QotW: What’s the most important info on the instrument cluster?

In a perfect world, the instrument cluster (or multi-information display for some) would consist of a tachometer and a constantly illuminated thumbs up. But, for older vehicles and JNCs in particular, we need all the information we can get to make sure we continue to hum down the road.

What cluster needle, lamp or digital display do you keep one eye on whenever you take your pride and joy out on the street? Why?

What’s the most important info on the instrument cluster?

The most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a prize. Scroll down to see the winner of last week’s QotW, “Dive, Sell, or Garage: Unobtainium Edition

Last week we asked you all to make a tough choice. Take three dream JNCs and decide their fates. Surprisingly, the answers given were pretty balanced. Some of you felt anxious about working on the Cosmo Sport’s rotary, others wanted to whomp on the GT-R, and some sadly felt the 2000GT had to go. No matter the shuffle, many still wanted to see the vehicle sold go to a nice home. Since I really didn’t feel one stood out against the others, I decided to use a randomizer to choose for me a choice even I cannot bear to make.

This weeks selected post comes from Tom Westmacott who made a sensible argument based on tact and finance. Then, threw it out the window for pure JNC passion. The 2000GT gets daily driven, Cosmo garaged for a rebuild and Hako sold. So Tom, how much you wanna sell that Hako for?


Ok, first one’s easy; Toyota 2000GT. I’d love to drive this car, push the widely praised chassis over some country roads and wring out *that* engine. I’d love to roll up at an event and emerge from one of the most beautiful cars of all time. I’d love to, but I couldn’t – I’m only an inch shorter than Sean Connery, whose vertical incompatibility with this finest of Toyotas famously led to the creation of the convertible variant. So the 2000GT would go straight into my garage, just as soon as I’ve knocked a window into the wall so I can admire its beautiful lines from my living-room sofa.

Having got the Toyota safely tucked away, the next decision is obvious; I should sell the lovely Cosmo Sport. Daily driving a rotary is already a bit silly, what with the engine needing attention all the time, but at least with a 13B car it’s merely a matter of spending all your money. The Cosmo runs the original 10A engine, a sandwich of unobtainable parts. It’s obvious that it *will* need work, and when it does, where are you going to get the bits from to fix it?

Meanwhile, the Hakosuka would make a fine daily driver, with a back seat, a trunk, and the ability to source repair panels from less illustrious sibilings if the worst was to happen.

Well, that’s what I *should* do. But I wouldn’t. I would drive the Cosmo, with its light weight and delicate balance, and hang the consequences. So the estimable Hako goes for auction, and the Cosmo comes into the shop. Onto the shelf goes the historic 10A motor and four-speed box; in goes a bridgeported 12A and a close-ratio five-speed, plus the biggest Koyo rad I can squeeze in, with the L10B model’s later larger grille if my car was an early model. And now to see if I can wangle my way into any historic racing events…

Omedetou! Your comment has earned you a set of decals from the JNC Shop.

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24 Responses to QotW: What’s the most important info on the instrument cluster?

  1. Kiran says:

    It’ll be the temperature gauge as here in hot and sunny malaysia my precious could overheat if I’m not careful as during the blazing heat I typically get stuck in traffic jams leading me to always pay close attention to observe any spikes in engine temp. It even saved my Cordias engine once as I had a clog in one of my coolant lines leading it to start heating up drastically making my baby almost overheat! Well luckily that didn’t happen and it was all thanks to that little gauge.

  2. BlitzPig says:

    Water temp and oil pressure are of equal importance.
    One or the other being out of the normal range can punch your Bullet Train ticket, in a most expensive manner.

    • ish says:

      this is the correct answer. If you need anything its these two. Id rather have these two then a speedometer and RPM tach

  3. TommyGUN says:

    Gas! Because paranoia.

    Have you ever been stranded on a one lane road.. cliff side, mind you.. going up the Colorado Rocky mountain? I have. The cost of a tow truck driver bringing you 2 gallons of gas up the mountain.. over a hundred bucks!

  4. CarFanBrian says:

    Speed and gas in equal measure. I would gladly trade the tachometer on most ordinary cars for temperature and voltage gauges. On a performance car I would want the tachometer. I’d want a boost guage if turbocharged.

  5. Mike in Long Beach says:

    Water temp, simple. If you can only have one, it’s the water temp gauge. Elevated coolant temps alert one to more potentially catastrophic problems than any other measurement. I can check the oil level, and would, if I had no oil pressure indicator. I can shift based on the engine note. I can just flow with traffic if I don’t have a speedometer. Exhaust gas temp, air/fuel ratio, vacuum/boost gauge, voltage gauge and the like are useful but each only provides a limited amount of data about a limited subsystem. Check the oil, make sure the headlights aren’t dim, land watch the water temp and you will most likely make it home without help from AAA and Uber..

  6. Cesariojpn says:

    The placement of the nozzle and hose on the Gas Pump Icon.

    Common wisdom says whatever side the hose and nozzle is, that indicates which side the fuel door is on the car. 99% of the time it should be right. But on some cars, this info is wrong (looking at the Lexus IS for example).

  7. MikeRL411 says:

    The temperature gauge because it’s a 51 year old car !

  8. Banpei says:

    I watch the water temperature gauge on my JNCs like a hawk, for the Toyota Carina to see if the engine isn’t overheating (never happened) and for the AE86 to see when the time is right to rev it all the way up to 7800 rpm.

    So normally I would say the water temperature gauge (and oil pressure gauge on the AE86), however I recently had a surprise in the Carina! The Carina dashboard is quite basic and features a (quartz) clock where the revcounter is supposed to be, but it also features a so called econometer. Fun fact: this is where the oil pressure gauge resides on the JDM gauge cluster. This gauge is basically connected to the engine vacuum, so it gives you a good/wild guess how much load you put on the engine.

    A few weeks ago I was cruising on a steady pace on the highway and noticed I was putting more load on the engine than normal. You don’t really notice the difference that much, as it has a 3 speed automatic gearbox and around 100 km/h (60mph) the revs are already near 4000 rpm. Once I took the offramp, it turned out that one of my brake calipers was sightly stuck and the car filled up with the smell of cooked brakepads at the intersection…

    The caliper got unstuck so I tried to limp to work, but when I was nearly there it happened again and I had to call for help as I don’t carry around tools to get calipers unstuck. The mechanic freed up the caliper, cleaned the surface and assured I could make it to work that day and even get home afterwards. That was the first time the Carina had a major breakdown and I’m sure I’ll keep from now onwards my left eye on the water temperature gauge and my right eye on the econometer. That leaves me the question which eye should I use to see the road then? 😉

  9. Jeremy A. says:

    Every JNC I have ever driven has a coolant temperature gauge. And more than that, they, by and large, have -analog- coolant temp gauges and senders. The coolant temp will fluctuate slightly within the safe zone, I have found, on machines with an analog sender, and when you get to know your JNC, you learn what the safe range of those fluctuations is. This is opposed to modern digital senders which have a massive dead zone, and once they start to alert you of an overheat situation, the damage is probably already done.

    I consider this to be the single most important gauge in my JNC, then, because it can alert you to a number of ailments, from a leaking hose, a heater core not holding pressure, a thermostat stuck closed, to more serious ailments like a blown headgasket or a cracked radiator. Any or all of these can eventually cause grave damage to a JNC, or any car for that matter.

  10. LB1 says:

    That instrument cluster looks like it’s from a Nissan hardbody, btw.

    Temperature gauge for me, on any car.

  11. Hondamatic says:

    Danger to manifold

  12. Tristan G. says:

    I believe that the most important AND least important info on the gauge cluster is coincidentally the same thing, the gas gauge. Its a great little indicator, especially on newer cars where it tells you the exact number of minutes and miles you have untill you get to put your debit card in yet another gas pump. Its also arguably the most exciting gauge, since how great of a feeling is it to top off at a pump and set out on a long journey, mind at ease for the days ahead. Although the gas gauge can also be the scariest bit of info in front of you. As frightening as it may feel to see your car overheating or looking down at your speedometer while driving by a cop, whats more nervewracking than seeing your gas needle sitting on ‘E’ smack dab in the middle of nowhere? Now you may be wondering, how could such a vital bit of info be the LEAST important thing on a dash? Well its quite easy to explain since for most of us it doesn’t NEED explaining. Most of us may never get to experience the great range of emotions that a gas gauge can give you because, as members or even mere visitors of this site…. our gas gauges probably don’t work! If there’s one thing ive learned in life its that old cars and broken gas gauges go together like bread and butter, they’re an inseperable pair! Which is why the gas gauge is either your most reliable friend, or your biggest enemy.

  13. Ryan says:

    In Australia, the Speedometer is the most important. Why? It’s a bit hard to enjoy your JNC if you’ve lost your licence or the car is confiscated – which is exactly what can happen far too easily with our draconian laws.

  14. Joseph says:

    I’ll venture to say It’s a tie between: how broke am I because my fuel gauge is constantly flirting with the letter E, or the answer to the question of “how fast am I really driving next to this cop on the freeway because this speedo on my 85 Toyota PU is broken?”

    Definitely 2 very important pieces of info gathered from my gauge cluster…

  15. Yuri says:

    Every A70 Supra owner will tell you the only light in the cluster that matters is the “Museum light.” If an indicator that looks like the Parthenon illuminates on your dash, it means it’s time to change yet another headgasket.

  16. JJ says:

    Most important info on the cluster is of course the clock! Scion clearly replaced the coolant temp gauge for a clock in the gen2 xB for a reason! You have to know how long it takes to get anywhere. Everything else is irrelevant

  17. Helmbert says:

    Little known fact: the angle of the water temperature gauge actually tells you the exact temperature. A brilliant piece of engineering.

  18. bryan kitsune says:

    As many have said I think I’d have to learn toward the temperature gauge. My first car (a 1986 Celica without which I would probably not be on this site) eventually had a non-functioning temperature gauge. So when the radiator drain plug cracked and fell out, my brother (who was driving it while following me as I test drove an ST165 All-Trac) had no indication of trouble until we parked it in our driveway and steam came pouring out from under the hood. After popping the hood we saw oil bubbling out from various engine gaskets. It still managed to run relatively well…but it turned out to be pretty much the end for that car.

    But just as important (and in a way possibly more important) to me is a tachometer. Not because I’m constantly concerned about the exact engine RPMs, but because if there is NOT a tachometer, the car is probably an automatic. If it’s an automatic…well, I don’t generally care to have much other information about the car.

  19. Miguel says:

    I’d have to say the most important part of an instrument cluster is the fun gauge. That gauge is the one that decides weather you’re allowed to have fun or not. I own a 1986 Toyota 4×4 pickup that sadly has the fun guage not functioning properly. There’s times it reads for a fun day cruising down PCH and half way there the gauge starts to read “ok fun is almost over “ and once it reads that the whole trip starts to turn sour because since it’s not functioning right I don’t know if I should trust it or not. I could gamble it and have the time of my life or listen to it and miss out on a great adventure untill I’m able to change what the gauge reads. That’s why it’s the most important part in an instrument cluster to me. And with all seriousness now the fun guage is what to what everyone else reffers to the gas guage. I find it the most important part of an instrument cluster because driving my Toyota for 7 years now that’s the only guage I’ve ever had to worry about. The 22re ha been so reliable I’ve never had any issues with overheating, voltage or oil pressure. But ask me how many times I’ve been stranded because of that faulty Gas guage. And trust me being stranded is no fun at all…

  20. Cy3uk says:

    That small arrow, which indicates, which side the petrol tank is. Driving two vehicles with different filler side is difficult.

  21. Negishi no Keibajo says:

    Analog Tach followed by Analog Speedo. Yes, engine instruments are important, but what am I glancing 99% of the time not looking at the road? I’m not staring at the Oil Pressure in a decreasing radius turn at full tilt.

    Analog or analogue?

  22. noah rice says:

    Most important piece on the cluster is probably the tach, you gotta guess your speed somehow when your speedo goes out… unless your tachometer does work either, like mine, then you’re just screwed

  23. Ray Mon says:

    For me the basic info is: Speed, fuel level, water temperature and mileage. Speed and fuel for obvious reasons, water temperature that reflects engine temperature, especially in old cars, you never know. Mileage is important for the maintenance intervals. The importance of RPM is relative, in the past you drive with windows open and radios were less noisy so you always can listen to the engine. Today, cars are more isolated against external noise, so it´s not easy to hear the engine, so tachs are useful. Personally I love gauges, all of them are important for me. When I was young, my car came from factory with Speedometer, fuel and temperature gauges. I installed RPM tachometer, digital clock, oil pressure and ammeter gauges, and also an altimeter, a magnetic compass and an cabin termometer !!! 🙂

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