A form of dashboard was around even before cars. A wood or leather screen that was used in the front of horse-drawn carriages to protect an operator from debris was known as a dashboard.
A dashboard can consist of a speedometer, odometer, fuel gauge, warning and malfunction lights, heating and ventilation controls and vents, lighting, audio controls and navigation systems.
More car manufacturers are moving dashboard control items to the center console of the car. There is some speculation this is a cost-driven move, preferable to building separate dashboard designs for right-hand and left-hand drive vehicles.
Ford introduced padded dashboards in the mid-1950s. By the 1970s, polyurethane foam was used on dashboards for padding, but by the 1990s air bags were installed in many vehicles to provide padding in case of a crash.
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 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.
The tachometer measures RPMs, or the engine’s revolutions per minute. The tachometer is especially helpful to those who drive a manual transmission, as keeping an eye on the RPMs can assist with gear shifting and timing. The tachometer usually displays 0 to around 8 RPMs, 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.
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 1 to 10. 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 lights exist 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. Low-fluid lights for windshield wiper fluid or coolant also exist. The number of informational and warning lights differs by car and options. All lights are explained in your owners 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 Family Car website states that the meter should read around 12.5 volts, otherwise you may have a problem with the battery’s charging system.