The difference between gauges and warning lights

"There was a time when automotive enthusiasts wanted their vehicles to have gauges not idiot lights."

There was a time when automotive enthusiasts wanted their vehicles to have gauges not idiot lights. What is an idiot light you say? An idiot light is a warning light, that usually is in the instrument cluster, that comes on when there is a problem. A red light indicates a serious problem and the best course of action is to stop driving whereas an orange or yellow light is a cautionary warning that something is wrong with a system but probably not serious enough that you cannot proceed.

Gauges were preferred because, like the manual transmission, the driver felt more in control of his destiny. The engine temperature, oil pressure, and fuel level gauges as well as a tachometer were the gauge package option of choice.

A real gauge had numbers on it with meaning. Most vehicles to this day have engine temperature gauges. A lot of them have forgone the numbers and only have a C for cold on one side and an H for hot on the other. Somewhere in the middle is where the needle ends up pointing when the engine is up to operating temperature.

If your vehicle is more “enthusiast” oriented it will have temperature values. Most fully warmed up vehicles will reach a temperature between 80 and 100 degrees Celsius. If you are a driver that watches your gauges you will expect that when functioning correctly your temperature gauge will hover around the 90. Climb a hill in the heat of summer and it will creep past the 100 mark. Coast downhill and somewhere just above 80 is what you would expect. When this gauge starts to read too low it was time for a new thermostat. When the gauge was reading too high there was bigger trouble, maybe the radiator, maybe the thermostat was stuck closed.

The temperature gauge allows the driver to react to excursions. If the temperature is creeping up on the high side the driver might decide to reduce the heat load on the engine ( gear down and slow down) or maybe turn off the air conditioning or turn on the heater.

In the case of the warning light (or idiot light) when the vehicle was overheating on would come a red light to tell you the vehicle has overheated; you better do something quick.

The best option likely being to stop. No gauge to watch meant no time to react. No plan of attack.

Most new vehicles have stuck with some level of basic gauges but there is an added twist. Usually there is an extra display to alert you with symbols or words to let the driver know what is going wrong. Some vehicles even have driving tips. “Roll up your windows for better fuel economy” and “Do not idle the vehicle to warm it up” are two that come to mind that I have seen.

If you are a gauge watcher when you drive you may have noticed something strange about the gauges in your new car. They seem to always read the exact same value. Very little excursion.

The manufacturers decided that the gauge watchers are happy when the gauges do not stray. I have noticed that alot of temperature gauges read 90 when the real engine temperature is between 70 and 110 degrees Celsius. I guess they feel this is more comforting for the driver.

When is a gauge no different than a warning light? If you drive a newer vehicle check out your engine oil pressure gauge if you have one. Does it seem like your oil pressure is always rock solid and other than when your engine is off that gauge stays dead centre? That gauge is no different than a warning light. Oil pressure varies a lot. A fully warmed up vehicle will have very little oil pressure at idle. Less than 5 pounds per square inch is common. As the speed of your engine rises the oil pressure should climb to 40 or 50 pounds per square inch.

The new oil pressure gauge is only a switch. As long as the oil pressure is above zero or close to it your gauge will read dead centre. To coin a new term, welcome the idiot gauge.

Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC. E-mail: nutechauto@telus.net

Just Posted

A cougar, or cougars, went on a killing rampage at a small Fruitvale farm. Photo: Thomas S. on Unsplash
Cougar euthanized after taking out small animal farm in Fruitvale

Wildlife interactions, poachers or polluters should be reported to RAPP at 1.877.952.7277

The Trail Smoke Eaters will open the 2021 season on Oct. 8 against the Cranbrook Bucks in Cranbrook, and will have their home opener the next night against the same Bucks. Photo: Jack Murray
BC Hockey League announces 54-game schedule to begin in October

Trail Smoke Eaters open season with home-and-home series versus Cranbrook Bucks

“The Spirit of Family” enhances the Beaver Valley both in the daytime and at night. Photo: Submitted
Family sculpture installed at the Fruitvale Memorial Hall

Locals are encouraged to swing by Fruitvale Memorial Hall to take a… Continue reading

In 1927, swimmers enjoyed a day in the water at the CGIT and CSET Camp in Summerland. While none of the people in this photograph have smart phones, there is some debate about whether a beach image from the United Kingdom in 1943 shows a man using a smart phone. (Photograph courtesy of the Summerland Museum)
COLUMN: The mystery of the time-travelling tourist

Was the man in a 1943 photograph checking his smart phone?

The flotation line at Gyro Park beach in East Trail, shown here during low water, is for emergency purposes only and does not delineate a safe swimming area. Photo: Trail Times file
City of Trail cautions beach users

Gyro Park beach questions should be directed to the roads superintendent at 250.364.0817.

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

(Black Press Media file)
Dirty money: Canadian currency the most germ-filled in the world, survey suggests

Canadian plastic currency was found to contain 209 bacterial cultures

(pixabay file shot)
B.C. ombudsperson labels youth confinement in jail ‘unsafe,’ calls for changes

Review states a maximum of 22 hours for youth, aged 12 from to 17, to be placed in solitary

Grace (left), a caribou that was born in a maternal pen north of Revelstoke, is alive and well said the province. It appears she even has a calf. Maternity pens aim to increase caribou calf survival by protecting them from predation until they are older and less vulnerable. (Contributed)
For the first time in years, caribou numbers increasing near Revelstoke

North herd growing but south herd still concerning

Eleonore Alamillo-Laberge, 6, reads a book in Ottawa on Monday, June 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Parents will need to fight ‘COVID learning slump’ over summer: B.C. literacy experts

Parents who play an active role in educating their children this summer can reverse the slump by nearly 80%, says Janet Mort

Kelowna General Hospital. (File photo)
COVID-19 outbreak at Kelowna General Hospital declared over

Three people tested positive for the virus — two patients and one staff — one of whom died

The border crossing on Highway 11 in Abbotsford heading south (file)
Western premiers call for clarity, timelines on international travel, reopening rules

Trudeau has called Thursday meeting, premiers say they expect to leave that meeting with a plan

The B.C. government’s vaccine booking website is busy processing second-dose appointments, with more than 76 per cent of adults having received a first dose. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations stable for Tuesday

108 new confirmed cases, 139 in hospital, 39 in intensive care

Most Read