Less than useless gauges

Leaving for work I encountered one of my neighbors with the hood of his wife’s car up. I went over and he’s pondering whether to add oil even though the dipstick is at the top of the range.

Turns out his wife is convinced it needs oil because the oil pressure gauge is reading slightly lower than she remembers it being before, but still in “normal” range.

The oil looked, felt and smelled OK. The odometer stopped working at 106,000 miles. The engine is smooth and quiet.

So I told him maybe they put thinner oil in at the last change (this late '80s car probably called for 10W-40) or the warmer weather is letting the oil get hotter and thinner (almost all short trips). Maybe signs of engine wear. So now he has to convince her it doesn’t need oil. Good luck.

Anyhow, the gauge has created a non-issue in a car that really should have had an idiot light.

So, thinking about it the only gauge I really need in my (stick-shift) car is the speedometer, and that’s just for the legal issue. A short column of light would do for fuel level. The less gauges the better, unless you’re racing.

Whether someone has gauges or idiot lights, the fact remains that an incredible percentage of the public seems to think that you can cure virtually any car problem by adding more oil–even if the crankcase is full. As that southern comedian likes to say, “You can’t fix stupid”.

Hey, At Least The Wife Is Monitoring Engine Gauges ! Now Just A Little “Intro To Oil 101” And She’s All Set. I Wonder If She’s Got A “Low Oil Level” Light In That New Yorker ?

If that New Yorker has an oil pressure gauge and a low oil level warning light like my GM cars have then I’m sure she’d feel more at ease following a little discussion. Otherwise, a review of “Intro To Dipstick 101” should help.

I’d encourage the gauge monitoring and go from there.


I guess I am old fashioned, but I don’t consider an oil pressure gauge useless. The oil pressure lights don’t come on until the pressure drops below 10 psi. I also like a temperature gauge and an ammeter gauge. When I was in 6th grade and we were on a family trip to visit relatives, I noticed that the oil pressure gauge on the 1949 Dodge that my parents owned was wavering all over the place. I was riding in the back seat and called it to my Dad’s attention. My Dad immediately pulled over, stopped the engine, walked to a filling station and brought back a couple of quarts of oil. I was rewarded in my weekly (weakly) allowance for saving the engine–I got an extra quarter so I had 75 cents instead of 50 cents.

If you want a gaugeless car, you should drive a pre-1961 VW Beetle. These cars only had a battery light that indicated the battery wasn’t being charged. There was no gas gauge. When the engine started to sputter, you kicked a lever on the floor that let you switch to reserve and get to a gas station.

I don’t race, but I find gauges useful for knowing a little bit about what is going on under the hood of the car.

At work one day a customer’s car wouldn’t start so my boss was outside helping to troubleshoot. He kept checking the oil over and over and I walked up and politely mentioned that the oil level in the vehicle has nothing to do with the starter not engaging. He just gave me a blank look and continued. I’ll never forget that.

the problem with gauges on newer cars is that they are redundant. The check engine light, and the computer codes will give you better early warnings and more exact definitions of trouble than a set of gauges. But on older vehicles they are very useful for monitoring the alternator (amp meter) battery (volt meter) oil pressure-general engine condition, and engine temp. But not if you dont know what they are for, or what the various readings mean, of course.

I’ve been a BMW driver for 30 years. I was completely blow away when I found out the new models don’t have a dip stick. Engine management computers take car of everything. I do, however, want the ability to check my own oil, thank you.


"The less gauges the better, unless you’re racing."
I like useful gauges, and not idiot lights.
BTW, that’s fewer gauges
There’s not much I know about proper English usage, but I have that one nailed. :slight_smile:

Dagosa is correct.

If you are referring to objects that you count individually (1, 2, 3…), you would use the word “fewer” in this context.

If you are referring to something that you treat as a whole (pollution levels, humidity, air-borne pollen), you would use the word “less” in that context.

Next thing, we’ll be diagraming sentences.

I like the one that tells how many hours you have driven with the convertible top down.

We can only hope.


I also noticed that info about the Mini convertible in the latest issue of Consumer Reports.

I guess that it is a nice feature, but…

Gauges or not , they do nothing for my wife.

" go drive my truck "

is the only malfunction warning I get.

Then there’s the gauges I wish I had.

My old 79 chevy pickup needs a tach ( I could add one on if I wanted it jutting out ). Its THM350 is done shifting through its three speeds by 40 mph and by 55 the engine is just whirring away. By 65 its really screaming. But I have no numbers to know what red line is, how close to that am I, and how fast dare I go.

The 06 hybrid Escape needs an hour meter and oil change guidlines based on that info.
The only oil change info provided is by mileage but in the hybrid you can have massive differences in engine run time based on your speed. The gas engine goes to ‘sleep’, zero rpms, under 40 mph so one can conceivably rack up thousands of miles with no engine running.
So we guess and try to remember if we’ve driven more city miles or hiway miles this cycle ( 10,000 m -vs- 5000 m ) and rely on the good ol’ dip stick looky-see. Or just split the difference at 7000.

I think an oil gauge is useful. I think an oil idiot light is essentially a “the horses have left the barn; go ahead and lock the barn door” light.

Back when I owned one of the new-fangled OBDII cars, I had an aftermarket gauge that could tell me nifty stuff like: fuel pressure, coolant temp, open/closed loop, throttle%, voltage, and much more.

The gauge mentioned is good for noticing “trends” BEFORE they become pathological…kinda like keeping a running tally of one’s blood pressure over time might head off an incipient problem.

I think a gas gauge is redundant, as long as one has a working odometer. Certainly, the range from “F” to “1/4” is…knowing if you have gas is “nice to know”; knowing if you don’t is “need to know.”

An odometer isn’t going to tell me how many hours I’ve been idling in traffic jams!

Every day, I spend ~ half of my commute distance in stop and go city traffic and the other half doing 80 on the expressway. The time spent in either condition is unpredictable. The gas consumption rate per mile for those two conditions are vastly different. I suspect that very few people operate in such a predictable manner every day where they could rely soley on an odometer to know how much fuel they have left.

It’s funny you should say that. I was about to share the story of my girlfriend who wanted to add oil any time her car wouldn’t start, but I have told it so many times already.

One time her car wouldn’t start, but after she added oil, it started. Ergo every time it wouldn’t start, adding oil was her first step, even if the crankcase was already full.

I’ve tried “Intro To Dipstick 101” with my girlfriend on more than one occasion. She still doesn’t remember how to check the oil. Her car is a 2009 Cavalier, so the dipstick is pretty easy to find.

Can She Cook ?


If your 79 Chevy is anything like my vehicles, it is impossible to redline it in top gear. Does it have a rev limiter?