What Controls The Instrument Cluster?

The instrument cluster is a window into how your vehicle is operating at all times. It tells you the speed your car is moving and how fast the engine is turning. It also displays other important information like fuel level, oil pressure, coolant temperature, and battery voltage. The instrument cluster may also include a multifunction display that allows you to view and configure vehicle settings. Indicator lights will also illuminate for your safety and warn of vehicle problems. But how does the instrument cluster work to provide all of this information?

Instrument Cluster Power Supply


Since newer instrument clusters function as control modules, they feature a dedicated unswitched power supply circuit protected by a fuse. A switched power circuit controlled by the ignition is also provided to power down the instrument cluster display when the vehicle is turned off. Like most other control modules on modern cars and trucks, the cluster will enter a low-power or “sleep” state. This allows low-level functionality, such as an alarm indicator, while allowing the instrument cluster to resume full functionality quickly when the vehicle is started.

Instrument Cluster Communication

The instrument cluster receives information from other control modules over the Controller Area Network (CAN) The CAN allows all onboard computer modules to communicate and share information to carry out tasks. The cluster may receive data from a sensor wired directly to it, or over CAN from another controller. For example, safety sensors may signal the brakes to apply or signal the engine to reduce power. Simultaneously, data will be sent to the instrument cluster to turn on an indicator light or display a message.

How Instrument Clusters Have Changed

Modern cluster

Years ago, an instrument cluster was a fairly rudimentary “dummy” device. Vehicle and engine speed were transmitted mechanically via cables, with hard-wired warning lights to the engine computer. Nothing in the instrument cluster could function under its own power or command. If something stopped working, it was usually a mechanical failure, loss of power to the lighting, or a burned-out light bulb.

Today, an instrument cluster functions as a complex, programmable control module. It can use data and signals from other modules to display information or even reconfigure settings in other modules. For example, you can scroll through a menu in the information display and view the oil life monitor that is broadcast by the ECU (Engine Control Unit). When it is time for an oil change, the oil life monitor can be reset in the instrument cluster. This data is then sent back to the ECU to indicate the oil has been serviced.

The Future Of Instrument Clusters

As screens become more prominent in today’s vehicles, the instrument cluster as we know it is transforming. Actual gauges and lights are being replaced by flat-panel displays, much like a computer monitor. All of the information is virtualized on the screen and the arrangement of “gauges” is fully customizable. The control module for the instrument cluster can now be located remotely, increasing interior design flexibility. Without actual gauges, this also means greater simplicity and less moving parts to fail.

Why Buy From ISS?

ISS Automotive is one of the most reliable names in the automotive and truck industry, since 1949. We provide quality replacement parts and repairs for popular cars and trucks. When you shop with us you get:

  • Correct fitment. Your parts will be built to OEM standards and programmed to work with your exact model year.
  • Easy installation. All you need are some basic hand tools to remove your old gauges and install the new ones from ISS.
  • Customized upgrades. ISS offers LED lighting upgrades along with other customization options that vary by part.
  • Limited lifetime warranty. This includes all our new or remanufactured products, replacement/exchange units, and repair units.
  • Free and fast shipping in the continental USA.

Have questions about your order or need help finding the right part? Please contact us!