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A Tour Through Your Car’s Dashboard Gauges

By Reggie Rudolph

When automobiles were simpler, the dashboard was mostly devoted to the gas gauge and the speedometer. Today, vehicles are designed with much more complexity. The parts and systems under the hood are monitored closely to ensure problems are addressed as quickly as possible. For this reason, most cars, trucks, and SUVs are equipped with dashboards that include gauges for the coolant temperature, RPMs, and oil pressure. These help keep drivers informed about the performance of critical systems (e.g. engine).

Below, we’ll take a brief tour through your vehicle’s dashboard gauges. I’ll explain what each implies and how the data originates. You’ll also learn a few facts that may surprise you, beginning with the gas gauge.

Gas Gauge

As you know, your car’s gas gauge reflects how much fuel remains in your fuel tank. As the level within the tank dwindles, the gauge advances from full to empty. In many older vehicles, the markers on the gauge that reflect one-fourth, half, and three-fourths of a tank are disproportionately spaced. As a result, the needle seems to move more slowly as it travels from the full tank marker to the three-fourths tank marker. By the time the needle reaches the marker for one-fourth of a tank, it seems to move more quickly. In reality, your gas is being depleted at the same rate.

As a side note, avoid allowing your tank to become depleted past the one-fourth full marker. The reason is because doing so can slowly damage your fuel pump. The pump is located within your gas tank and is normally covered with fuel. This keeps its operating temperature low. When the tank is depleted, the fuel pump no longer has sufficient fuel to cover it. As a result, its operating temperature rises and causes internal stress. This hastens its failure.


Your speedometer reflects the speed of your wheels. An electronic sensor monitors your wheels and transmits the data to the speedometer. Due to the way the speed of the wheels is measured, installing larger-than-OE tires can impair the instrument’s accuracy. It can be recalibrated, however, to accommodate the larger dimensions.

RPM Gauge (Tachometer)

This instrument reflects the number of revolutions your engine is making per minute. If you’re driving a vehicle equipped with a manual transmission, you can use this gauge to optimize your fuel efficiency and engine performance. If your vehicle has an automatic transmission, you’re unlikely to ever need this gauge.

The dashboard gauge will show numbers one, two, three, and so on. These numbers reflect the rpms in thousands. That is, if the needle is on three, it means your engine is turning 3,000 revolutions per minute.

Temperature Gauge

The temperature surrounding your engine has an important influence upon its smooth operation. If it rises past a certain point, the assembly will overheat and sustain damage. The gauge on your dashboard reflects the temperature of the coolant as it courses through your engine.

When you first start driving, the gauge will show a low temperature reading. This is because the coolant has not had sufficient time to warm up. After a few minutes, the gauge’s needle will rise, indicating the heat around your engine is also rising.

Oil Indicator Lamp

Because your engine relies heavily on an ample supply of oil to operate properly, your dashboard is equipped with an oil indicator lamp. If the level declines past a certain point, the lamp will flicker on. This warning lamp should be considered a priority. Turn your car off immediately and replenish the oil before continuing to drive. Otherwise, you will destroy your engine.

Aside from your speedometer, the gauges installed on your dashboard are designed to alert you to problems and help you avoid costly repairs. Don’t ignore them. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, have a mechanic identify and resolve the underlying issue.

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Article Citation
MLA Style Citation:
Rudolph, Reggie "A Tour Through Your Car’s Dashboard Gauges." A Tour Through Your Car’s Dashboard Gauges. 21 Jun. 2010. 21 Apr 2015 <>.

APA Style Citation:
Rudolph, R (2010, June 21). A Tour Through Your Car’s Dashboard Gauges. Retrieved April 21, 2015, from

Chicago Style Citation:
Rudolph, Reggie "A Tour Through Your Car’s Dashboard Gauges"

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