertible Rollover Protection System, yellow
Goes out shortly after the ignition is switched on:
System OK.


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There are currently 15 responses to “BMW E36 Warning Lamps”

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  1. 1 On May 29th, 2008, sach767 said:

    Automatic transmission, yellow
    Goes out after the engine has started ??????????

    hi, (taken from my local bmw forum, malaysia)

    Im having the exact same problem wt my ride(1997, E36-328i). The only difference will be my gearbox hangs ONLY when in “S” mode. Runs perfectly normal when in “E” mode.

    Tried many shops for opinion’s, only got 1 answer….OVERHAUL!! I was still sceptical about it, if the gearbox is working fine on “E” mode wt smooth changes no matter how hard i push the car???Did the diagnostic’s a couple of times and all different results(similar) on the computer, here are few,

    1. ERROR: Speed Control Sensor
    2. ERROR: Gear Monitoring Faulty

    So, after checks and all that, replaced wt new Speed Control Sensor for RM400.. Drove up & down Genting all the way in “S” mode, no problems at all. Felt the torque and gear changes were smooth.

    However this was more than a year ago!! Recently the problem is coming back when i drive in “S” mode…. Did a check, and same ERROR reply again…Im still wondering why it only happens when in “S” mode?????

    QUESTION: What was ur mechs advice?? any quotes??

    Will be great to share some views before i go for the last choice of overhaulin or rebuild the box, which is not cheap… Those who have encountered and solved the problem pls share some info…

    can read the full thread here,




  2. 2 On June 2nd, 2008, craig said:

    hi there i have just had the brake pad warning ligh on my bmw but in your e36 warning lights section it sez the light is yellow but mine is red, does this matter plus its constantly on doesnt go off after starting or driving.

    cheers craig

  3. 3 On June 2nd, 2008, Tony Sticks said:

    @craig: I’m sorry, I had to move your comment to this post instead of Download BMW E36 Owners Manual in English
    because it fits better here.

    About the color of the warning light, I have it red instead of yellow too, but there are other BMW cars with yellow light. I’m not sure why!

    If your brake pad light is on all the time, simply, you will need to replace your brake pads and the brake pad sensor which is located inside the left-front brake caliper. Usually when your brakes wear, this light comes on and so, the sensor should be replaced with the brake pads.

  4. 4 On September 14th, 2008, bmwlife said:

    hi, the abs light comes on after a few minutes of driving around. how do i fix it correctly?

  5. 5 On September 16th, 2008, sach767 said:

    bmwlife, check ur ABS/ASC relay’s in the fuse box, could be wear and tear… i replaced mine and problem solved..


  6. 6 On September 16th, 2008, Tony Sticks said:

    @sach767: My brother’s car ABS light used to be on all the time and the ABS was not working too. It turned out that the ABS relays were the problem. Replaced them and the problem is gone

  7. 7 On January 23rd, 2009, Dhana Sekaran said:

    What is the warning symbols for Unibooster warning lamp, Clutch wear, Dc-Dc ok, Shift-up and Shift-Down.

    Dhana Sekaran

  8. 8 On January 23rd, 2009, Daveol said:

    my e36 coupe brake light came on and flickers on and off while driving (off when i brake). is this the front brakes i need to replace or are they all connected to the same and I just need to check which?

  9. 9 On January 26th, 2009, Tony Sticks said:

    @Daveol: Are you refering to the 10th warning lamp or the 11th? If you’re referring to the 10th (i.e., brake pads wear), they’re not all connected. The warning lamp is controlled by a sensor that is mounted to the brake pad of the front-left wheel . Make sure to replace that sensor when you replace the front brake pads (left & right). Normally, you should also check the rear brake pads too just to make sure they are fine as they tend to wear much slower than the front ones.

  10. 10 On January 27th, 2009, Daveol said:

    Its the 10th. Will try replacing them. thanks

  11. 11 On January 28th, 2009, Tony Sticks said:

    @Daveol: Glad to help 🙂

  12. 12 On September 8th, 2010, cdanie13 said:

    The ABS symbol and the exclmation point in the circle comes on after I’ve been driving a while but goes away after I turn the car off and back on again. then it comes on again after driving a while. Is this an electrical issue? I have a 94 BMW 318is

  13. 13 On April 26th, 2011, jay318iscoupe said:

    Hi I have a r-reg 318is coupé the 1.9 model and the furthest right warning light is constantly on however the person before me has kindly scratched at it so it cannot be seen, its just up from the hand brake light I have a feeling its a braking system light but not entirely sure. Any ideas ? thanks for any help

  14. 14 On June 28th, 2011, peter said:

    Hi my e36 318i now and again will cruise around fine [through the gears] but most of time she will not change gear unless i pull the little switch back [econ and sport].But then it will go into top gear, the gear light on the dash will glow and then it will not change down again.To get back into first gear i must switch the ignition off ,wait 5 seconds and start it again.
    Will appreciate any advice.
    Cheers Peter

  15. 15 On May 13th, 2013, Austin said:

    I purchased an e36 320i which was swapped from automatic to standard and my “Automatic transmission, yellow
    Goes out after the engine has started” light is always on. Should i not be worried about this since my car is a manual?
    My knowledge of the swap (who and where it was done) is none. If this isnt a problem is there a way i can turn it off.
    Thanks, Austin.