Car Dashboard - All You Need to Know » BasicAutomotives (2023)

While in the driving seat you always try to know certain things about your car. Did you realize? You repeatedly look at your car’s dashboard. Well, your dashboard contains a wide range of information you need to know for your vehicle’s smooth operation and maintenance. Do you know what features your vehicle’s dashboard is having? Read this article to know more.

Table of Contents

Your Car’s Dash

Your Car’s Dash is your informer. It is basically a control panel that displays various controls and instrumentation needed for your vehicle’s functioning and usually sits in front of the driver. To be more technical, we also call it an Instrument Panel (IP).

Initially, manufacturers were using metal or wood as dashboards material. Modern dashboards generally are more stylish. Nowadays, Plastics are predominantly used as car dashboard material due to a number of advantages. Some are strength-to-weight ratio, mouldability, longevity, low cost, appearance, wear, and scratch resistance.

Some commonly used plastics are Polypropylene (PP), Poly Vinyl chloride (PVC), Thermoplastic Olefin (TPO), and Acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS).

Well, the amount of information that you may get from your dash may vary from other people. This may be because of different manufacturers, models and cost.

Types of Car Dashboard Displays

You must know what display your dashboard uses. The type of display preferred varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. It may be Analog or Digital or a combination of both.

In Analog, an indicator (often a needle) moves along a fixed scale and gives variable readings whereas a Digital (or electronic) display shows numbers (refer to the images below).

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The Digital Display looks pretty impressive and is known for showing exact data (value), such as exact speed or exact engine rpm.

But, the benefit of Analog Display is that it shows relative changes better than Digital Display. For example, an Analog speedometer shows the rise and fall of the vehicle speed better than the Digital one. And while being at the driving seat you must have realized that you don’t need the exact reading at all. To determine the speed, you often have a quick look at the dashboard and see the needle’s current position.

So when the driver needs to look something quick and exact data is not necessary, Analog is preferred.

Nowadays Manufacturers mostly prefer making dashboards with a combination of both Analog and Digital. For example, Speedometer (Analog)-odometer (Digital) combinations in many cases. See some images below:-

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Features found in a Dashboard


Gauges will provide the most common information you always look for while in the driving seat. There are several gauges you can find on your vehicle’s dash panel. Some frequently found are described below.

1. Speedometer

Want to know the speed you are travelling at? Just have a quick look on the speedometer.

A speedometer indicates the speed at which your vehicle running at a particular instant (at the time of taking the reading). In most cases, you will find the speed in both kilometres per hour (kph) and miles per hour (mph). [1 mile = 1.60934 km]

Modern speedometers generally collect information from the Vehicle Speed Sensor (VSS) mounted on the transmission.

2. Odometer

Basically, an odometer will indicate the total distance covered by your vehicle till the time of taking the reading. Pretty simple, right? But this is more than just a little piece of information that can help you with your vehicle’s maintenance.

Besides knowing how much km/miles has your vehicle run on the road, you can also figure out when to service your vehicle. For example, when to replace your engine oil and tires depending on how you drive. You can also determine the mileage.

An odometer reading can also be a factor of consideration to determine the reselling value of your vehicle, of course, if you are planning to sell.

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In most cases, speedometer and odometer come as a single unit and are combined called as speedometer.

3. Tachometer

A tachometer shows the engine speed (in Revolutions Per Minute, or RPM), i.e, it displays the number of rotations of your engine crankshaft per minute.

The tachometer plays a vital role in helping you have better mileage. You will have better fuel mileage if you accelerate less and keep your rpm low. To increase your speed you can shift to higher gears and at the same time, you can keep your rpm as low as possible. So gear shifting is important.

It is always advised that you shift to the desired gear at a particular engine rpm and the tachometer is going to help you. You must always refer to the tachometer while shifting gears. This is particularly required for a manual transmission system. If you have an automatic transmission, you don’t need to worry about gear shifting at all.

4. Fuel Level Indicating Gauge

It shows how much fuel do you have left in your fuel tank.

You must have a certain amount of fuel to keep your fuel pump lubricated every time. This helps in cooling your fuel pump. It is always recommended to maintain the fuel level at least 25%-30% of the tank volume.

5. Coolant Temperature Gauge

This gauge will let you know whether your engine’s coolant is cold or hot or at a normal operating temperature range (1950 F-2200 F). The displayed data is fetched from the coolant temperature sensor (or thermistor) that sits at the thermostat housing. A digital temperature gauge can show you the exact data.

You should always keep track of your coolant temperature. Any abnormal behavior can be a sign of your engine getting overheated.

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Warning/Indicating Lights (Symbols)

Along with the gauges, modern dashboards contain lots of different lights or symbols that you need to understand. Most people actually get confused about what to do if any of these lights shows up. Some of them will be regarding your safety and some warning lights will be requiring your immediate action.

Every time you start your vehicle, the computer runs a quick test (a self-check) on all functionalities. So most of the lights will be visible for few seconds. If everything is found good, these lights will go away. If there is any malfunction, the respective light will continue to be there in your dashboard or will continuously flash.

You must mind the colors of these symbols. You can find various colors like red, orange, green, blue, and white.

RedThat’s an “Emergency” and requires your immediate action
Orange/AmberThat’s a “Recommendation” or an “Advisory” to get the issue fixed as soon as possible but needn’t require immediate action.
Green/Blue/WhiteThat’s a “General Information” indicating an ongoing activity/function

Like the type of display used, the dashboard features may also vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. There may be variation in the symbols themselves. You must follow your owner’s manual to see what is there for your car. However, let’s see some of the commonly found warning lights.

Warning Lights

1. Check Engine Light
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It signals that there is something wrong with the engine. The reasons are many, you never know. If it is flashing continuously, then it might require an immediate pullover. In most cases, you might have to visit a mechanic.

Some common reasons include engine overheating, low oil pressure, loosen or damaged gas cap, damaged catalytic converter, a bad sensor, and any fault in the vehicle’s ignition system like worn-out spark plugs.

2. Engine Temperature Warning Light
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It shows that your vehicle is overheated. When this thing illuminates, you must pull over your vehicle and allow it to cool first.

In many cases, it happens because of a shortage of coolant. It is possible that coolant is leaking from somewhere. Also, you must check for any fault in the radiator fan. Sometimes, a shortage of engine oil may also contribute to the engine’s overheating.

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This light may also illuminate if false data is received from a bad thermistor.

3. Brake Warning Light
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It may appear when your parking brake is ON or if there is a leak in your brake’s hydraulic system causing brake fluid deficiency.

It may also be because of in-efficient braking obtained from the worn-out brake pads. Nowadays, a separate warning light can be found on dashboards for indicating worn-out brake pads.

4. Oil Pressure Warning Light
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You will see this light illuminating when you have less amount of lubrication oil or the oil pump is unable to feed oil properly to all required parts.

You must keep track of your engine oil level and change it as per recommendation.

5. Battery Charge Warning Light
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It will appear when your vehicle’s charging system in not properly functioning.

The issue maybe with the battery or the alternator. In most cases, it is found that the alternator belt is broken.

You can know all by yourself if the problem lies with your battery. You will notice that the lights are getting dimmed and the horn sound is weak.

Safety Symbols

1. Airbag Readiness Light
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The Airbag Readiness Light will actually let you know whether the airbag installed in your vehicle is properly working or not.

When you turn on the ignition, if the light stays for a few seconds and goes away, it shows everything is ok with your Air Bag System.

But if you find the light staying continuously or starting to blink after few seconds of turning on the ignition, then there must be a malfunction that needs to be addressed fast.

2. Seat Belt Indicator
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Seat Belt is a very important feature when it comes to safety of the passengers.

A Seat Belt Indicator will remind you to fasten your seat belt.

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3. Door Ajar Warning Light
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It indicates that any door or trunk of your vehicle is not properly closed.

Always make sure to shut your car doors and trunks properly before a drive.

4. Traction Control Indicator Light
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This indicates that your vehicle’s traction control has been triggered.

Traction control is generally activated when we try to accelerate our vehicle on slippery (low friction) surfaces and one wheel spins faster than others causing the vehicle to slip rather than accelerate.

Traction control helps the abnormally spinning wheel to regain its traction by applying the required amount of brake.

5. Traction Control Malfunction
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It shows that your traction control system is not working properly.

It may be due to the damaged wheel speed sensors that provide incorrect spinning data of the respective wheels to the vehicle’s computer. This results in improper braking of those wheels and traction control are affected.

Traction control is also affected in worst road conditions (having very less friction).

6. ABS Warning Light
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It refers to the improper functioning of your Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS), mostly because of less brake fluid in the reservoir or due to damaged wheel speed sensors.

7. Tire Pressure Warning Light
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It shows that one or more of your tires are having low or high pressure.

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The tire pressure must be within 30 to 35 PSI. Driving your vehicle with a low or a high tire pressure can be dangerous.

8. Air Suspension Warning Light
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It shows that there is a flaw in your Air Suspension System.

Maybe there is a leak in any one of your Air Suspension Bags or the air compressor is unable to provide enough air for the bags to inflate lowering the ride height.

Sometimes, the height sensors may end up giving false readings to your vehicle’s computer. So it is advisable to check the height sensors first before checking the compressor or the bags.

9. Security Light
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It illuminates when there is a flaw in your vehicle’s anti-theft system.

Common Symbols

1. Low Fuel Level Indicator
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Well, this is the most familiar one, isn’t it?

This is going to remind you that your vehicle is running out of fuel and you definitely have to refill it.

2. Washer Fluid Indicator
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This tells that our windscreen washer fluid is less. You need to refill it

3. High Beam Light Indicator
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When we find it difficult to see the road ahead of us while driving, especially when it is much darker around, we generally switch from low beam to high beam. However, it is not advisable to use the high beam when other vehicles are around since it may blind the other drivers.

High Beam Indicator is going to remind you that the high beam light is still ON.

4. Turn Indicator
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This lights up while your vehicle takes a turn towards your left or right.

Some Interesting Facts

  • LED, LCD, and Vacuum Fluorescent Displays are the most commonly used types of displays today.
  • Certain Manufacturers use a new-age technology called Head-Up-Display (HUD), basically a transparent display that projects information onto the windscreen so that the driver will not have to look at the dashboard repeatedly.
  • There is something called a “Padded Dashboard” generally meant for safety of the driver and front passenger during a collision.

Well, did you people find it useful? Just comment below and let me know. Also, suggest any other dashboard symbols you have come across.

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