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Are Gauge Cluster Screens the Greatest Threat to Automotive Longevity?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro November 2017

Here's what I'm worried about today: gauge cluster screens. If you haven't been in a modern car lately, you may not know it, but everyone is using gauge cluster screens now. Regular dials and needles and warning lights are gone, and they've been replaced by a configurable screen that has all that stuff. This is true for all new luxury cars, and (presumably) it'll be true for normal mainstream cars soon.

This got me thinking: is this the thing that's going to finally keep people from using these cars forever?

I say this because every few years, as new technological advancements have come out, people have insisted that there will be no one left to work on vehicles with these advancements once they become old. This was a big argument against fuel injection: "This is too fancy, too modern, too complicated, and it's going to make it so we can't use our cars as they age!" Well, 35 years later, everyone wants fuel injection, and nobody wants to deal with anything that's carbureted.

But I'm worried, for real this time, about gauge cluster screens.

I say this because gauge cluster screens will surely, one day, fail. All these screens fail, or at least they inevitably wind up looking very old; you should see the ridiculously ancient infotainment display in my 2006 Range Rover. It's almost laughable to think anything like this was ever acceptable.

Naturally, when these systems fail, they're tremendously expensive to replace. In fact, the fine print on my Mercedes-Benz certified pre-owned warranty basically says that the warranty is just as good as the factory warranty in every way, except it doesn't cover the infotainment screen. Think about that: Mercedes wants nothing to do with these infotainment screens as they age, so much that it's basically the only part they've written out of the warranty. So what does that say about gauge cluster screens?

It says, pretty much, that we're doomed. If your infotainment screen dies, you'll move on with your life, because you can just keep driving the car; it usually has absolutely no effect on the vehicle's actual drivability. But if the gauge cluster fails, everything changes. You won't know how fast you're going. You won't know what your mileage is. You won't know if you have any warning lights on, or if your engine is running hot. In other words: good freaking luck.

Of course, someday, something might come along to make gauge cluster screen repair far less expensive than it is right now, which will allow us to keep gauge cluster-screened cars for a longer period of time -- which is precisely what's happened with basically everything that's caused everyone to freak out that "cars are getting too complicated." So I'm probably wrong.

But I have to assume that if automakers are literally writing screen coverage out of their warranties, the gauge cluster screen probably isn't something you'll want to deal with in 20 years, when your car has 241,000 miles and it's worth $3,500. It'll probably be easier to simply buy a newer car. With a newer screen. So you can start the process all over again.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Are Gauge Cluster Screens the Greatest Threat to Automotive Longevity? - Autotrader