All The Information You Need About Car Gauges

Have you ever gotten curious about what’s really going on under your hood? While most cars have a line showing some vague notion of temperature, there’s so much more that you aren’t getting. If you want to know what exactly is going on in your engine, you should consider getting a few aftermarket gauges, so you can get precise readings that can help you with performing preventative maintenance. Plus, these car accessories just look really cool. Convinced that you may need one or two, or more? Here’s what you need to know.

Say Goodbye to Idiot Lights

Most cars of yesteryear don’t even have gauges. Instead, they have dashboard lights for oil pressure, heat and brakes. If one of the lights comes on, it means something’s already broken and you’re in trouble. Nowadays, most cars are equipped with an instrument cluster that displays crucial car information.

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The displayed squares, lines and bar graphs are almost never marked, leaving you to wonder why the three lines of heat are normal, whereas five lines are considered the hot zone. So while factory gauges do provide some useful information, they’re referred to as idiot lights simply because they don’t provide the actual useful information. Having an idea of what’s happening under your hood is especially important when you’re driving a powerful, performance car.

Where to Start?

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If you’re looking for your first gauge, check out a well-stocked aftermarket car accessories store. A water temp and oil pressure gauge should be your first two considerations, as they help prevent catastrophic damage before it even happens. These gauges are considered by many as cheap insurance. Even the highest-quality water temp and oil pressure gauges sell for around $100 and can provide information that can save your expensive engine. As briefly mentioned, as your vehicle’s performance increases, so does the need to monitor more things. Even small modifications like exhaust and intake can throw off the air to fuel ratio. If you’ve modified your vehicle in any way with performance-enhancing mods, it’s time to monitor your equipment.

Range of Options

While there’s a myriad of gauges to pick from, there are even more different categories. Visually, you can find a gauge that matches almost any interior. There’s brushed aluminium, antique brass, carbon fibre, piano black treatment, wood grain and many more. The lighting on them can be LED, incandescent or digital. There’s no right or wrong here, so just get what appeals to you.

Something that matters, however, is mechanical versus electrical. Electrical gauges get their signal digitally with the help of a sensor located in the engine bay. On the other hand, mechanical gauges have a direct connection and provide pneumatic readings. So for instance, electric oil-pressure gauges display the oil-pressure signal with the help of a sensor in the oil system and run the signal wire to the gauge, whereas a mechanical oil pressure gauge runs a pressurised tube from the engine block to the gauge.

Both types of gauges have their own advantages, with mechanical gauges being more affordable, more accurate and requiring less wiring. Furthermore, these gauges are typically full sweep, which means the gauge needle runs almost the entire face of the gauge. Electrical gauges are lighter, smaller and are almost as accurate as mechanical gauges (except the cheaper ones), and the main advantage for them is not having to run a pressurised tube from your engine to the cabin. Additionally, they’re half-sweep, meaning the gauge needle runs from the 9 o’clock position to the 3 o’clock. At the end of the day, the debate of mechanical versus electrical can also come down to personal preference.

How to Install an Aftermarket Gauge?

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Wiring and mounting a new gauge will depend on a couple of factors. If you’re a race car driver, you’ll need large gauges that are mounted within sight, in your field of view. If you’re a daily driver, on the other hand, you can get away with a smaller gauge placed in a more discreet location.

Furthermore, the type of car you drive will also determine your mounting options. For instance, A-pillar pods that were popular in 90s Camaros have head cushions installed in the newest Camaros. That being said, make sure the gauge you buy works around your existing accessories and equipment.

It’s also important to note that different gauges come with different requirements. Almost all of them require a ground and 12V ignition line, but all the other factors vary. Transmission temperature gauges may require a fitting welded into the transmission pan, whereas vacuum gauges may require a vinyl hose that runs to the intake manifold.

Running electrical, vacuum or boost hoses to the engine bay usually means that you’ll be running them through the firewall. Generally, there are access holes that you can use, but you might need to drill a hole yourself. When running a hole yourself, you’ll need to plug the excess space with a grommet.