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Lesson 4

Part 5





Vehicle Instrumentation

Car manufacturers have arranged gauges and warning lights on the dashboard within easy view for the driver. This panel provides you with important information about the vehicle while you drive.

A gauge has a scale with an indicator needle or numeric marker that keeps track of a changing condition such as fuel level or speed. Warning lights, which are usually red or yellow, attract your attention, and alert you that a serious problem or safety concern may happen shortly. At night, the dashboard and instrument panel should be lit up so you may read these gauges or lights easily.

The speedometer is a gauge that indicates how fast your vehicle is traveling, usually in both miles and kilometers per hour. A tachometer is a gauge that measures your engine in revolutions per minute (rpm). The higher the rpm, the faster your engine is “turning” and the harder it is working. Tachometers can help if you have a manual shift car, and can help you determine when to shift. The red zone on the tachometer makes you aware if your gauge enters the red zone, you should either slow down or shift to a higher gear.

The odometer is a meter that shows the miles your car has on it. On most models of cars, it also contains a trip odometer that can be manually set to let you know how many miles you have traveled on a particular trip. It is illegal to tamper with the odometer of a car. Some people try to move the mileage back on a vehicle, so it will sell at a higher price because the buyer thinks that the car has not driven many miles.


Instrument Panel

The fuel gauge shows how much fuel is in your tank. Most fuel gauges display the fuel level whether the engine is in the on or off position. The fuel gauge usually shows if the tank is 3/4 full or full.

You should always try to keep your tank at least ¼ full. In cold weather, you should try to keep the tank at least half full. This will help to prevent fuel-line freeze caused by moisture that condenses and freezes inside the tank and fuel line, forming ice particles that can block the fuel line.

The temperature warning light comes on if the engine temperature is too high or if the coolant in the radiator is getting too hot. Other reasons this light may go on include a loss of coolant, a clogged radiator, a shipping or broken belt, or a defective thermostat.

The oil-pressure warning light or gauge warns you when the engine oil is not circulating at the right pressure. If the warning light goes on or the gauge reads “low,” stop immediately. You can do serious damage to your vehicle’s engine if you continue to operate the car with no oil.

The oil-pressure light will go on briefly when the ignition is turned on to show that it is working and will go off again shortly once the engine is started. If the light does not go on, or remains on, check for problems as soon as possible. The oil pressure should be zero when the engine is at rest, and it may remain low when the engine is idling.

In most vehicles, there is a red light labeled “alt” for alternator or “gen” for generator. The alternator is a generator that produces electricity to power the car’s electrical system. Everything that uses electricity in the car, including the ignition system, lights and accessories such as the stereo, runs off the alternator. When the warning light comes on for the alternator, it could be signaling that the car’s electrical system is about to fail.

Many cars have a braking system warning light that serves two purposes. First, it reminds you to take off the parking brake before driving the vehicle. Second, it indicates that part or all of the braking system or anti-lock braking system is functioning correctly.


Instrument Panel Illustration


All vehicles are equipped with two sets of headlights. The first set of headlights are regular white beams for nighttime driving, driving in foggy conditions, or driving through a construction zone. Low beams are to be used from sunset to sunrise. Some vehicles are equipped with headlights that come on automatically when the engine is started. The second set of headlights are your high beams. These are to be used when your headlights are not strong enough, and never used when another car is approaching you. Your high beams may temporarily blind the driver coming towards you. If another car is approaching you with their high beams on, gently flick your high beams on and off quickly to let the approaching driver know their high beams are still on. When you have your high beams on, usually a light comes on in your instrument panel to let you know you have engaged your high beams.

Vehicles may have no more than two white or amber back-up lights. These lights are activated when the transmission is put into reverse. These lights not only let the driver behind you know you are backing up, but also slightly light up the area behind your vehicle.

Daytime running lights are on the front of a vehicle and automatically illuminate on ignition.

Parking lights are white or ambler-colored on the front of your vehicle, and red on the rear or the vehicle. All parking lights must be visible from 500 feet away and must be used only for parking purposes. Never use your parking lights as an alternative to headlights and taillights while driving your vehicle.



Your vehicle must have turn-signal lights on all four corners of the vehicle. These lights must be visible from at least 100 feet away in daylight. Turn signal indicators usually appear as green arrows on your dashboard when they are activated. When using your turn signals, if one of the arrows stays illuminated, and does not blink as it usually does, this is an indication that one of your turn signal bulbs, either in the front or rear of your vehicle, us burnt out and needs to be replaced.



To drive defensively, you must be aware of what is happening around you at all times. By revealing what you cannot see out of your front windows, your mirrors help you respond to traffic events quickly and safely. Most vehicles have two types of mirrors. The interior rearview mirror is a wide, rectangular mirror either suspended from the roof or attached to the windshield that allows you to see directly behind you. Exterior sideview mirrors mounted on the doors allow you to see along the sides of your vehicle and neighboring lanes of traffic.

Every time you get into your vehicle, you should make sure that all of your mirrors are properly adjusted. If someone else used your car, he or she may have shifted the mirror settings.



The areas not reflected in your mirrors are called blind spots. Some vehicles have bigger blind spots than others, depending on the design of the vehicle. A shorter driver with a large vehicle will have a larger blind spot than a tall driver with a small vehicle. The two main blind spots on the car extend from just behind the driver’s normal field of forward vision to the right and left sides of the vehicle. Proper mirror adjustment will help reduce the size of the blind spots, but it will not completely eliminate them. Never trust only your mirrors. Always turn your head and take a quick glance before your change your position.




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