Why Did My Dashboard Lights Flicker While Driving?

Drivers rely on their car dashboard lights to inform them of when a problem has developed. One confusing event is when these lights begin to illuminate and/or dim or flicker. To determine the cause of this issue, you will need to take your vehicle to a professional technician.

Why My Dash Lights Are Too Dim?

The Cause. The most common cause of this problem is the dimmer switch. This switch or set of buttons allows you to make your dash lights dimmer or brighter to match your needs. The switch or buttons can sometimes be bumped, causing them to lower the brightness of the dash lights beyond what is comfortable.

The Solution. This one is easy: simply adjust the switch!

What My Dash Is Partly Dark?

The Cause. This is a problem that is generally seen on vehicles that are a few years old or older, and that’s due to the kind of technology used.

Nowadays, individual LEDs will often make up the dash lights, so it’s incredibly uncommon to see part of the dash that’s larger than one of these lights go dim.

But in older vehicles, the instrument cluster was backlit by light bulbs. When one of those bulbs burned out, that part of the dash would lose its illumination.

The Solution. Changing these light bulbs isn’t as simple as changing headlights or tail light bulbs. It often involves removing parts of your vehicle’s dashboard. Because of this, we recommend taking your car to expert technicians who can take care of it.

dash lights flicker when car is running

Why Dashboard Lights Flicker When You’re Driving

Most likely, flickering dash lights are due to problems with the alternator. In addition to recharging the battery, the alternator is in control of running the electrical components in your vehicle. If the alternator is failing, it may not be able to steadily supply enough current to all the components.

A dying battery can be one cause for your dashboard lights flickering. The battery plays a key role in powering your car’s electrical system. If the battery isn’t working properly, it could cause the dash lights to flicker. It’s best to have your battery test and install a new battery if necessary.

Replacing an Alternator

The alternator is responsible for supplying electrical power throughout your vehicle while you are using it. Generally, this part does not require a lot of maintenance, but it is vital for drivers to recognize when it is starting to fail. The symptoms of a faulty alternator include:

  • Battery unable to maintain a charge
  • Car stalling or having issues starting
  • Strange noises emitting from the battery or belt area
  • Electrical problems forming
  • Headlights flicking or dimming
  • Indicator light on dashboard turning on

The alternator is a crucial component in recharging the battery. It is important to keep an eye out for the dashboard lights flickering because if the only symptom is a dead battery, then it could simply be that the battery has outlived its usefulness. There is no need to get a new alternator when all your car truly needs is a new battery.

The above symptoms could also point toward a blown fuse, bad wiring, or a loose belt. A technician will look at all this to pinpoint the precise problem. Although replacing the alternator is sometimes a necessary procedure, it can be costly.

Replacing a Starter

While it can be an intensive treatment to replace an alternator, it is, most of the time, much easier to replace a starter. The starter is the part in your car that allows the engine to fire up. The signs that indicate it may be time to invest in a new starter include:

  • Pulsating or flickering dashboard lights
  • Engine turning over slowly
  • Engine failing to crank when you turn the key
  • Grinding noise coming from the engine
  • Freewheeling

Freewheeling happens when a driver cranks the engine, and instead of it turning out, it merely emits a loud whining sound. This indicates the starter is failing to engage with the car’s flywheel. Over time, the flywheel can become damaged beyond repair and will require replacement.

A severe symptom of a bad starter is the presence of smoke coming from the engine. This clearly shows there is an issue, but it is a rare occurrence. To be safe, you should take your car to a technician once you notice any of the other above symptoms before smoke begins to form.

Most car starters are designed to last for around 100,000 miles. Many drivers confuse a faulty starter with a bad battery or alternator, so the only way to be sure of what is causing the car issues is to have a professional technician perform an inspection. This ensures the replacement of the proper component.

Why Do These Issues Make the Dashboard Lights Flicker?

Most modern vehicles have a priority list when the alternator or battery has problems supplying enough electricity throughout the entirety of the car.

Therefore, certain components will receive less power than others to keep the vehicle moving. In addition to the dashboard lights flickering, you may also notice your car’s radio not working as it should. If you have an accessory port for charging your phone in your car, you may notice it also does not work.

When Your Dashboard Lights Flicker and Your Car Won’t Start

If the car won’t start at all and the dashboard lights are flickering, it’s likely that the battery does not have enough charge to crank over the vehicle. In this scenario, you’ll likely need to replace the failed battery.

Other potential causes of flickering dash lights when your car won’t start to include:

  • Bad battery due to a failed alternator
  • Dirty or loose battery cables
  • Faulty ignition switch
  • Bad control modules

What’s Happening When Your Headlights and Dash Lights Are Flickering?

When you couple flickering headlights with flickering dashboard lights, the alternator has more than likely worn out. A worn-out alternator typically needs to be replaced.

Other signs of a bad alternator include:

  • Illuminated battery warning light
  • Dim or overly bright lights
  • Malfunctioning or slow-working accessories
  • Trouble starting the car
  • Frequent stalling
  • Growling or whining noises
  • Smell of burning rubber if the alternator has seized

Why My Dash Lights Are Dead?

The Cause: If the dash lights are completely dark, it’s safe to assume that the problem is somehow electrical. Most likely, this will be due to a blown fuse, which is designed to protect the circuits in case of a surge.

However, it could also be due to deeper wiring issues. These problems could still cause the fuse to blow, and they may persist even after a fuse replacement.

The Solution: First, find your vehicle’s fuse box and check the owner’s manual to see which fuse is for the dash lights. Be sure that the vehicle is turned off with the keys out of the ignition, and then remove the fuse with pullers or a pair of pliers.

Once you’ve removed it, hold it up to the light. If the interior filament is broken, the fuse will need to be replaced. Put in a fuse with the same amperage rating and hope that it works!

If the fuse wasn’t blown, or the replacement fuse doesn’t work or blows again quickly, it’s likely that it wasn’t just a one-time issue. Instead, your car likely has some electrical problem that needs to be fixed.