Installing Gauges: What’s Your Take?

Gauges were a modification I always struggled with. I sort of saw their value, but at the same time, they were mostly just bling-factors in my eyes. I had used my function-over-form logic to prevent myself from splurging, but as my stage 3 tune approached, my mindset started to change.

I was always under the impression that gauges were a status symbol more than anything in the car world. People had gauges for boost levels, air-fuel ratios, oil pressure, oil temp, transmission temp, water temp, battery voltage; half of which are redundant to the factory cluster. If you ever tripped down the YouTube rabbit hole, some setups aren’t far off from the cockpit of a Boeing 757. Naturally, I followed suit (ahh, consumerism).

I ordered a boost gauge from Glowshift, specifically for the array of mesmerizing [distracting] LED color options. My AFR (air-to-fuel ratio) gauge had to be quality, so I skipped over the gimmicks and went for reputation. It was a close call, but ultimately I chose an Innovate MTX-L over their DB series AFR due to its additional “digital-analog” display around the circumference of the gauge. They were going to take about a week to arrive, so I moved onto the next task of finding a mounting location.

I looked all over the internet and of course no one makes a Saab 9-3-specific gauge pod. I could have gone with a universal fit, but quite frankly, I didn’t want to go through the hassle and still end up with a “meh” outcome. My eventual solution of using the driver’s climate vent was far from original, but I hadn’t seen many attempt to shove two gauges in theirs. I got out a hole saw and winged it, and much to my surprise, it came out pretty good.

The next step was to actually install the gauges. I’m not the most skilled or knowledgeable person when it comes to running electron hoses (aka wires), so I visited my friend Josh again for some assistance. He was more than happy to lend a hand.

We started by finding a hole in the firewall that would allow us to run the constant power wires we needed. We used an unbent clothes hanger to find the hole, and consequently, dismantled some of the dash until we could access it. Once we found it, we tied the wires and vacuum line to the opposite end and pulled everything through the firewall and into the cabin. We repeated the process for the switched power source, but this time we went from behind the 12V outlet to the vent.

Once all of the wires were in place I let Josh take over. He started whipping everything together using his know-how, and before I knew it, the job was done. We turned the car on and both gauges worked as expected. The only thing left to do was hook the gauges up to the components they were going to monitor. We T-ed into the factory vacuum line right near the manifold to measure boost, and we followed AEM’s instruction to calibrate the oxygen sensor, which had to be calibrated in fresh air before we screwed it into the down-pipe.

The last big decision. Did I want to match the color of my car? Or did I want to match the factor gauge cluster?

Frankie shared my views on gauge pods, but that didn’t stop him from running a triple gauge-pod setup in his supercharged Cobalt SS. Since he ran a smaller pulley and E85 fuel, he wanted to keep an eye on IAT2 temperatures (the air temperature after the blower) and AFRs, which he did with Aeroforce scan gauges and an Innovate AFR gauge similar to the one I used. He eventually tried to get a custom gauge pod made that would relocate the gauges, putting them under the head unit, but the vendor botched the job and he was unable to complete it before the end of the Cobalt’s life.

When it came time to tune his 2008 Saab 9-3 Aero 2.8T, Frankie opted to have a mechanical boost gauge installed. Since the T8 management system is a torque-based system, the car never read the true boost-pressure, so his tuner didn’t have a way of knowing if the commanded pressure was being met or exceeded.

Fortunately our buddy Joel had a Sunpro gauge laying around, as well as a T-fitting and some plumbing, and he had already done this install before, so Frankie was able to spend minimal cash and get help from someone with first-hand experience.

What’s your take on installing gauges? Are they only necessary for vehicles that see track time, are they a useful tool for those who want to keep their cars running smoothly, are they “ricey”? Tell us what you think by voting on the poll below or dropping a comment in the designated section near the bottom of the page.

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