This article is from the mid-1980s. It is out-of-date but still
Twenty-five years ago
were made of wood veneer or painted
pressed-steel. On all but top-of-the-range models, the instruments consisted of
On most cars, warning lights consisted of
, main beam, low oil
and indicators. The gauges were analogue, usually with a needle and
dial, and the warning lights were simply small electric bulbs mounted behind a
coloured plastic or glass cover.
On a modern car, the dashboard is made from moulded plastic, often as a
one-piece unit with all the necessary spaces and ducts for the heating system,
instruments, radio-cassette units and speakers. Moulded plastic gives the car
designer much greater freedom in dashboard styling, both for driver safety and
But the greatest change is in the range of instruments you can find on a car
nowadays, and the way in which they are displayed.
As well as those on a car from 25 years ago (except the ammeter has now
largely been replaced by the
condition indicator) modern
top-of-the-range models often have a variety of warning lights and checks to
monitor the car's various systems.
Depending on the model there may be additional warning lights to tell you
that the handbrake is on, that the doors are not closed properly, that one of
the brake lights has failed and that the seat belts are not fastened
Early versions of the seat belt warning light would come on irrespective of
whether or not someone was sitting in the passenger seat. This problem has now
been overcome by fitting a weight-sensitive
to the passenger seat. If no
one is sitting in the seat, the sensor breaks the
to the warning light
to stop it coming on.
Other warning lights are concerned with service aspects of the car, for
example, to tell you that your brake
are wearing down or that the
level needs topping up.
BMW have taken the warning lights system a stage further and developed a
system that tells the driver when the car is due for a service. A computer
monitors information such as mileage and number of hours the car has been
driven since the last service, and combines this with information such as road
speed and number of
changes to work out when the car is due for a
Much of the information that a modern dashboard can give the driver has been
made possible by the electronics revolution over the past ten years or so.
Electronics has also influenced dashboard displays.
Many cars now have digital speedometers that display their information
either as a changing figure or as a diagram, showing the
up a graph as it rises. Once you are used to this sort of display, it is very
easy to register the figure for the car's speed, instead of having to note the
position of a needle on a dial as on the old speedometer.
Supplementary instruments have changed too. Gone are the pointer needles and
in place are bar graphs giving information readout.
Another likely future development is radio-based information systems.
One of these, already under review in Germany, consists of transmitters
which give information about road conditions.
At the moment, the system works only when the radio is on —the
transmitters override the programme to give information. But, with a
suitable radio, a signal from the transmitter could automatically turn the
radio on to warn the driver about impending difficulties.
Philips are currently developing a system that allows you to store maps
on compact video disc.
The system consists of a compact video disc player and a TV screen. The
disc with the appropriate maps for that country are loaded in. The driver
can then select an area and see exactly where he is and where to go. The
system keeps a track of where the driver is on the map.
Early attempts at the electronic dash were regarded as a gimmick more than
anything else. These instrument packs usually employed LED (
) displays, which were difficult to read if caught by bright sunlight, and
were generally of rather poor quality.
Research developed the newer vacuum-fluorescent displays, which give a much
clearer readout. These are used in many new cars, such as the latest
But LED displays are making a comeback. The electronic dash in the latest
Vauxhall Astra uses a new way of driving the LED display to make it work better
than the old LEDs. Renault, on the other hand, have chosen to use an LCD
(liquid-crystal display) in their 21.
One of the advantages that all these dashes have is that they can be readily
linked into an on-board car computer and cruise-control. This means that all
the information required can be displayed on the one panel, rather than having
it scattered around the dash.
Since having all the information possible on the screen would make the
display difficult to read, only the most important information will remain on
the screen all the time. Extra data will be called up and displayed when
With high-tech electronic dashboards, the trend is towards having an
electronic check system - with fewer separate instruments. The check system
constantly monitors important functions and gives the driver a warning if any
of them is about to fail.
Rather than just displaying a warning light, a check system can distinguish
between different degrees of danger in the malfunctions they detect, and react
accordingly. Audi use a such a system on many of their latest models.
It is likely that the appearance of instruments in the future will be
influenced by fashion as much as by function. The real change will probably be
in the reduction in the number of wires which feed them.
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The majority of indicator stalks are mounted on the side of the
so you can easily operate them without having to release your grip on
the steering wheel. Most modern stalks also have a self-cancelling device that
is operated by the moving part of the steering column. This automatically
the indicators off after you have turned into a bend.
Although you may not smoke, fitting a cigarette lighter inside your car
could be more useful than you think. Car accessory shops are now selling a
variety of helpful, practical electrical accessories that are designed
especially to work from a cigarette lighter socket.