Understanding the Signs in Your Car Dashboard

It’s quite difficult to digest all the blinking lights seen when you’re seated on the driver’s seat. A first time driver or an “always passenger” will not easily understand those gauges and indicators unless a long-time driver explains what each of them is for. I remember my first driving lesson. My driving instructor talked so fast that I couldn’t even remember what gauge is which, what a blinking image means, and what all those numbers are for.

This article gives information about the control and displays found in the instrument control panel that contribute to the daily operation of your car. All the essential controls are within easy reach (Common controls found on contemporary cars; featured images may vary depending on car model).

Speedometer. For local car models, this shows your instantaneous speed in kilometers per hour (km/h or kph). For international car models, the speed is usually indicated in miles per hour (miles/h or mph). In early models, it’s an analog instrument with a needle pointing to a number on the dial to display the speed of your vehicle. On the other hand, newer car models now display a digital speedometer, a device that gives a more accurate reading compare to that of the analog ones.

Tachometer. This gauge shows the disc engine’s rotation speed in revolutions per minute (rpm). Hence, the tachometer is also called the “revolution counter.” Like the speedometer, it is also available in both calibrated analog dials and digital displays. To protect the engine from damage, never drive with the tachometer needle in the red zone.

Odometer. The odometer displays the total distance your car has traveled. It measures in kilometers in local vehicular models and miles in foreign ones. An odometer may be mechanical or digital. Modern cars usually display a so-called trip meter. Compared to a typical odometer, a trip meter shows the number of kilometers driven since before reset. By using this gauge, you will be able to record the exact distance of a certain journey. Some car models have two trip meters. Each trip meter works independently, so as to keep track of two different distances.

Fuel gauge. This device shows how much fuel you have. It is most accurate when the car is on level ground. It may show slightly more or less than the actual amount when the vehicle is on curvy or hilly roads. The needle returns to the bottom after you turn off the ignition. The gauge shows the fuel level reading immediately after you turn the ignition switch back on. A small lamp is lit just below the gauge, if the vehicle is running out of fuel. This lamp is called low fuel indicator.

Temperature gauge. This instrument shows the temperature of the engine’s coolant. During normal operation, the pointer should rise from the bottom white mark to about the middle of the gauge. In severe driving conditions, such as very hot weather or a long period of uphill driving, the pointer may rise to the upper zone. If it reaches the red (hot) mark, pull safely to the side of the road.

Malfunction indicator lamp. This light is also known as “check engine light.” From the name itself, it tells if the vehicle is having an engine breakdown. If the indicator lamp is lit steadily, it means the engine is experiencing a minor malfunction. If the lamp is blinking, it then indicates that the engine is experiencing severe malfunction and must be repaired a.s.a.p.


Seat belt reminder light. Safety first! This device prompts you to put your seat belt on. Newer cars already have this feature.

These are just some devices found in your instrument panel board. Other vehicles would have more complex dashboards, but the list above shows the common ones. Remember the road safety always comes first. If your car is not in good shape, it’s always best to have your car repaired first before hitting the road. Acquaint yourself with these instruments and make a difference in your driving experience.

About Paw

She's a high school science teacher in a small school in Quezon City. She likes reading books and conceptualizing costumes for cosplay. On her spare time, she writes about anything under the sun, while enjoying a cup of coffee in Starbucks.

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