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Hooniverse Asks- Digital Vs. Dials, Which Instruments Do You Prefer?

Robert Emslie January 3, 2013 Hooniverse Asks 84 Comments




I saw some sort of factoid the other day about how very soon there will exist a generation that won’t know how to read an analog clock. Sha-zizzle, if that doesn’t scare you then maybe this will.

Much like clocks with hands, car gauges with dials could conceivably go the way of Elvis as high-impact consumers become identified as those more comfortable with digital imagery than traditional sweeping needles. By then of course I fully expect to be telling these digital dataheads to get off my lawn while also shaking my fists at clouds.

What about you, which side of the digital divide do you feel most comfortable residing? Are you embracing our inevitable fluorescent display future? Or, are you – like me – still addicted to the needle? What do you prefer in your automotive gauges, digital or dials?

Image: [Wikipedia]

  • http://www.proofnpudding.com muthalovin

    No, this is not an Accords instrument cluster.

    <img src="http://images.thecarconnection.com/med/2003-acura-nsx-2-door-nsx-t-open-top-3-0l-auto-instrument-cluster_100263974_m.jpg&quot; width=550>

    Dials, totally.

  • buzzboy7

    I'd at least rather a digital needle.

    But in truth, give me a proper cable driven speedo. Please.

  • DemonXanth

    I like a mix actually. Certain things in dials, like tachometers and speedometers, but the rest can be digital without issue to fit more in the same real estate. I think most manufacturers really are on the right track with dashes that have alphanumeric or graphical displays tucked under or in between the main gauges.
    <img src="http://images.thecarconnection.com/med/2006-pontiac-gto-2-door-coupe-instrument-cluster_100263249_m.jpg&quot; width=400>

    • Scandinavian Flick

      Wow, someone posted my gauges before I did, and for the same reasons! I knew I hung out here for a reason…

      The thing I especially like about that particular cluster is the ability to easily change what is displayed in the center, and both sides. I like to keep mine on the digital speedo normally, but switch to instant gas mileage info on long trips. Also, the analog speedometer can switch between MPH and KPH on the fly. That's what the two dark spots next to the dial's center are. The one it's reading in lights up.

      • smalleyxb122

        I, too, generally keep the digital speedo up on the display. How close does your digital readout match the needle? The gauge on mine consistently reads 2mph higher than the digital. Not sure which to trust, I go with the lowest reading (digital), letting me drive 2mph faster.

        • Scandinavian Flick

          Really? I've never noticed a difference in the readouts. As far as I can tell, they seem to agree…

          <img src="http://i.imgur.com/io9X2.jpg&quot; width="500">

    • Vairship

      A sweeping hand odometer would be cool!

  • Vavon

    I' prefer both: digital and dials… 😉

    <img src="http://www.blenheimgang.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/100807-Citroen_GSA-2.jpg&quot; width="500/">
    Real-size version http://www.gs-gsavereniging.nl/images/detail_gsad… .

    • http://hooniverse.com/ Tanshanomi

      That would make me carsick after a while.

  • danleym

    All dials, plus an old style odometer- I don't know why, but I really don't like digital odometers. I just like the look of the old ones.

  • joedunlap

    Analog for me. Why? Because I dont really care how if my car is going 48 or 51 miles per hour or if the engine is spinning at 2345 rpm or 2346 rpm. I just want to know how close I am to the speed limit or the redline. Rapidly moving number in a digital display are difficult to read and become meaningless when you only have a split second to read them. A hybrid system using led's that fill a bar, similar to what was tried by several mfgrs in the 80's and 90s might be OK, but I still would rather have needles.

  • http://www.automobile-catalog.com/ P161911

    Dials with a proper needle. Preferably with a linear calibration on the gauge. In the 1990s Ford and GM had a bad habit of making non-linear gauges for things like oil pressure. On the MN-12 T-Bird the oil pressure gauge was really just a idiot light, it was either in the middle or the bottom. On the C4 corvette, when they got rid of the all digital dash, just because the needle for say temp was halfway between 100 and 200 didn't mean it was 150. A digital auxiliary is nice to have. The little stepper motors in the dash of our Trailblazer are slowly crapping out. The voltmeter is dead and the speedo is dying a slow death.

  • http://www.hooniverse.com BЯдΖǐL-ЯЄРΘЯΤЄЯ

    As owner of a 38 year old Opala, can anybody explain what this "digital" means?

  • Manic_King

    Analog I'd say, but then again, my current car has computer screen between speedometer and tacho and it is set most of the time to show speed with nice big bright numbers, feels faster and easier to read than needle version.

  • SSurfer321

    I've got an analogue speedometer in my truck but added a digital tach. The Subaru has analogue speedo and tach. I much prefer analogue gauges. And the more the merrier. The Subaru only has fuel, speed and tach meters. Oil pressure, voltage and temp all monitored by idiot lights.

  • $kaycog
    • Devin

      I figured you'd be one for a bounty of dials.

      <img src="http://www.jofat.com/ford_gt/ford-gt-interior.jpg&quot; width="500">

      • Charlie

        Mmmmmmmm…..Ford GT

      • $kaycog

        Oh, yeah, baby!

      • richdelish

        MPH waaay off to the side…where it belongs! 😀

      • OA5599

        Dial spelled backwards is happiness.

    • http://www.hooniverse.com BЯдΖǐL-ЯЄРΘЯΤЄЯ

      Bonus points for foot operated light switch (as in the Opala)

      • $kaycog

        Love those bonus points! ;D

        • dr zero

          Then how about a bonus point for the steering wheel on the right side?

          • $kaycog

            Of course!

  • Devin

    In watches and in instruments, analog looks better and works just as well.

  • Dutch

    We rented a Fiat 500 last year that had a digital display in the middle of the cluster. The analog speedometer was around the perimiter of the cluster, but the font was busy and hard to read, so I found myself using the numbers in the middle. Any other time I perfer black faced instruments with white numbers and a red needle.

    • Vavon

      That said, the dials in the Fiat 500 look (or are) ridiculously clustered…
      <img src="http://www.fiat500abarth.us/ygMKAxM/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/fiat-500-abarth-dashboard-gauges.jpg&quot; width="600/">

      • SSurfer321

        At least they are in front of the driver. I'm looking at you MINI.

        • JaredH

          The center speedometer in my r56 Cooper S is insufferable. It's size is ridiculous. Luckily they have the digital speed readout in the centered tachometer. My gf has the 1st generation Mini with Navigation broken) but that puts the tachometer and speedometer front and center. I think its much better, though construction seems a bit flimsy.

      • danleym

        I don't know how I'd feel about it after driving it for a while, but I think it's a cool idea- something different.

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/godblessbotox/ jeremy![™]

        i got to say i like it. and in practice in my moms pop it takes a bit to get used to but i still dont mind it.

  • Alcology

    I was thinking of this just the other day! I prefer analog gauges. I was wondering if there was a way to combine an e-ink screen with an analog needle. That way you can display whatever information you want in the background. Night lighting might be a little bit of an issue.

    • Devin

      E-ink doesn't refresh very quickly, which could be a problem depending on what you're trying to accomplish.

      • Alcology

        No it definitely doesn't, but if you use the e-ink for the indicators on the gauge, they won't need to update rapidly when you have a real needle moving across it. I was thinking more for general systems info.

  • hwyengr

    Why not both? I really liked the layout of the RX-8. Some gauges should be analog so you can understand how close they are to their limit (tach, fuel, and temp), and some gauges you just need to see an instant absolute value (speedo). Sadly, I've traded from an RX-8 to a new Mustang, which has about the worst gauge cluster in history.

    <img src="http://l.yimg.com/dv/izp/mazda_rx_8_r3_2009_dashboard_instrumentcluster.jpg&quot; width="600">

    • topdeadcentre

      Wow. That's ugly enough to make me buy another brand entirely…

      • hwyengr

        The perspective on the photo is a little funky since the lens is level with the top of the steering column. Since your eyes are much higher, looking downward at the binnacle puts the whole thing into a less awkward view.

        Also, a 240 degree sweep tach is always cool, regardless of the rest of the layout.

  • racer139

    Analog for this fellow. My old 88 626 gt had the digital dash and I found that it was to bright even on its lowest dim. Now my last Volvo 850 had analog gauges with a digital trip computer in the bottom of the bezel that was useful and could be dimmed too a very low light level. I liked the trip comp but prefer analog gauges. I also have a Citizen skyhawk watch that has a big analog dial and two smaller digital windows for all other time related info…

  • http://hooniverse.com/ Tanshanomi
  • vwminispeedster

    I liked my MINI with analog speedo and tach with a big digital MPH readout so I could instantly see how fast i was going instead of having to recalibrate my brain to what this cars speedo needle was reading at 60mph vs this ones and so on. Just, BOOM, heres how fast you are going.

  • http://hooniverse.com/ Tanshanomi

    <img src="http://tanshanomi.com/temp/Can-Am_Spyder_dash.png"&gt;
    I really like the dash on Mrs. Tanshanomi's Can-Am Spyder. Very nice digital info screen flanked by proper analog gauges. And I think that it is very, very cool that you can switch between miles and kilometers, it recalibrates the speedo to match the numbers, rather than having dual scales. A very nice touch. Oh, and it converts the odometer readout, too.

    • smalleyxb122

      Everything that you mention also describes the GTO as pictured in DemonXanth's post above. Speedometer recalibrates for English of Metric, and the center screen will give readings of odometer, trip odometer, remaining fuel range, or a large digital speed readout, all of which get preempted by low fuel, service oil, check oil, or "rest reminder". The smaller digital readouts will display fuel remaining (nearly worthless, since once the low fuel light comes on, it will only read "Lo"), fuel used, instant fuel economy, average fuel economy, trip time.

      I'm sure I'm missing some of the functions, but I do like the dash layout, overall. It's nice to have needles, but the quantity of information afforded by the incorporation of a digital display is hard to argue against.

      Oh, the digital readout also displays CD track and disc number, volume, mute, radio station, but only for a moment whenever those variables change.

      • Scandinavian Flick

        Heh, you went into more detail, but we were typing very similar responses to two separate comments at the same time…

  • PilotMan

    Analog for sure! There are two huge reasons why;
    #1 I find it very useful watching for needle movement. For example, if I want to slowly increase my speed for better fuel mileage than I can coordinate my throttle inputs for a constant acceleration. Watching the speedo smoothly move through 50, 55, 60, 65, 70, can be very useful. Watching the Tach needle approach redline tells me when to shift for best acceleration.

    #2. Coordinating RPM vs. MPH is essential for manual transmissions as well. I don’t want to read MPH and RPM numbers and then mentally coordinate those numbers with what's already visualized in my mind regarding my car's familiar torque curve. The human mind really likes to visualize amounts rather than numbers, this is why we utilize graphs and pie charts for data. An analog dial is nothing more than data graph which is comfortable for the human mind to read.

    Some gauges would be better, a digital fuel gauge that accurately read gallons remaining would be much more useful than our stupid quarter tank analog fuel gauges. Same thing for temperature. Rather than cold, warm, hot a digital temp gauge would be much more useful.

    For aircraft it’s a whole other issue. Having a couple hundred analog dials doesn't help anyone while a glass cockpit can greatly simplify a pilot's work load.
    A glass cockpit is much more interactive with a large display that can be configured as you wish with engine performance and data illustrated with curves or sliders. Utilizing a 3-D mapping with real time location via GPS a pilot can see his flight path in relation to obstacles and other aircraft. A moving map is so much easy than the old days of radio beacons and dead reckoning.

    • danleym

      I enjoyed the entirely analog and definitely nonglass cockpit in the only thing I've ever flown. Then again, I didn't have an engine to worry about, and my flights lasted 15-30 minutes and I never got far from the airport.

      • danleym

        Here's a pic- meant to post one and forgot about it. Not this one exactly, but same model:

        <img src="http://www.scalesoaring.co.uk/VINTAGE/Documentation/Blanik_L23/images/PT-PPB.jpg&quot; width=500>

        If you've ever had an interest in flying but decided it was too expensive, look into soaring (flying gliders). There's a lot of local clubs around and for the most part it's pretty cheap for lessons. I know one of the clubs around here has a bunch of older instructors who just love flying and don't charge for instruction. You still have to pay for the glider rental and the tow plane, but it is surprisingly cheap. Like less than $50. I didn't do it for long, but it was a blast, and the experience of soloing is pretty damn cool.

    • jeepjeff

      I'd rather have the analog fuel gauge without a calibration. My wife's Civic has a series of LEDs that work exactly the same as my analog gauge. Why? Because the depth gauges used in gas tanks are horribly non-linear. They aren't accurate beyond telling "zero, some, lots", unless you spend a lot of time noting internally calibrating it (I know how much fuel I have at the 3/4, 1/2, 1/4 and red marks, and it's not anywhere near capacity*fraction).

      Yes, we could make accurate gauges. They're expensive, and the cheap gauges work more than well enough. Sure, it's nice to be able to figure out range remaining and whatnot, but the "need fuel soon" feature is the important one. (And since I've figured out what the non-linearity of my tank sensor is, I can do the range calculations in my head.)

  • http://www.hooniverse.com Mad_Science

    If they ever standardize or open up or just plain get hacked, I see a future in all-digital screen dashes, as you can do whatever you want with whatever you want. Example:
    <img src="http://farm5.staticflickr.com/4152/5096238254_356b9da3d2.jpg&quot; width="500" height="335" alt="2011 GTR Interior (8)">

    Note that that's once screen of 11.

    • danleym

      I do think an entirely customizable display would be cool- have one solid digital panel, and let me put the speedo where I want it, display which readings I want to, alter the size of each gauge (make that speedo nice and big for grandad, a little smaller for me so I can fit more gauges). The technology is all there for something like that, probably just a matter of time until some company does it (if they haven't already- maybe someone has and I haven't heard of it).

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/godblessbotox/ jeremy![™]

      granted its not as clean or as big as the gtr, but a fella i sorta know is doing this to his miata.
      <img src="http://i48.tinypic.com/15yvyq0.jpg"&gt; http://clubroadster.net/vb_forum/89-roadster-proj

      its not really clear from the photo, but that device can also hook up to the cars ECU. so… gauges a plenty.

  • topdeadcentre

    I much prefer analog gauges. The Volvo V70R 2004-2008 gauge cluster is a model of beauty and simplicity:
    <img src="http://img179.imageshack.us/img179/5576/1001455amedium7ia.jpg&quot; width="450/">
    (This is not an example from my car. I've only had mine up to 120 mph or so, disclaimer, disclaimer, yadda yadda..)

  • jeepjeff

    I still carry an analog pocket watch and prefer it to my phone. The main display of my phone has an analog clock face to display the time. I like analog dials, but with a digital odo, at least, that's the tech level I like on my Jeep. My digital odo also acts as a poor man's scan tool if I do a little jig with the key (it can display codes on the odo if I've got a CEL).

    My wife's Civic has an analog tach and a digital speedo. The speedo works well enough and is well setup to glance at, but I'm a dial guy. It isn't better, and if they hadn't made it big and carefully placed it, it would be much worse. It's much harder to get a simple dial wrong (although, the 500 above…). The tach on the Civic is useless, since you don't have direct control it. It ends up being a waste of dash real estate (I could see it being useful if you've got engine trouble to see if it's idling at the right points, but otherwise, you can tell exactly what the computer is doing by sound).

  • http://www.proofnpudding.com muthalovin

    So, it seems that all of us prefer analog. The question is: what backing?

    I love whit-faced gauges, but the new GTO's gauges are rad.

    • Preludacris

      I have a theory to back it. Engine and vehicle speed aren't 'on or off' like a digital signal is. It doesn't make sense to display them in 1-mph or 10-rpm increments, because they're both constantly changing. With an analog dial, it's easy to see in your peripheral vision not only the position of the needle, but which direction it's moving and how fast.

    • Preludacris

      Ohhh… you mean color. Heh.

    • jeepjeff

      Call me boring, but I like the good ol' black background. With one but: the backlighting has to be in sync with the headlights. I find it easy enough to read in the day, and when it's all lit up, just fine at night. It's the one thing they got wrong with my wife's Civic. It always looks to me like the lights are on at night, which then causes me to forget to turn on the lights. It also has DRLs, so there's a enough of a glow out front to fool that check, too.

      • Maymar

        I always kept my old Civic's dash brightness around the halfway mark – I'd usually notice if the cluster was way too bright and remember to flick my lights on.

    • Devin

      I have the good fortune of having my favorite gauges being the same ones that are in my car.

      <img src="http://image.automotive.com/f/2012_toyota_matrix/42004011+w500/gauges.jpg"&gt;
      White on black with red accents. Classy as all get out.

      (Note, picture is not from my actual car, since I have a proper transmission so no gear indicator. Also from Canada so the speedo is in km/h)

    • smalleyxb122

      About the only thing that I liked about my '92 Maxima was the white faced gauges. White faced gauges that had cutouts for the numbers that were backlit at night, so during the day, the gauges looked white with black numbers, and at night, they were black with white numbers.

  • Target29
  • http://www.proofnpudding.com muthalovin
  • http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/pages/Tombstone-AZ/Goodenough-Mine-TourTCMC/205373899689 CptSevere

    The speedo on the '69 Toronado we had when I was a kid rolled, and the indicator was stationary. Weird, but it worked OK.
    <img src="http://automotivemileposts.com/toronado/images/toro1969dashoptions.jpg"&gt;

    • http://www.proofnpudding.com muthalovin

      Wow, only on Hooniverse could your comment be preceded by mine directly above. Awesome!

      • http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/pages/Tombstone-AZ/Goodenough-Mine-TourTCMC/205373899689 CptSevere

        Great minds think alike.

  • m4ff3w
  • MVEilenstein

    There's a difference in the way digital and analog information is processed. For example, I can look at my digital watch see that it says 9:14. However, a quick glance at the clock on the wall tells me the time is a slightly upbent mustache shape. When we memorize shapes and positions, we can access the information in our minds that tiny bit quicker. With a digital clock, I have to actually read the numbers and process them.

    It might take a millisecond more, but when you're driving it makes a difference. For critical information (speed, tach, oil, water, etc.) I want to see a orange or white needles on a black face. Less important information (time, temperature, odometer, etc.) can be displayed digitally, since I don't normally need to know that as part of driving.

  • Van_Sarockin

    Dials, natch. With a leaking oil pressure line, so it can drip on your foot and remind you that you still have oil.

  • http://hooniverse.com/ Tanshanomi

    <img src="http://www.zilliox.org/photosT&%5E454521$/Mobile%20Uploads/And%20you%20may%20find%20yourself%20behind%20behind%20the%20wheel.jpg"&gt;
    Just so long as it's not one with maddening scale distortion.
    Yes, that's the Town Cow.

    Note the square of black electrical tape on the display. That's how my father-in-law "fixed" the airbag fault warning light.

    • jeepjeff

      That's the advantage of a Chrysler product. My airbag warning light seems to broken right along with the airbag, so everything looks just dandy on my dash.

    • Devin

      Reminds me of how I "fixed" the dashboard problems on my dad's '85 F-150.

      See, the dashboard has a bunch of little warning lights lining the top, with little black filler pieces that cover them. Those little black pieces all fell off one year, leading to the little light bulbs being exposed. Turns out that the light for the brights is aimed DIRECTLY AT MY EYES which made night drives a bit annoying. So I found a bit of kleenex box, tore it off, and shoved it in the hole. You could still sort of see a bit of light on the edges, so you knew the brights were on, but it solved the problem otherwise!

      Farm trucks are fun.

  • Andrew

    Digital for me! It's easier to read tachs like the one below at track speeds.

    <img src="http://zakiu.com/cars/GPW/dash1.jpg"&gt;

  • Mr. Smee

    No love for HUD? It's good enough for fighter pilots.
    BTW, Canada apologizes for Bieber.

  • fede6882

    i think ferrari is doing it right, although i don't quite like digital dials…

    <img src="http://ascentofspeed.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Ferrari_458_spider_dash_display.jpg&quot; width="500/">

  • http://twitter.com/#!/jjd241 jjd241

    I think this may have been shared here before, but this may be a good time to bring it up again…a 360 view of the shuttle Discovery flight deck…(flash required)

    • danleym

      That's cool! Thanks!

      I love how one of the components of the flight deck of the space shuttle is a trouble light, just like most of us have in our garage.

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