5250 High Performance Dyno Shop Blog

Gauges for Race Cars and/or Street Performance | Part 1

[fa icon="calendar"] Mar 21, 2017 4:00:00 PM / by Mike Wiener

Racing Gauges Denver ColoradoI often get asked what gauges should I install in my performance vehicle? The real answer is “It Depends”.

The gauges you should have in your car depend on what kind of driving conditions you intend to be in, what type of modifications you have done to the vehicle and what kind of sensors may already have been installed.

We recently had a great discussion with a performance driver that is moving towards a higher level of driving (Time Trials) and will be running 500 hp Subaru at High Plains Raceway this summer. With that, he was interested in becoming a better driver.

  • So what matters when the choice is to be a better driver?  That is having better information, making better decisions and learning how to drive faster into, and out of fast / slow corners, thus data, lots of it. Street performance car owners can learn a lot from better information.

Race cars and street cars don't need to monitor the same information, or as much. What does that mean? Well, for example, many race cars don't have a fuel level gauge. In many types of racing, it is a sprint race thus there are no pit stops. You stop, you lose. You run out of fuel, you lose.

It would be crazy to not have a working fuel gauge on any street car. You'd always be running out of fuel at the most inconvenient times

A highly modified street car driver wants to know the critical aspects of his/her engine all the time. This way, they can spot a problem before it causes any damage.

A race car driver on track just wants to know if they can keep driving or not. A simple red light is all they need, not a full gauge with numbers on it. They'll often ignore the lights anyways if they are close to a win.

Now you might be thinking, "But Mike, I see all sorts of sensors and wires all over a race car." This is very true, but the driver doesn’t see or care about the information from all these areas when focusing on being in the zone of real race car driving.

There are two sides to gauges and sensors. Live view for operation and data logging for later review. The majority of the data collected is for review after the race for developmental purposes (both car and driver). It's possible to have sensors on every part of the vehicle, hundreds of them, but only have 3 or 4 gauges for the driver to monitor. But which 3 or 4?

A race car driver only needs information to help them finish the race without damaging the vehicle. Every race car has a good tachometer with a clearly marked redline. Some drivers use a speedometer so they know they are hitting their corner entry at the best / consistent speed.

Oil pressure is a very common gauge, sometimes it's only a red warning light if it drops too low. Water temperature is very common, but oil is not. If your oil is too hot, usually your water is hotter. That's all a racer really needs. Too many gauges is distracting.

A modified street car is going to prioritize the gauges a little differently. A speedometer, fuel level, water over temp warning, and low oil pressure warning are going to be standard gauges on the factory dash of any street driven car. 95% of street cars will also have a tachometer.

These are all a race car driver needs, but a streeter needs to add more. Forced induction vehicles must have a boost gauge. A Wideband Air-to-Fuel gauge is mandatory if you want to keep tabs on your tune. Reliability is a major concern of performance street cars, fuel pressure is a common gauge to monitor.

Fuel pumps do wear out. Since the stock low oil pressure light only comes on when pressure drops below 5psi, many drivers will add a dedicated oil pressure gauge with a higher threshold to indicate a problem before it destroys the engine

  • Similarly, a dedicated water temperature gauge may be added instead of the factory H and L markings. In fact, the more gauges with better levels of real knowledge, the better you can understand how well your vehicle is running at any given moment. Do you know the difference of H & L when it comes to actual temperature, no.

Snip20170321_15-405353-edited.pngThis can really aid in tuning the engine. Remember, building a street performance car negatively impacts OEM reliability, so information is key to avoiding that blown engine because you weren’t paying attention. The right gauge package will keep you safer, information is power.

Stay tuned by Subscribing to our blog to read Part 2 where I talk about sensors and how they work / why they matter.

Topics: Data and Gauges

Mike Wiener

Written by Mike Wiener