Additional photos courtesy of AutoMeter
Nobody has to tell you just how important it is that you know what's going on with that engine of yours. How fast it's spinning, how hot its fluids are getting, and how much pressure they're all subjected to are all things that can lead to it operating like business as usual or it sending expensive discharge into the other lane.
For people like your aunt with her Lincoln Continental, that factory instrument cluster does what it's supposed to. But you're not your aunt, and you don't drive a Lincoln Continental, which means that, all of sudden, ballpark coolant temperatures and oil pressure indicator lights that start glowing after you've already marred up a few rod bearings won't do you any good. But none of that necessarily means you need a cockpit's worth of gauges strung across your dashboard, either.
WHAT TO MONITOR AND WHEN
- Engine speed: You want to know how fast your engine is spinning when you go and do something like a rev-matched downshift so you can avoid things like having an exhaust valve play peekaboo.
- Water temperature: Turbocharge an engine that wasn't supposed to be or go and have yourself a track day and all of a sudden you knowing precisely how hot your coolant is is critical if you want to stay away from a blown-head gasket or a warped cylinder head.
- Oil temperature: Crank up the boost or keep showing up at those track days and that oil of yours is bound to get hotter than what the guy who engineered your car thought it should. Get it hot enough and it won't be lubricating anything as well as you think it is.
- Exhaust gas temperature: Turbocharge whatever it is you're driving and those gases coming out of your cylinder head are gonna be blazing hot. Keep an eye on just how hot they are to avoid burning those exhaust valves or damaging the hot side of that turbo.
- Oil pressure: You already know that your engine needs oil to survive, but the oil pressure indicator light your car came with typically only flickers once the damage is done. Go low enough and you'll stop sending oil to all sorts of important places.
- Boost pressure: Things like wastegate failures or melted vacuum lines can all increase boost pressure enough to blow that B-series of yours to high heavens. If you've got a turbo, you'd be a fool not to have one of these.
- Fuel pressure: Monitoring fuel pressure is typically only important when tuning, but keeping an eye on it while driving can also tip you off to things like a leaking feed line or a failing pump.
- Air/fuel ratio: This is also used primarily when tuning, and knowing what your engine's air/fuel ratio is can let you know if detonation is about to happen or if too much fuel is about to stop those piston rings from working as well as they should.
WHEN OEM DOESN'T CUT IT
Chances are, whatever it is you're driving has an instrument cluster designed to keep the average person from obliterating that engine it's paying attention to and not a whole lot more. The only problem is that you're not the average person. Most factory instrument clusters won't tell you anything with certainty and they'll never tell you everything you want to know. For instance, you know that Civic of yours doesn't appreciate its coolant going past that 200-degree F mark, but you've got no idea when exactly that needle on your dashboard has reached that point. As it turns out, those floating needles inside that instrument cluster of yours just aren't all that precise. Only an incremented gauge like something from AutoMeter, for instance, can tell you exactly how hot things are. And when it comes to monitoring things like exhaust gas temperature, air/fuel ratios, or boost pressure on something that wasn't sold with any kind of turbo in the first place, you've got no choice than to look to the aftermarket.
Let's say you want to go ahead and monitor just about everything that'll keep that engine of yours from coming apart, but you still aren't interested in mounting that cockpit's worth of gauges to the dashboard. It turns out that AutoMeter's DashLink says you don't have to.
What it is: The DashLink wasn't meant to replace something like that digital display in your favorite pro Time Attack car, and that's OK. It was meant for somebody like you and that $5,000 Nissan of yours and to keep an eye on its water temp and air/fuel ratio, for example. The best part is it won't take you much longer to plug the DashLink into your car's OBDII diagnostic port and get it up and running, than it will to get it out of the box in the first place. From there, just install the free app onto your iPhone or Android-based phone and link it all up with a Bluetooth connection.
When you need it: If your car's based off of an OBDII architecture like all '96-and-newer models, then the DashLink's compatible. And if you've made any significant mods to your ride or you plan on spending any amount of time on the track, then knowing what's going on with the engine just became a whole lot more critical.
Why you want it: You want one because you're interested in knowing the sort of things a series of aftermarket gauges might be able to tell you but without the hassle of having to mount them or make any sort of electrical or mechanical connections.
What it does:
- Monitor water temperature, air/fuel ratio, boost, fuel pressure, and more in real time.
- Data-log what your ECU already monitors using your car's original sensors.
- Track fuel economy.
- Determine 0-60 and quarter-mile times, horsepower, torque, and braking performance.
- Read and clear trouble codes.
- Map where and how your car's been driven; good for the track or for keeping the valet guy honest.