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Can You Drive If Your Instrument Cluster Is Not Working?

CarPart  ·  May 18, 2022

Can You Drive If Your Instrument Cluster Is Not Working?

You should always keep your eyes on the road while driving. From time to time, you also need to look at the instrument cluster, so you know how fast you're going. But what happens when that part of your vehicle stops working? Can you still drive the car?

Yes, technically, you can drive a car that doesn’t have a working instrument cluster. A faulty or even missing instrument cluster won't’ stop an engine from running.

In this article, you'll discover how an instrument cluster works, telltale signs that it might be going bad, and what could cause that to happen.

Let’s get started.

Can You Drive a Car Without the Instrument Cluster?

The instrument cluster is a critical source of information for any motor vehicle, but it does not play a role in the car's mechanical or electrical systems. 

So, yes, you can still drive your car if the instrument cluster stops working. The instruments display important info but doesn’t affect a car’s electrical and mechanical systems. Still, you shouldn’t drive without it (except to get it fixed) because you won’t know how fast you’re going or if your car is overheating.

The instrument cluster plays more of a passive role in the vehicle’s overall function. So, you can get away with delaying any instrument cluster repairs that your car might need.

Of course, driving without a functioning instrument cluster is a horrible idea.

What Information Does an Instrument Cluster Provide?

Without a working instrument cluster, you’ll have no indication of your car’s:

  1. Current speed: knowing your car’s speed isn’t just about staying on the right side of the law. It’s also crucial when negotiating turns or ensuring you have enough time to stop in an emergency.
  2. Fuel levels: without a fuel indicator on an instrument cluster, you won’t know you’re out of petrol until your car sputters out in the middle of the road.
  3. Distance since you started driving: although less critical, there are some situations where you need to know how far you’ve driven since you started the engine.
  4. Heat levels: the first warning sign of an overheating car appears on the instrument cluster, giving you enough time to pull over and shut the engine off. Without it, you won't know until it's too late.

Overall, you can see that driving without a functioning instrument cluster is almost like driving blind. Sure, you can see the road ahead, but you won’t see any indicators that your car’s in danger from within until it’s too late.

What Is an Instrument Cluster, and Why Is It Important?

Let’s take a step back and get on the same page about instrument clusters and why they matter.

An instrument cluster is the part of the dashboard that’s directly in front of the driver. You’ll find it in full view behind the steering wheel with at least a handful of different gauges, indicators, and warning lights.

What Are the Instruments in an Instrument Cluster?

While the instrument cluster’s design differs between car brands and models, all of them share the same basic set of gauges like the:

  1. Speedometer: displays the speed of your vehicle in real-time
  2. Tachometer: shows your engine’s RPM levels
  3. Odometer: shows you the car’s total mileage, and you can use it to measure the distance of a specific trip
  4. Fuel gauge: whether digital or analogue, the fuel gauge shows you how much fuel you have left. The gauge typically starts blinking when you’re running low on fuel.
  5. Turn signals: when you use your turn signals, a corresponding indicator will flash on the panel to let you know it’s active.

While the indicators listed above are universal, instrument clusters in all cars are not the same. 

Some clusters include water temperature and oil pressure gauges, while other use warning lights for these two metrics.

Some will have additional gauges or indicators that yours might not have. Plus, some are digital, while others still use analogue displays.

Due to these differences, the price for instrument cluster repair also differs between car brands and models. In short, some instrument clusters are easier to fix than others.

What Happens When the Instrument Cluster Goes Out?

When your car’s instrument cluster becomes faulty, it won’t necessarily go out altogether. Instead, one or more gauges could go bad while the others still work fine.

That’s true whether you have a digital instrument cluster or an analogue one.

There are some telltale signs that your instrument cluster is experiencing problems and might need repair.

What Are Signs of an Instrument Cluster Going Bad?

Here are four signs your instrument cluster is slowly going out:

  1. Dim or flickering gauges and indicators: All instrument clusters have lights to illuminate indicators or make the whole cluster visible. When any of those lights are fainter than usual or start flickering, that's a sign of a problem.
  2. Inaccurate or no readings: The indicators tell you what’s going on with your car. Still, you can tell when some indicators aren’t giving you the correct information. For example, if you just filled up a tank of petrol, your fuel indicator should be full. If it’s not, you’ll need to check the instrument cluster.
  3. Stuck indicators: Whether you have digital indicators or analogue ones with moving needles, they should never be stuck. An indicator that’s stuck is something to take note of.
  4. Unusual light behaviours: Your instrument cluster isn’t supposed to be a distraction. So, if you see lights blinking or occasionally glowing for no reason, that’s a hint that something’s wrong.

What Causes an Instrument Cluster to Stop Working?

At this point, you know that you can drive with an instrument cluster that isn’t working (but you probably shouldn’t!). You also know what symptoms to look for when the cluster is slowly going bad.

Now, the question is: What would make the instrument cluster go bad in the first place?

Well, here are a few common reasons:

  1. Burnt-out lights: Lights burn out sometimes; that’s just a fact of life. The gauge might be working perfectly fine, but you won’t see what it’s telling you if the light or LED isn’t working.
  2. Blown fuses: Aside from lights, electrical fuses protecting your instrument cluster could also blow. That’s particularly true for a digital instrument cluster.
  3. Wiring problems: The gauges on your instrument cluster display information from sensors throughout your car. When they fail, it could be a wiring problem that prevents the correct signals (and electrical power) from getting to where they’re needed.
  4. Physically stuck needles: Analog instrument clusters have moving needles, like the one you see on the speedometer. Those needles can get stuck and prevent it from showing you the correct information.

Bottom Line

You should never delay instrument cluster repairs. Check out CarPartAu’s Directory and look for the nearest mechanic or bring your car to your trusted auto specialist!

By Ray Hasbollah

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