Why Did My Dashboard Lights Flicker While Driving?

Flickering or pulsing dash lights certainly indicate a problem with your car, but determining the exact cause is usually a job left to a mechanic with the right tools to test the electrical system of your vehicle.

Generally, flickering dash lights indicate an alternator replacement, but this is often confused with a starter replacement. Learn the difference between the two parts of your vehicle to understand which is needed for which problems.

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 tested and install a new battery if necessary.

dash lights flicker when car is running

Warning Signs You Need an Alternator Replacement

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.

Signs Your Starter Needs to Be Replaced

The starter is the part which starts the ignition process in the engine. Over time, this part can wear out or break. When it happens, you will experience one or more of these symptoms:

  • The engine won’t turn over
  • You see or smell smoke when trying to start the engine
  • The starter won’t spin the motor
  • You hear a grinding noise when trying to start the motor

However, sometimes when the engine won’t turn over, it is because of a bad battery, not a bad starter. When you notice one of these problems, it is a good idea to talk to a professional mechanic to help you find the root cause. Most manufacturers do not recommend replacing the starter at a set time, because they just don’t know when one will fail.

No one enjoys having car problems, but when you have a good mechanic to help you diagnose and fix the problem quickly, you feel safer about driving your vehicle. It doesn’t take long to have an alternator system check when you have a dead battery, and it will give you peace of mind on the road.

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.

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.

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
  • The 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.