Hooniverse Asks: What's the Most Useless Auto Dash Gauge?

The dashboard on my first car contained an optimistically wide speedometer, a gas gauge, and two idiot lights. It was pretty minimalist and I guess supported the theory that what you don’t know can’t hurt you.
Today our cars really want to converse with us. Not only do they offer the basics—speed, RPM, fuel level, and usually water temp—but many also offer a collection of other engine monitoring meters. Some of those offer valuable information while others, like charging system voltage, are less useful in this day and age. What we want to discus today is which dash gauges you think we could all do without. What is the most useless gauge?
Image: broncofix

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  1. hike15 Avatar

    The temperature gauge in the typical modern car is useless. The gauge is programmed to only show cold, normal, or hot in many cars. Hence why Mazda just uses a blue light for when it’s cold and a red light for when it’s too hot. Granted, it can be useful in cars where the gauge is actually showing the temperature.

    1. Fred Talmadge Avatar
      Fred Talmadge

      That’s done on purpose. Too many folks complained about rising temperatures and lower oil pressures when idling on the freeway during summer. Drove dealers nuts so they made the gauges into “idiot” lights

    2. dukeisduke Avatar

      Wow, the return of the blue light. Ford used it in their cars in the mid to late ’60s. The first one I remember seeing was in my aunt and uncle’s ’65 Custom 500 4-door.

      1. theskig Avatar

        Toyota Yaris has it.

        1. anonymic Avatar

          So does the current generation of Fit.

    1. crank_case Avatar

      I had an E34 with the same MPG guage, it felt like someone wagging their finger disapprovingly every time you opened the throttle wide just to extract the meagre acceleration a euro spec 24v 520i can supply..

    2. Citric Avatar

      I had a corolla rental with one that showed instant mileage in l/100km, the game was to see how high a number you could get at every stoplight. So useful, if irresponsible.

  2. Fred Talmadge Avatar
    Fred Talmadge

    Tachometers on cars with automatic transmissions. Okay with a manual/sport mode, but otherwise not very uselss. To make it worse it’s size takes up too much dash space.

    1. gerberbaby Avatar

      In my E46 with an AT, the ECM allows the rpm’s to go to 6500 at WOT with a 6000 redline. So is the redline really 6500? Every time I’m scared she’s gonna blow, but not scared enough to stop doing it.

    1. smalleyxb122 Avatar

      And we have a winner. I had forgotten that that was a thing. “Openometer” = most useless gauge ever.

      1. Sjalabais Avatar

        I never knew this existed. Manifests my opinion on fashion items.

    2. CraigSu Avatar

      Why would anyone need to know how many hours it takes to open the convertible top of a Mini?

      1. Vairship Avatar

        And does it take 6 hours or 60?

  3. Tiberiuswise Avatar

    The speedometer. Waze not only tells me my speed but gives me the speed limit.

  4. kogashiwa Avatar

    Very clearly, the fuel economy gauge. I already know it’s terrible, why remind me?
    And they clearly knew how to make this cluster really pretty near perfect.

  5. 0A5599 Avatar

    Altimeter, unless you are approaching a high enough altitude that you need to bring your own oxygen.

    1. crank_case Avatar

      Handy if you’re doing Pikes Peak I guess…

      1. theskitter Avatar

        What, was it missing danger lines or something?

      2. engineerd Avatar

        It looks like it could be from a Landcruiser.

      3. 0A5599 Avatar

        I got to the picture via a search for Montero altimeter, but I think Isuzu Trooper had them, too.

      4. dead_elvis, inc. Avatar
        dead_elvis, inc.

        Early 4Runners had a pair of inclinometers & a third gauge in the same pod, but I don’t remember if it was a compass or altimeter.

  6. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

    I’ve heard that, in certain markets, Alfa Romeo were so aware of their car’s ability to depreciate that the fuel gauge was re-labelled with the word ‘Value’ and a scale that went from ‘Some’ to ‘None’.
    A little amber light then came on when valuelessness had been reached.

    1. Alff Avatar

      …says the guy with a Rover fetish.

      1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar


    2. Vairship Avatar

      Meanwhile VW were clearly aware of the road-holding and braking limits of their Type 2: (click on pic to embiggenate)

  7. marmer Avatar

    Yeah, lots of malaise-era cars had vacuum-based “instant fuel economy” gauges. My wife’s brand new Nissan Rogue has a display that coaches her on MPG; using it she can maintain 30+ in mixed driving.

  8. Alff Avatar


  9. discontinuuity Avatar

    The oil pressure gauge on certain model year Mazda Miatas only shows “good” and “zero,” with nothing in between. It’s effectively a less visible idiot light. They can be modified to show the real pressure, but that involves changing the sending unit and taking apart the dash.

  10. jeepjeff Avatar

    The gauges on my vehicles are all pretty minimalist. There isn’t space wasted on useless gauges. And my TW200 doesn’t have any gauges beyond a speedometer (which also has a redline marker for 5th gear).
    So. I guess I can do without pretty much all of them. I like having temp and oil pressure on the Jeep so I feel like I’ve got some health status on it when I start it up, but living without a fuel gauge on the Tdub has been totally fine. Between the trip odo and the reserve position on the petcock, it works fine.
    So, my answer is anything that isn’t a speedo, tacho or basic engine health gauge (voltage, temp, oil pressure). And I can live without all of those with the right setup.

  11. mdharrell Avatar

    Not technically a “dash” gauge, but I have yet to find an appropriate use for this auto compass which was designed to be mounted upside-down on the inside of the roof such that its corrected reflection may be observed via the center rear-view mirror:

    1. smalleyxb122 Avatar

      That is an ingenious solution looking for a problem. It is ridiculous and pointless. I love it.

    2. jeepjeff Avatar

      Mount on your dash and use it as an orienteering tool for a LeMons rally. Without a mirror.

      1. mdharrell Avatar

        It would be more convenient to read if I just mount it in the center of the steering wheel.

  12. I_Borgward Avatar

    The road surface temperature gauge on my Volvo. To begin, it reads in Celsius, which confuses my ‘murican Fahrenheit brain and makes me recite “10 is cold, 20 is nice, 30 is hot, 0 is ice” (or whatever that rhyme is). It has an exterior sensor mounted just behind the front bumper that points toward the pavement. I guess the idea is that it will tell you when the road surface is near freezing, but having grown up in the great white north, I don’t need no stinkin’ gauge for that.

    1. dead_elvis, inc. Avatar
      dead_elvis, inc.

      I believe that’s just an ambient temp display, not a road surface temp indicator. Looks like it’s out of a 240 or 740.
      Every once in a while one of these in Fahrenheit pops up on eBay. Never cheaply, but I’ve got a blank space in my dash…

      1. I_Borgward Avatar

        I think I picked up the road surface temp notion from reading it somewhere years ago, but I do know that on sunny days, my gauge will peg when I’m stopped over hot asphalt.

        1. dead_elvis, inc. Avatar
          dead_elvis, inc.

          Just a reflection of where the sensor is mounted.

  13. cap'n fast Avatar
    cap’n fast

    digital compass in the mirror or the dash that shows only four compass points. what does it tell you? i feel like an ancient mariner “avast yea dog! a point south by south east and be quick about it! we’ll give em a broadside and scunner em but good!” this is probably what is bring out all that aggression in so many drivers who have these “compass” devices in their car.

  14. cap'n fast Avatar
    cap’n fast

    i like little blinkie warning lites. cars have computerized controls for everything now. i don’t want to hear from them unless something goes wrong. “information centers” are ridiculous things to have inside the car, they should be mounted under the hood or in the trunk.
    speedometers are useless. one doesn’t use it when in traffic. i just want to go faster than the guy in front of me and i really don’t care how fast that is. and when racing there isn’t time to look.
    perhaps the blinkie lite on the fuel gauge. i figure that the engine stopping is a better indication of low fuel.very unambiguous. one cannot trust the accuracy of automotive gauges.

    1. outback_ute Avatar

      You clearly don’t live where they can book you for 3 mph over…

      1. cap'n fast Avatar
        cap’n fast

        i do but, i no longer care….

  15. ninjabortion Avatar

    Air/fuel ratio gauges that are running off of narrowband oxygen sensors, especially when they are in an A pillar pod. “Oh yeah check it out my engine is running so good, wait it’s lean, no rich, no lean, woo perfect, shit it’s lean again”