is a gauge that measures and displays the instantaneous speed
In kinematics, the speed of an object is the magnitude of its velocity ; it is thus a scalar quantity. The average speed of an object in an interval of time is the distance traveled by the object divided by the duration of the interval; the instantaneous speed is the limit of the average speed as...
of a land vehicle. Now universally fitted to motor vehicle
A motor vehicle or road vehicle is a self-propelled wheeled vehicle that does not operate on rails, such as trains or trolleys. The vehicle propulsion is provided by an engine or motor, usually by an internal combustion engine, or an electric motor, or some combination of the two, such as hybrid...
s, they started to be available as options in the 1900s, and as standard equipment from about 1910 onwards. Speedometers for other vehicles have specific names and use other means of sensing speed. For a boat, this is a pit log. For an aircraft, this is an airspeed indicator
The airspeed indicator or airspeed gauge is an instrument used in an aircraft to display the craft's airspeed, typically in knots, to the pilot.- Use :...
The speedometer was invented by the Croatia
Croatia , officially the Republic of Croatia , is a unitary democratic parliamentary republic in Europe at the crossroads of the Mitteleuropa, the Balkans, and the Mediterranean. Its capital and largest city is Zagreb. The country is divided into 20 counties and the city of Zagreb. Croatia covers ...
n Josip Belušić
Josip Belušić was a Croatian inventor.In 1888 Josip Belušić invented and designed the first electric speedometer. Belušić was born in the region of Labin in Istria, and was a professor in Koper. This invention was patented in Austria-Hungary under the name of "velocimeter."...
in 1888, and was originally called a velocimeter.
The eddy current
Eddy currents are electric currents induced in conductors when a conductor is exposed to a changing magnetic field; due to relative motion of the field source and conductor or due to variations of the field with time. This can cause a circulating flow of electrons, or current, within the body of...
speedometer has been used for over a century and is still in widespread use. Until the 1980s and the appearance of electronic speedometers it was the only type commonly used.
Originally patented by a German, Otto Schulze on 7 October 1902, it uses a rotating flexible cable
A cable is two or more wires running side by side and bonded, twisted or braided together to form a single assembly. In mechanics cables, otherwise known as wire ropes, are used for lifting, hauling and towing or conveying force through tension. In electrical engineering cables are used to carry...
usually driven by gearing linked to the output of the vehicle's transmission
A machine consists of a power source and a power transmission system, which provides controlled application of the power. Merriam-Webster defines transmission as: an assembly of parts including the speed-changing gears and the propeller shaft by which the power is transmitted from an engine to a...
. The early Volkswagen Beetle and many motorcycles, however, use a cable driven from a front wheel.
When the car or motorcycle is in motion, a speedometer gear assembly will turn a speedometer cable which then turns the speedometer mechanism itself. A small permanent magnet affixed to the speedometer cable interacts with a small aluminum cup (called a speedcup
) attached to the shaft of the pointer on the analogue speedometer instrument. As the magnet rotates near the cup, the changing magnetic field produces eddy currents in the cup, which themselves produce another magnetic field. The effect is that the magnet exerts a torque
Torque, moment or moment of force , is the tendency of a force to rotate an object about an axis, fulcrum, or pivot. Just as a force is a push or a pull, a torque can be thought of as a twist....
on the cup, "dragging" it, and thus the speedometer pointer, in the direction of its rotation with no mechanical connection between them.
The pointer shaft is held toward zero by a fine torsion spring
A torsion spring is a spring that works by torsion or twisting; that is, a flexible elastic object that stores mechanical energy when it is twisted. The amount of force it exerts is proportional to the amount it is twisted. There are two types...
. The torque on the cup increases with the speed of rotation of the magnet (which is driven by the car's transmission). Thus an increase in the speed of the car will twist the cup and speedometer pointer against the spring. The cup and pointer will turn until the torque of the eddy currents on the cup is balanced by the opposing torque of the spring, and then stop. Since the torque on the cup is exactly proportional to the car's speed, and the spring's deflection is proportional to the torque, the angle of the pointer is also proportional to the speed. At a given speed the pointer will remain motionless and pointing to the appropriate number on the speedometer's dial.
The return spring is calibrated
Calibration is a comparison between measurements – one of known magnitude or correctness made or set with one device and another measurement made in as similar a way as possible with a second device....
such that a given revolution speed of the cable corresponds to a specific speed indication on the speedometer. This calibration must take into account several factors, including ratios of the tailshaft gears that drive the flexible cable, the final drive ratio in the differential
A differential is a device, usually, but not necessarily, employing gears, capable of transmitting torque and rotation through three shafts, almost always used in one of two ways: in one way, it receives one input and provides two outputs—this is found in most automobiles—and in the other way, it...
, and the diameter of the driven tires.
Many modern speedometers are electronic
Electronics is the branch of science, engineering and technology that deals with electrical circuits involving active electrical components such as vacuum tubes, transistors, diodes and integrated circuits, and associated passive interconnection technologies...
. In designs derived from earlier eddy-current models, a rotation sensor mounted in the transmission delivers a series of electronic pulses whose frequency corresponds to the (average) rotational speed of the driveshaft, and therefore the vehicle's speed, assuming the wheels have full traction. The sensor is typically a set of one or more magnets mounted on the output shaft or (in transaxles) differential crownwheel, or a toothed metal disk positioned between a magnet and a magnetic field sensor
The Hall effect is the production of a voltage difference across an electrical conductor, transverse to an electric current in the conductor and a magnetic field perpendicular to the current...
. As the part in question turns, the magnets or teeth pass beneath the sensor, each time producing a pulse in the sensor as they affect the strength of the magnetic field it is measuring. Alternatively, in more recent designs, some manufactures rely on pulses coming from the ABS wheel sensors.
A computer converts the pulses to a speed and displays this speed on an electronically-controlled, analog-style needle or a digital display. Pulse information is also used for a variety of other purposes by the ECU
An engine control unit is a type of electronic control unit that determines the amount of fuel, ignition timing and other parameters an internal combustion engine needs to keep running...
or full-vehicle control system, e.g. triggering ABS or traction control, calculating average trip speed, or more mundanely to increment the odometer
An odometer or odograph is an instrument that indicates distance traveled by a vehicle, such as a bicycle or automobile. The device may be electronic, mechanical, or a combination of the two. The word derives from the Greek words hodós and métron...
in place of it being turned directly by the speedometer cable.
Another early form of electronic speedometer relies upon the interaction between a precision watch mechanism and a mechanical pulsator driven by the car's wheel or transmission. The watch mechanism endeavors to push the speedometer pointer toward zero, while the vehicle-driven pulsator tries to push it toward infinity. The position of the speedometer pointer reflects the relative magnitudes of the outputs of the two mechanisms.
Typical bicycle speedometers measure the time between each wheel revolution, and give a readout on a small, handlebar-mounted digital display. The sensor is mounted on the bike at a fixed location, pulsing when the spoke-mounted magnet passes by. In this way, it is analogous to an electronic car speedometer using pulses from an ABS sensor, but with a much cruder time/distance resolution - typically one pulse/display update per revolution, or as seldom as once every 2-3 seconds at low speed with a 26-inch (2.07m circumference, without tire) wheel. However, this is rarely a critical problem, and the system provides frequent updates at higher road speeds where the information is of more import. The low pulse frequency also has little impact on measurement accuracy, as these digital devices can be programmed by wheel size, or additionally by wheel or tire circumference in order to make distance measurements more accurate and precise than a typical motor vehicle gauge. However these devices carry some minor disadvantage in requiring power from batteries that must be replaced every so often (in the receiver AND sensor, for wireless models), and, in wired models, the signal being carried by a thin cable that is much less robust than that used for brakes, gears, or cabled speedometers.
Other, usually older bicycle speedometers are cable driven from one or other wheel, as in the motorcycle speedometers described above. These do not require battery power, but can be relatively bulky and heavy, and may be less accurate. The turning force at the wheel may be provided either from a gearing system at the hub (making use of the presence of e.g. a hub brake, cylinder gear or dynamo) as per a typical motorcycle, or with a friction wheel device that pushes against the outer edge of the rim (same position as rim brakes, but on the opposite edge of the fork) or the sidewall of the tyre itself. The former type are quite reliable and low maintenance but need a gauge and hub gearing properly matched to the rim and tyre size, whereas the latter require little or no calibration for a moderately accurate readout (with standard tyres, the "distance" covered in each wheel rotation by a friction wheel set against the rim should scale fairly linearly with wheel size, almost as if it was rolling along the ground itself) but are unsuitable for off-road use, and need to be kept properly tensioned and clean of road dirt to avoid slipping or jamming.
Most speedometers have tolerances of some ±10%, mainly due to variations in tire diameter. Sources of error due to tire diameter variations are wear, temperature, pressure, vehicle load, and nominal tire size. Vehicle manufacturers usually calibrate speedometers to read high by an amount equal to the average error, to ensure that their speedometers never indicate a lower speed than the actual speed of the vehicle, to ensure they are not liable for drivers violating speed limits.
Excessive speedometer error after manufacture can come from several causes but most commonly is due to nonstandard tire diameter, in which case the error is
Nearly all tires now have their size shown as "T/A_W" on the side of the tire (See: Tire code
Automobile tires are described by an alphanumeric tire code or tyre code , which is generally molded into the sidewall of the tire. This code specifies the dimensions of the tire, and some of its key limitations, such as load-bearing ability, and maximum speed...
), and the tire's
For example, a standard tire is "185/70R14" with diameter = 185x70/1270 + 14 = 24.20 in. Another is "195/50R15" with 195x50/1270 + 15 = 22.68 in. Replacing the first tire (and wheels) with the second (on 15" wheels), a speedometer reads 100 * (1 - 22.68/24.20) = 6.28% higher than the actual speed. At an actual speed of 60 mph, the speedometer will indicate 60 * 1.0628 = 63.77 mph, approximately.
In the case of wear, a new "185/70R14" tyre of 24.4 inch diameter will have ~8mm tread depth, at legal limit this reduces to 1.6mm, the difference being 12.8mm in diamter or 0.5 inches which is 2% in 24.4 inches.
In many countries the legislated error in speedometer readings is ultimately governed by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe was established in 1947 to encourage economic cooperation among its member states. It is one of five regional commissions under the administrative direction of United Nations headquarters. It has 56 member states, and reports to the UN Economic and...
(UNECE) Regulation 39 which covers those aspects of vehicle type approval which relate to speedometers. The main purpose of the UNECE regulations is to facilitate trade in motor vehicles by agreeing uniform type approval standards rather than requiring a vehicle model to undergo different approval processes in each country in which it is to be sold.
The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 independent member states which are located primarily in Europe. The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community , formed by six countries in 1958...
member states must also grant type approval to vehicles meeting similar EU standards. The ones covering speedometers
are similar to the UNECE regulation in that they specify that:
- The indicated speed must never be less than the actual speed, i.e. it should not be possible to inadvertently speed because of an incorrect speedometer reading.
- The indicated speed must not be more than 110 percent of the true speed plus 4 km/h at specified test speeds. For example, at 80 km/h, the indicated speed must be no more than 92 km/h.
The standards specify both the limits on accuracy and many of the details of how it should be measured during the approvals process, for example that the test measurements should be made (for most vehicles) at 40, 80 and 120 km/h, and at a particular ambient temperature. There are slight differences between the different standards, for example in the minimum accuracy of the equipment measuring the true speed of the vehicle.
The UNECE regulation relaxes the requirements for vehicles mass produced following type approval. At Conformity of Production Audits the upper limit on indicated speed is increased to 110 percent plus 6 km/h for cars, buses, trucks and similar vehicles, and 110 percent plus 8 km/h for two or three wheeled vehicles which have a maximum speed above 50 km/h (or a cylinder capacity, if powered by a heat engine
In thermodynamics, a heat engine is a system that performs the conversion of heat or thermal energy to mechanical work. It does this by bringing a working substance from a high temperature state to a lower temperature state. A heat "source" generates thermal energy that brings the working substance...
, of more than 50 cc). European Union Directive 2000/7/EC, which relates to two and three wheeled vehicles, provides similar slightly relaxed limits in production.
There were no design rules in place for speedometers in Australia prior to July 1988. They had to be introduced when speed cameras were first used. This means there are no legally accurate speedometers for these older vehicles. All vehicles manufactured on or after 1 July 2007, and all models of vehicle introduced on or after 1 July 2006, must conform to UNECE Regulation 39.
The speedometers in vehicles manufactured before these dates but after 1 July 1995 (or 1 January 1995 for forward control passenger vehicles and off-road passenger vehicles) must conform to the previous Australian design rule. This specifies that they need only display the speed to an accuracy of +/- 10% at speeds above 40 km/h, and there is no specified accuracy at all for speeds below 40 km/h.
All vehicles manufactured in Australia or imported for supply to the Australian market must comply with the Australian Design Rules.
The state and territory governments may set policies for the tolerance of speed over the posted speed limits that may be lower than the 10% in the earlier versions of the Australian Design Rules permitted, such as in Victoria. This has caused some controversy since it would be possible for a driver to be unaware that he is speeding should his vehicle be fitted with an under-reading speedometer.
The amended Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 permits the use of speedometers that meet either the requirements of EC Council Directive 75/443 (as amended by Directive 97/39) or UNECE Regulation 39.
The Motor Vehicles (Approval) Regulations 2001 permits single vehicles to be approved. As with the UNECE regulation and the EC Directives, the speedometer must never show an indicated speed less than the actual speed. However it differs slightly from them in specifying that for all actual speeds between 25 mph and 70 mph (or the vehicles' maximum speed if it is lower than this), the indicated speed must not exceed 110% of the actual speed, plus 6.25 mph.
For example, if the vehicle is actually travelling at 50 mph, the speedometer must not show more than 61.25 mph or less than 50 mph.
Federal standards in the United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...
allow a maximum 5 mph error at a speed of 50 mph on speedometer readings for commercial vehicles. Aftermarket modifications, such as different tire and wheel sizes or different differential gearing, can cause speedometer inaccuracy.
GPS devices are positional speedometers, based on how far the receiver has moved since the last measurement. Its speed calculations are not subject to the same sources of error as the vehicle's speedometer (wheel size, transmission/drive ratios). Instead, the GPS's positional accuracy, and therefore the accuracy of its calculated speed, is dependent on the satellite signal quality at the time. Speed calculations will be more accurate at higher speeds, when the ratio of positional error to positional change is lower. The GPS software may also use a moving average calculation to reduce error. Some GPS devices do not take into account the vertical position of the car so will under report the speed by the road's gradient.
As mentioned in the satnav
An automotive navigation system is a satellite navigation system designed for use in automobiles. It typically uses a GPS navigation device to acquire position data to locate the user on a road in the unit's map database. Using the road database, the unit can give directions to other locations...
article, GPS data has been used to overturn a speeding ticket; the GPS logs showed the defendant traveling below the speed limit when they were ticketed. That the data came from a GPS device was likely less important than the fact that it was logged; logs from the vehicle's speedometer could likely have been used instead, had they existed.
some satnav devices may also use data from the car's systems to improve accuracy
- Digital speedometer
- GM Instrument Cluster Settlement
The GM Instrument Cluster Settlement was a 2008 class action settlement awarded to owners of certain General Motors vehicles with allegedly defective speedometers...
A hubometer , or hubodometer or simply hubo, is a device mounted on the axle of an automobile or other vehicle that measures distance traveled....
A tachometer is an instrument measuring the rotation speed of a shaft or disk, as in a motor or other machine. The device usually displays the revolutions per minute on a calibrated analogue dial, but digital displays are increasingly common...
A taximeter is a mechanical or electronic device installed in taxicabs and auto rickshaws that calculates passenger fares based on a combination of distance travelled and waiting time...
- Vehicle instrument