An AA Financial Services survey showed that 47% of women and 33% of men did not recognise frequently-used function symbols or basic warning lights.
The survey asked 1,700 people to identify symbols including the handbrake warning light, full beam headlight, front windscreen wash and wipe and rear fog light.
The most commonly identified symbol in the survey was the oil pressure warning lamp, successfully recognised by 85%.
Lloyd East, general manager of AA Financial Services, said: ‘During March and April, hundreds of thousands of used cars will change hands and more women than men will buy them so it’s worrying that so many female motorists are in the dark over some of the most common dashboard symbols.
‘It’s important that anyone buying a car has a basic knowledge of the functions of a vehicle.
‘Ignoring an unfamiliar warning light – even if the car seems to be performing normally – could cost you thousands of pounds.’