What is an Instrument Panel?

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  • Written By: R. Anacan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 February 2020
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An instrument panel, often known as a dashboard, is the component of a vehicle that contains instrumentation, gauges, and control surfaces. Generally speaking, the instrument panel is located at the front of a vehicle, or where the main control surfaces, — such as a steering wheel, airplane yoke, or handlebar — are located, Depending on the type of vehicle, this panel can be a simple design consisting of just a few basic gauges, indicator lights and controls to extremely complex and extensive panels.

The instrument panel is a critical and important component of any vehicle, whether it is an airplane, automobile, boat or motorcycle. The purpose of an instrument panel is to provide the operator with pertinent information needed to operate the vehicle successfully. Some of the more common gauges on instrument panels are speedometers, which measure the speed of a vehicle tachometers, which measure the amount of revolutions or the rotation speed of an engine; engine temperature gauges; and fuel gauges.

Depending on the type of vehicle, the instrumental panel may also consist of gauges that are unique to that specific type of vehicle. A boat or ship may have a water depth meter and a wind speed and wind direction meter. An automobile may have a tire pressure monitor or an open door warning light. An airplane or helicopter typically has an altimeter, which indicates altitude, and pitch, yaw and roll indicators that show the level of rotation along its three main axes.


On an airplane or helicopter, the instrument panel not only provides the pilot with basic information, but the instrumentation is often critical for the safe operation of an airplane. In bad weather conditions, or when visibility is poor, a pilot is often not able to rely on his vision alone to fly the aircraft. When “flying blind,” an aircraft’s instruments enable a pilot to navigate successfully with limited or no visual cues. In fact, an important element of a pilot’s training program is learning when to trust the instruments of the aircraft over what is visible with the eyes.

Whatever the vehicle, it is extremely important that the operator know exactly what type of information is displayed on the instrument panel and what that information means. It is also essential that vehicle operators heed the information presented by the instrumentation on their vehicle. The most advanced sensors and indicators are of no use if a driver does not know what the warning means, or chooses to ignore it. Vehicle manufacturers produce extensive manuals so that vehicle operators are informed about the specific details about their vehicle’s instrument panel.


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