How Fuel Gauges Work

By: Karim Nice

The Gauge

The gauge is also a simple device. The current from the sender passes through a resistor that either wraps around or is located near a bimetallic strip. The bimetallic strip is hooked up to the needle of the gauge through a linkage.

The bimetallic strip is a piece of metal made by laminating two different types of metal together. The metals that make up the strip expand and contract when they are heated or cooled. Each type of metal has its own particular rate of expansion. The two metals that make up the strip are chosen so that the rates of expansion and contraction are different.


When the strip is heated, one metal expands less than the other, so the strip curves, with the metal that expands more on the outside. This bending action is what moves the needle.

As resistance increases, less current passes through the heating coil, so the bimetallic strip cools. As the strip cools, it straightens out, pulling the gauge from full to empty.

Some newer cars, instead of sending the current directly to the gauge, use a microprocessor that reads the output of the resistor and communicates with the dashboard. These systems actually help improve the accuracy of the gauge. Let's take a look at one of these systems.