What Is An Instrument Cluster And Why Is It Important?

The instrument cluster communicates important details while you’re driving. What exactly is an instrument cluster, though? You’ll find out here. This guide has all the information you need about instrument clusters and how they work.

What Is An Instrument Cluster?

Instrument cluster

Every vehicle has an instrument cluster. It’s right in front of the driver. An instrument cluster is a board with several different gauges and warning lights mounted in it. The instrument cluster is mounted in the dashboard, just behind the steering wheel. The driver depends on the gauges and indicators to keep tabs on the vehicle’s status. Some of the most common gauges and indicators include:

  • Speedometer
  • Tachometer
  • Fuel gauge
  • Oil pressure gauge
  • Odometer
  • Turn signal indicators

An instrument cluster is also sometimes called:

  • Dash
  • Dashboard
  • Gauge cluster

Commonly, the dash and the dashboard are what you see in front of you while driving. The instrument cluster is the part that contains the gauges. When one component fails, such as the speedometer or odometer, usually the whole instrument cluster is replaced.

Some instrument clusters are all electronic. Those instrument clusters have digital readouts instead of traditional analog gauges. They have no moving parts. They can also be called:

  • Digital instrument panel
  • Digital dash

The Components Of An Instrument Cluster


An instrument cluster is a straightforward part. It's a board that's made to fit in the dash of a certain make and model. In that board, you'll find a cluster of gauges and indicators. Some cars have more gauges and indicators than others. Let's talk about two of the most common ones:

  • Speedometer: Indicates the speed at which the vehicle is traveling. The input the speedometer receives is through an electrical sensor on almost all modern cars. Twenty or thirty years ago, the speedometer was mechanically driven by a cable connected to the rear of the transmission.
  • Tachometer: Indicates the revolutions per minute (rpm) of the engine. Similar to the speedometer, the tachometer is now almost always driven electronically by the engine control unit (ECU).

The design of the instrument cluster has changed in one fundamental way over the last twenty or thirty years. Back then, gauges or instruments received their input from the component they were monitoring. For example, the fuel level sensor in the fuel tank was directly connected to the fuel gauge in the instrument cluster. In modern cars, all of the sensors are connected to the ECU, and the ECU sends all the relevant information to the instrument cluster.

Instrument clusters are connected to the vehicle with a wiring harness. The harness usually has a multi-pin connector on the back side of the cluster. This makes it easy to remove the cluster. The cluster typically receives power from the fusebox located underneath the dash on the driver's side of the car. Most of the time, there is one fuse dedicated to the instrument cluster. (If the whole cluster suddenly stops working, check the fuse first.)

Do You Need A Replacement Instrument Cluster?


Many instrument clusters last the lifetime of the vehicle. That's not always the case, though. Sometimes gauges on the instrument cluster can fail because of:

  • Vibration, which can cause connections on the circuit board(s) inside the cluster to fail.
  • Mechanical failure of the speedometer, odometer, or tachometer. There are sometimes small gears in these components which can wear out.
  • Voltage spikes from a bad alternator can damage the cluster.
  • Burned out lighting. The instrument still works, but you can't see it at night.

A failed instrument cluster can be hard, if not impossible, to fix at home. So if you're in this situation, replacing the instrument cluster is often the best option.

At ISS Automotive, we carry OE quality instrument clusters made by the leading brands in the industry.

  • Our instrument clusters are plug-and-play parts, which means installation is easy.
  • If you live anywhere in the continental US, you'll enjoy free shipping.

Not ready to purchase a replacement gauge cluster? We may be able to repair yours. Mail your broken instrument cluster to our shop, and one of ISS Automotive's skilled techs will fix it within 24 hours of receiving it.

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You're welcome to contact us if you have any questions. We'll be happy to help!