AutoAnything's Guide to Gauges
Nothing brings out custom interior style like a set of racing gauges mounted to your vehicle's dash, console or A-pillar. From muscle cars and big trucks to sport compacts and street rods, a set of performance gauges not only keeps engine vitals within eyeshot, they add a dose of racecar style like no other accessory.
Whether you plan to add gauges and custom gauge faces for performance, security or style, here's a quick overview of what you need to know when gauging your gauge needs:
- Automotive Gauges
- Gauge Mounts
- Shift Lights & Warning Lights
- Gauge Faces
When you spend your hard-earned dollars on auto performance, it's important to keep tabs on all the vital readings to prevent meltdown, detonation and catastrophic failure.
Whether you're towing with the big dogs, pulling Gs at the track or dropping the hammer on your morning commute, quality gauges are a must. But, which gauges are best for your needs? Check out the AutoAnything Guide to Gauges and find out.
Fuel pressure, fuel level or combustion—if it has to do with monitoring the go-juice, you'll find it here.
Air/Fuel Ratio Gauges: By measuring and displaying the air to fuel mixture, an Air/Fuel Ratio Gauge is helpful when accurate readings are required to maximize power, reliability and mileage on highly-modified vehicles. Narrow Band sensors only indicate whether or not your vehicle is running at the ideal ratio of 14.7:1. Wide Band sensors display the entire ratio range, which is important for high-performance vehicle tuners.
Fuel Level Gauges: One of the easiest gauges to take for granted—until it fails and you run out of fuel. Aftermarket Fuel Level Gauges usually require special, vehicle-specific senders and don't always work with factory gear. Make sure you get everything you need when ordering.
Fuel Pressure Gauges: Sitting between your fuel filter and your carburetor or fuel injection, the Fuel Pressure Gauge basically measures how much fuel is being delivered. Since they work off of actual fuel pressure, never mount one of these gauges in your cockpit unless you use an inline fuel isolator.
Knock Gauges: Knock Gauges measure knock or detonation—the engine-killing result of too much boost, over fueling, mistuning and inadequate cooling.
Tachs and Speedos:
Every car has a speedometer, and even your grandma's '07 Malibu has a tach—but when you're serious about seeking speed and reading revs, quality Tachs & Speedos are a must.
RPM Gauges: Also known as Tachometers or rev-counters, RPM Gauges measure your engine's revolutions per minute.
Speedometers: The most common of all gauges, a Speedometer simply lets you know how fast—or slow—you're going. Aftermarket speedos often require special senders and may not work with your factory gear, so make sure you have everything you need.
Tachometers: Also known as a tach, an RPM Gauge or rev-counter, a Tachometer measures your engine's revolutions per minute. Performance drivers use tachs to time shifts, to know when the engine is in its power band, and to keep from over-revving and destroying the motor.
From amplifiers to transmissions, vital components in your vehicle simply get hot when you're running hard. Make sure you keep tabs on the temps with gauges that can handle the heat.
Amplifier Temperature Gauges: When you've got a bumpin' system, make sure you're not over-driving your amplifier. An Amplifier Temperature Gauge monitors the amp's temperatures so you know when to drop the decibels.
Cylinder Head Temp Gauges: Excessive cylinder head temps can spell disaster in the form of blown head gaskets or worse—a good Cylinder Head Temp Gauge lets you shut 'er down before detonation.
Differential Temperature Gauges: When involved in racing and extended performance runs, you can actually weld the gears in your differential together—not good. A Differential Temperature Gauge warns you well before meltdown.
EGT/Pyrometer Gauges: Wired straight to your ride's exhaust via a type-K thermocouple, an EGT/Pyrometer Gauge measures exhaust gas temperatures. To prevent engine failure, EGTs are one of the most important readings to monitor on diesel powerplants.
IAT Gauges: The temperature of the air going in is as important as the temperature of the air going out. The IAT Gauge sensor mounts into your intake manifold to deliver the air intake temperature reading, that way you know if high under-hood temps are affecting performance.
Oil Temperature Gauge: Perfect for keeping your engine's lifeblood—oil—within the proper operating temperatures. An Oil Temperature Gauge is a great way to monitor overall engine temps, too.
Transmission Temperature Gauges: Excessive automatic transmission temperatures can signal some expensive repairs are coming your way. A Transmission Temperature Gauge keeps tabs on the temps, especially when you're towing or racing, and lets you know to let off well before meltdown.
Water Temperature Gauges: If you've ever been that guy on the side of the road, hood open with steam spewing out like an old locomotive, you've experienced overheating. Since hot coolant is the first indication that something's wrong, a Water Temperature Gauge is your first line of defense against an overheating engine.
When the pressure's on to take the win or score the best parking spot, always monitor your pressure, boost and vacuum with gauges designed to stand up under pressure.
Air Pressure Gauges: When you have an on-board air system to adjust air suspension or to inflate tires and toys, a quality air pressure gauge lets you keep tabs on psi from the comfort of your cab.
Blower Pressure Gauges: By installing a Blower Pressure Gauge, it's easy to keep tabs on the pressure your supercharger generates from idle to wide open throttle. Some models even have a memory function to monitor pressure consistency.
Boost Gauges: A Boost Gauge measures your vehicle's turbocharger or supercharger boost pressure. This way you know when you're approaching the engine's optimal power band during spirited driving. The boost gauge also warns when excessive turbo pressure is being generated. Can also be used with a vacuum gauge.
Brake Pressure Gauges: Next to actually feeling your vehicle slow down when you hit the brakes, Brake Pressure Gauges are the best way to make sure you have proper brake pressure.
Nitrous Pressure Gauges: Make sure you keep spraying the juice at the optimal rate of 900 - 950 psi with a Nitrous Pressure Gauge checking the vitals. A must-have gauge for high-performance tuning.
Oil Pressure Gauges: From a single-slapper lawnmower engine to a purpose-built race motor, oil is the lifeblood that keeps it moving. Make sure that blood's flowing to all the right places with an Oil Pressure Gauge.
Vacuum Gauges: Like a boost gauge, a Vacuum Gauge is used on turbo and supercharged engines. The information retrieved from the vacuum gauge gives you a good idea of throttle position—high vacuum means low throttle, low or zero vacuum indicates wide open throttle.
Water Pressure Gauge: A loss of pressure from your water pump means there's probably a leak in your cooling system—which spells disaster for your engine. A Water Pressure Gauge delivers an early indication that pressures are fluctuating.
Pressure Gauges: Though the above pressure gauges are component-specific, generic Pressure Gauges keep tabs on any number of readings like suspension-reservoir oil and clutch fluid, to name a few.
Nothing knocks your ride out of contention faster than electrical problems. Wire up your dashboard with accurate electrical gauges designed to keep the spaghetti juiced.
Ammeters: Under normal conditions, an Ammeter measures current flow from the alternator to the battery. In the case of an alternator system failure, it measures discharge from the battery. Though ammeters are fairly accurate, performance tuners recommend using a voltmeter instead.
Amp Current Gauges: Mostly used by audiophiles to keep tabs on stereo power draws, an Amp Current Gauge can be used to measure any type of electrical current you need to monitor.
Voltmeters: Meet the ammeter's much more accurate big brother. The Voltmeter works like a fuel pressure gauge, only it measures electrical system pressure in voltage. A voltmeter is almost always preferred over an ammeter.
Keep tabs on the time with clocks and timers designed just for your dashboard.
Clocks: Nothing relives the days of chrome and tailfins like an old-fashioned 3-hand Clock sweeping time on your dashboard.
Hour Meter Gauges: Kind of like an odometer for your motor, an Hour Meter Gauge accurately reads and records the amount of time that your engine runs.
So you've got your gauges, now what? In order for any gauge to be of any use, you gotta be able to see it. That's where gauge mounts come in. Designed specifically to mount gauges, gauge mounts come in 3 distinct styles:
A-Pillar Mounts hold up to 3 gauges right on the driver side a-pillar.
Dash Pods mount gauges and power programmers seamlessly on top of your dash.
Universal Mounting Cups & Panels let you place your gauges anywhere you can attach the mount for unlimited versatility.
Shift Lights & Warning Lights
When every shift matters, and 10 degrees could be the difference between the checkered flag and the black flag, you need to add Shift Lights & Warning Lights to your gauge cluster. Shift lights work with your tach, lighting up at predetermined rev levels to alert you when it's time to row gears. And warning lights can be wired to any number of critical functions to instantly warn when parameters hit the red zone.
We all have our own sense of style. Trouble is, sometimes what we think looks good clashes with auto makers' designs. Now, most of us can put up with an obnoxious exterior accent or two, but lackluster interiors are another matter. Since you can't help but look at your dash while you drive, every defect in design is amplified. Thankfully, you can always redecorate your vehicle with new gauge faces. When you mount a made-to-measure gauge face to your vehicle, you get:
- A truly custom look for your instrument cluster
- The power to add a personal touch to your vehicle's interior design
- A chance to change the illumination color of your gauges
Advantages of Custom-Fit Gauge Faces
No two interiors are exactly alike. It goes without saying that the cockpit of a Honda Accord is going to be different from a Ford F150. But, the interior design of a 2005 F150 might be drastically different from the cockpit of a 2005 F150. You see, each trim level can result in minor or major variations of the instrument cluster's layout. The tachometer might be a few inches further away from the oil temperature gauge on a Lariat than an FX4.
The good news is that your gauge face is completely custom made to fit seamlessly over your cluster. The precision manufacturing process behind each and every gauge face ensures a perfect match to your specific year, make and model.
The Guide to Gauge Face Kits
Unless you live in Montana, where the posted daytime speed limit is "reasonable and prudent," chances are you give your speedometer quite a bit of attention while you are driving around town. In fact, you depend on all of your instruments for such important information as when to shift gears, when to fill up your gas tank and even when it's time to head over to the mechanic for your 30,000 mile tune-up.
Unfortunately, auto manufacturers tend to give the style of the gauge face little to no creative thought. Rather than putting up with staring at humdrum gauge faces, make the switch to one of our exciting overlays.
Gauge Face Kits—How They Work
Just as the dashboard veneer kits stick directly over the stock trim, so too do gauge face kits fasten directly on top of your factory-installed instrument panel. Each gauge overlay is incredibly thin, so they do not get in the way of your needles. Plus, these laser-cut overlays are custom-fitted to mount exactly onto your specific year, make and model vehicle without obstructing the panel's backlighting.
Gauge face kits are available in two material types, each of which have their own special traits.
For gauges that are both tough and sophisticated, stainless steel is the material for you. All of these overlays are crafted using premium, corrosion-resistant stainless steel. They are cut to a precise .005" thick by state-of-the-art lasers, and polished to a shimmering gloss finish which will add luster to any instrument panel.
If you want an instrument panel that matches or accents your paintjob, then check out our colored gauge face overlays. These overlays are crafted from .015" thick slats of strong, light and pliable polycarbonate, which is the same material that your stock instrument cluster is made of. Best of all, there are about half a dozen colors for you to pick and choose from.
Not only are you able to personalize how your gauge overlay looks, you can even push the customization to the next level by altering the color of both the backlight and the needles. With a complete gauge face kit, you'll have your choice of either the mellow blue or fierce red illumination and needles. And, for the H2 owners, there is also a third option: icy white.
Gauge Face Installation Tips
Installing a gauge face kit is a more involved process than sticking on a dash kit. You will have to disassemble your dashboard and remove the instrument cluster in order to mount the new overlay. Nevertheless, your kit will include in depth instructions with photographs to guide you through the entire makeover, from the first screw to the completed product. Expect to spend a few hours installing your new gauge face kit.
Once the instrument cluster is out of your vehicle and on your work bench, installing the new gauge face kit is really straightforward. Around the perimeter of your instrument panel are a series of factory-installed stems sticking up like pylons. Your overlay has holes drilled into it that match these posts, so all you have to do is match the holes with the stems. Just like dash trim, the gauge overlays use pieces of automotive-grade 3M adhesive.