The Names of the Instruments on the Dashboard of a Car

by Shanan Miller

The instrument cluster in your car holds gauges and lamps that convey vital information to you as you drive. Knowing the function of the instruments on your dashboard allows you to interpret the information your car gives you. Most of the instruments are in the gauge cluster, which is usually located behind and around the steering wheel, within easy view.

Speedometer

The speedometer monitors your vehicle's speed. Your car's computer monitors your wheel speed and reports it to your speedometer, which makes you aware of how fast you're going. Most vehicles offer a speedometer that is circular and shows different increments of speeds, usually numbered by tens for every 10 mph over 0 mph. Some cars offer a digital version of the speedometer, or simply a digitally displayed speed that the car is traveling and nothing more.

Fuel Gauge

Fuel is gauged by the use of a floater-type mechanism that changes position depending on the level of gas in the tank. The floater-device is monitored electronically by wires that are read by the vehicle's computer system and sent to the fuel gauge. The fuel gauge usually reads from empty, "E," to full, "F," with four marks in between, for quarter, half, and three-quarters full. Some vehicles offer a digital version of the fuel gauge.

Tachometer

The tachometer -- if the car is equipped with one --measures the engine's revolutions per minute. The tachometer is especially helpful to those who drive a manual transmission, as keeping an eye on the rpm can assist with gear shifting and timing. The tachometer usually displays 0 to around 8 rpm, with a line of red soon after. The red line helps to prevent "red lining" the engine, which can cause significant damage. In some cars, once the tachometer's needle reaches the red-line point, fuel is cut off to prevent damage.

Odometer

The odometer keeps track of your vehicle's mileage. Older vehicles offer a rolling-odometer display, similar to an older alarm clock that rolls through numbers 0 to 9. Many modern vehicles use a digital display for the odometer reading. The odometer display often does more than just show the vehicle's mileage, as in many cars the display doubles as an information center. A nearby button allows you to switch through trip odometers so you can record mileage for a trip, tire pressure monitors, fuel economy, oil life percentage and additional information depending on the car.

Warning and Information Lights

A variety of warning and alert lights are in the instrument panel. If a problem exists, a light is sure to notify you. For example, an exclamation point signifies "check engine," or an ABS light that stays on signifies an error with the anti-lock braking system. Your car may also have low-fluid lights for windshield wiper fluid or coolant. The number of informational and warning lights differ by car and options. All lights are explained in your owner's manual.

Temperature Gauge and Voltmeter

The temperature gauge measures your vehicle's coolant temperature. The gauge helps to determine if your car is going to overheat, which can damage your engine. The gauge should not go above the halfway mark, and if it does, you can pull over or park your car to let it cool down. The voltmeter, signified by a picture of a small battery, monitors your battery voltage. The meter should read around 12.5 volts, otherwise you may have a problem with the battery's charging system. Not all cars have a temperature and volt gauge. If there is no gauge, temperature and voltage alerts are given with a warning light.

About the Author

Shanan Miller covers automotive and insurance topics for various websites, blogs and dealerships. She has extensive automotive experience, including auction, insurance, finance, service and management positions. Miller has worked for dealer sales events around the United States and now stays local as a sales and leasing consultant for a dealership.

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