How to Wire Voltmeter Gauges on a Car
Electricity is a valubale commodity, especially in modern automobiles. There was a time when all an electrical system really had to do was run an ignition system, headlights, tail lights, and maybe a radio or AC blower. Now, drivetrains are shot through with electron-driven devices; fuel pumps, interior accessories, lighting and computers all run on electricity now. Ironically, real voltmeters are one of those things that seem to have disappeared even as electrical devices have exponentially proliferated. Installing an aftermarket gauge is fairly simple as such things go, but you will have to spend some time looking for the right wires to run it.
Find a mounting location for the voltmeter; under the dash usually works. Mount the voltmeter with the screws provided. On the back of the voltmeter, there are two connections -- one is positive and the other negative. Take careful note of which is which. Hook them up backward, and the voltmeter will work backwards, indicating a discharge when in fact it is charging.
Use 16-gauge wire for the hookup if the wire was not provided with the voltmeter kit.
Remove the bottom of the dash to gain access to the harness. The harness can be seen coming out of the steering column and going into a rectangular connector close to the column. Probe the connector for a wire that has power with the key off and does not drop to 0 when the engine is started. The large, 10-gauge yellow wire is the starter and will not have any power except when the starter is engaged. Never mess with a yellow wire with a bold black stripe around it. Mechanics call it the yellow jacket wire because, because it's part of the air bag system.
Confirm that you have a good constant-on power wire. Look for a grounded accessory wire. Usually, the brown wire is the accessory wire and the green or blue wire will be the main power to the ignition. Any of these will work, however every manufacturer has its own colors for the different circuits. It is perfectly safe to test these circuits. If you can't find a good ground wire, or don't wish to tap into a ground wire, you can ground the voltmeter to the metal chassis with a self-tapping sheet-metal screw.
Attach the voltmeter negative to the ground wire with a wire tap, or to the metal chassis using a screw and drill. Connect your tester to the ground, and start probing for a "Switched" power wire that only has power when you turn the ignition key to the "on" position. You should find several going up behind the dashboard and into the steering column. Once you've found a switched power source, turn the key off and cut the wire about 4 inches up from the connector (the cut will be between the connector and the steering column). Attach the wire coming out of the connector to the positive terminal of the voltmeter and the end going to the steering column to the negative side.
- The voltmeter connection can be made at the battery positive and negative if desired.
- Use either butt connectors or the commonly supplied wire taps to connect the voltmeter wires to the wiring harness. Butt connectors are stronger and more reliable, but wire taps are faster and don't require cutting the original wire.
- Aftermarket voltmeters can come with a number of options, not least of which being a back-light for night running. These lights are often stand-alone, requiring their own ground and power supply. The smart thing with these is to ground them to the chassis, and tap into the dashboard light power wire. You'll find it behind the interior light dimmer switch. You can connect it to a regular switched power source, but the light will stay on whenever the car's running, and won't brighten or dim when you adjust the dashboard lights.
Things You'll Need
- 16-gauge wire
- Wire strippers
- Ratchet and socket set
- Sheet-metal screw and drill -- optional
Don Bowman has been writing for various websites and several online magazines since 2008. He has owned an auto service facility since 1982 and has over 45 years of technical experience as a master ASE tech. Bowman has a business degree from Pennsylvania State University and was an officer in the U.S. Army (aircraft maintenance officer, pilot, six Air Medal awards, two tours Vietnam).
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How to Install a Car Volt Amp Gauge
When you think about the number of sensors that your engine has, it seems like there is an endless amount of gauges that can be installed to monitor their readings. Some of these readings are important, but many of them are simple inputs to the vehicle's computer. The most common gauges on today's vehicles are the speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge, and temperature gauge. Besides having these gauges, your car will have a number of warning lights that will illuminate if there are problems with those systems. One gauge that is missing in most vehicles is the charging, or voltage, gauge. With a little information you can easily add a voltage gauge to your vehicle.
Part 1 of 2: The purpose of a voltage gauge
Most vehicles built today come with a warning light on the dash that looks like a battery. When that light illuminates, it typically means that there is not enough voltage in the vehicle's electrical system. Most of the time this is due to a failure in your vehicle's alternator. The downfall of this warning light is that, when it comes on, the voltage in the system is very low - and if the battery becomes low enough, the vehicle will end up stalling.
Installing a voltage gauge will allow you to see changes in the charging system well before it becomes a serious problem. Having this gauge will make it much easier to decide whether it is time to pull your vehicle off of the road, or if you can make it to where you are going.
Part 2 of 2: Installing the gauge
Step 1: Park your vehicle and apply the parking brake. Your parking brake should be a pedal or a hand brake. If it's a pedal, push it down until you feel the brake engage. If it's a hand brake, push the button in and pull up on the lever.
Step 2: Install the memory saver per the manufacturer’s instructions.
Step 3: Open the hood. Release the latch inside the car. Stand in front of the car and lift up the hood.
Step 4: Disconnect the negative battery cable. Position it away from the battery.
Step 5: Decide where you want to install the gauge. First, you need to see how the gauge mounts: it may mount with attachment tape, or it may be mounted with screws.
If it has a screw mount, you need to make sure that it is mounted in a spot where screws will not hit anything inside the dash.
Step 6: Run the wiring between the gauge and the battery. Using the appropriate size wire, run wiring from where the gauge will be mounted to the positive battery terminal.
- Tip: When running the wire from inside of the vehicle and into the engine compartment it is easiest to run it through the same seal as the vehicle factory wiring.
Step 7: Attach connectors to the wire you just ran and the fusible link. Strip ¼-inch of insulation from each end of the fusible link. Install an eyelet connector and crimp into place on one end, and crimp a butt connector on the other end.
Then connect it to the wire that you ran to the battery.
Step 8: Remove the nut from the positive battery cable end clamp bolt. Install the eyelet and tighten the nut back into place.
Step 9: Install an eyelet to the other end of the wire. You will install this eyelet where the wire will mount to the gauge.
Step 10: Find the wire that goes to the lighting circuit. Use your wiring schematic to locate the positive wire that supplies voltage from the light switch to the lights.
Step 11: Run a wire from where you are mounting the gauge to the lighting circuit wire.
Step 12: Remove ¼-inch of insulation from the circuit end of the gauge wire. Using a three wire connector, crimp that wire to the lighting wire.
Step 13: Attach an eyelet to the end of the wire you just ran from the lighting circuit wire. Remove ¼-inch of insulation from the gauge end of the wire and install an eyelet connector.
Step 14: Run a wire from the gauge to a grounding point under the dash.
Step 15: Attach an eyelet to the wire running to the grounding point. Remove ¼-inch of the insulation from the wire, install an eyelet, and crimp into place.
Step 16: Install the eyelet and wire to the ground connection.
Step 17: Attach an eyelet to the end of the wire that will connect to the gauge. Remove ¼-inch of insulation from the wire at the gauge and install an eyelet.
Step 18: Connect the three wires to the gauge.The wire going to the battery goes to the signal or positive terminal on the gauge; the wire connected to the ground goes to the ground or negative terminal. The final wire goes to the lighting terminal.
Step 19: Install the gauge in your vehicle. Make sure to mount the gauge according to the gauge manufacturer’s instructions.
Step 20: Wrap the wire loom around any exposed wiring.
Step 21: Install the negative battery cable and tighten until it is snug.
Step 22: Remove the memory saver.
Step 23: Start your vehicle and verify that the gauge is working. Turn on the lights and make sure the gauge is illuminated.
A voltage gauge is a nice addition to any vehicle, and can be a valuable safety measure for drivers who have recurring electrical problems in their cars, or drivers who simply want to take the precaution of knowing there is a problem before the battery is drained. There are a variety of gauges available, in both analog and digital, and in various colors and styles to suit your vehicle. If you are not comfortable installing the gauge yourself, consider using YourMechanic - a certified mechanic can come to your home or office to install one and ensure everything is working correctly with your gauges..
How to Wire a Voltmeter
A voltmeter is a great accessory that will help you determine how well your car's battery and alternator are working. The voltmeter will be able to tell you how the alternator is operating in conjunction with keeping the battery charged. Keeping an eye on the voltmeter in your car will tell you whether or not the alternator is bad. When the alternator is good the battery will remain at a constant 12V rating. The opposite also means that the alternator is bad. If the voltmeter shows that the amps is up to around 16 or more, it means that the alternator is not regulating the power well and needs to be replaced. Here are the steps to take to wire a voltmeter for your car.
Step 1 - Determine Voltmeter Location
Your voltmeter should be located in a place where you can see it easily without having to take your eyes too far away from the road. Above the dash, on the left-hand side, near the corner of the windshield is a good place. Of course, you can place the voltmeter under the dashboard on the right-hand side as well.
Step 2 - Attach Voltmeter
The voltmeter will have a small mounting bracket that needs to be attached in order to mount the voltmeter. This simply attaches with the supplied screws. Once the bracket is secured you can then place the voltmeter in the bracket.
Step 3 - Connect Wire to Voltmeter
There are two connections at the back of the voltmeter where you will make your connections. Use the 16 gauge wire and strip back the end of the wire. Make sure you place the correct wire on the positive and negative poles on the voltmeter.
Step 4 - Locate Wire Harness
Remove the bottom of the dashboard and look for where the wire harness is. You should see a bundle of wires coming from out of the firewall near the steering column. Probe these wires with a multimeter to find a wire that has power to it without the key being turned on. These wires will usually have the same colors, but some manufacturers are different.
Step 5 - Connect Ground
Take the negative wire from the voltmeter and make a good connection on a grounded screw in the car.
Step 6 - Connect Positive Wire
Use one of the wires that you found in the wiring harness and cut it between the steering column and connector in the dash. Connect the end coming from the steering column to the voltmeter. Take the piece of 16 gauge wire and complete the circuit by connecting it to the connector wire. Use a wire nut to make the connection.
Step 7- Test Connections
Once you have all of the wires connected with the power and voltmeter, you will need to test it to make sure everything works correctly. Turn the key on and see if the voltmeter registers a reading. If it shows that the battery is discharging after you start the car, you have the wires configured wrong. Switch the positive and negative wires.
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