Research conducted by ICM Research on behalf of Kwik Fit, the United Kingdom's largest auto repair chain, found that a huge number of drivers are guilty of what they call "Dashboard Denial."
The study found that 13 million motorists had a warning light requiring maintenance or a mechanic appear on their dashboard in the past year. Of those, a third (31%, 4 million) ignored the light for at least five days. Of those, 1.2 million continue to ignore the light for months.
While this is already bad, of the 13 million with warning lights, only 3.7 million had the problem checked immediately by a mechanic. The rest took their time, but didn't wait the 5 days to be considered a "Dashboard Denier."
ICM found that most of the warning lights were check engine lights, followed by oil pressure warning. About 400,000 of the motorists in the survey couldn't identify the light and either ignored it as "unimportant" or didn't ask their mechanic what the light was for. The most often misunderstood light is the tire pressure warning system symbol. Less than half (49%) of those surveyed could identify the tire pressure symbol light for what it was.
What this survey found is that millions of people in the UK (and likely everywhere else in the world) drive around daily with a warning light on their dashboard that they are ignoring. This could mean potential safety and vehicle reliability problems. Most drivers are under the impression that if the car is "running OK" despite the light, they can safety ignore it. Some believe that these lights are programmed to come on in order to rack up service fees for dealerships. In reality, while many vehicles use some lights to alert drivers to maintenance intervals, often the light means something else.
Most auto repair shops, parts stores, and some dealerships in the United States will scan a vehicle's computer for codes to see what the light is about free of charge. In addition, interfaces for the home mechanic to plug into most modern vehicles are available to allow DIY mechanics to check and even clear codes themselves. It's always recommended that you have a warning light checked immediately and remedy the problem it indicates as soon as possible.