thumb|300px|_An_animation_of_an_Aston Martin speedometer, showing how an eddy-current speedometer indicates the vehicle's speed.]

A speedometer is a device that measures the instantaneous speed of a land vehicle.

Now universally fitted to motor vehicles, they started to be available as options in the 1900s, and as standard equipment from about 1910 onwards.cite web | url= http://auto.howstuffworks.com/speedometer.htm | title = How Speedometers Work | author = William Harris | work = How stuff works | accessdate=2008-01-13]

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 speedometer was invented by the Croatian Josip Belušić in 1888, and was originally called a velocimeter.


Eddy current

The eddy-current 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, [cite web | url = http://w1.siemens.com/press/en/pp_cc/2005/04_apr/sosep200501_10_(special200504)_1264810.htm | title =Speedometer | work = Siemens AG Coorporate website | accessdate=2008-01-13] it uses a rotating flexible cable usually driven by gearing linked to the tail shaft (output) of the vehicle's transmission. The early Volkswagen Beetle and many motorcycles, however, use a cable driven from a front wheel.

A small permanent magnet affixed to the rotating cable interacts with a small aluminum cup (called a "speedcup") attached to the shaft of the pointer on the analogue 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 'drags' the cup -- and thus the speedometer pointer -- in the direction of its rotation with no mechanical connection between them.cite web | url= http://auto.howstuffworks.com/speedometer.htm | title = How Speedometers Work | author = William Harris | work = How stuff works | accessdate=2008-01-13]

The pointer shaft is held toward zero by a fine spring. The torque on the cup increases with the speed of rotation of the magnet (which, recall, 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. When the torque due to the eddy currents in the cup equals that provided by the spring on the pointer shaft, the pointer will remain motionless and pointing to the appropriate number on the speedometer's dial.

The return spring is calibrated 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, and the diameter of the driven tires. The speedometer mechanism often also drives an odometer plus a small switch that sends pulses to the vehicle's engine computer.


Many modern speedometers are electronic. A rotation sensor, usually mounted on the rear of the transmission, delivers a series of electronic pulses whose frequency corresponds to the rotational speed of the driveshaft. The sensor is typically a toothed metal disk positioned between a coil and a magnetic field sensor. As the disk turns, the teeth pass between the two, each time producing a pulse in the sensor as they affect the strength of the magnetic field it is measuring.cite web | url= http://auto.howstuffworks.com/speedometer.htm | title = How Speedometers Work | author = William Harris | work = How stuff works | accessdate=2008-01-13]

A computer converts the pulses to a speed and displays this speed on an electronically-controlled, analog-style needle or a digital display, the latter of which is more common nowadays. Pulse counts may also be used to increment the odometer.

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.


Speedometers are not totally accurate, and most speedometers have tolerances of some 10% plus or minus due to wear on tires as it occurs. Modern speedometers are said to be accurate within 10% but as this is legislated accuracy, this may not be entirely correct. This can make it difficult to accurately stay on the speed limits imposed; most countries allow for this known variance when using RADAR to measure speed, although levels of some 3 km/h or 3% are also used in areas of tough enforcement. This causes many arguments due to motorists complaining that they were not doing the speed as reported. Revenue [cite web | url=http://www.fightfines.info |title = Fight Unjust Victorian Speeding Fines | work= fightfines.info. |accessdate=2007-12-28] is being increasingly blamed for these stricter measures. There are strict United Nations standards in place but it seems not being enforced leaving this matter in limbo for many countries. Excessive speedometer error after manufacture can come from several causes but most commonly is due to nonstandard tire diameter, in which case the

:percent error = 100x("standard diameter"/"new diameter" - 1).

Nearly all tires now have their size shown as "T/A_W" on the side of the tire (See: Tire code), and the tire's

:diameter in inches = TxA/1270 + W.

For example, a standard tire is "185/70R14" with diameter = 185x70/1270 + 14 = 24.196850 in. Another is "195/50R15" with 195x50/1270 + 15 = 22.677165 in. Replacing the first tire (and wheels) with the second (on 15" wheels), a speedometer reads 24.19../22.67..=1.0670139 times the correct speed or 6.7% too high.

International agreements

In many countries the legislated error in speedometer readings is ultimately governed by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Regulation 39 [cite web | url = http://www.unece.org/trans/main/wp29/wp29regs21-40.html | title = UNECE Transport Division - Vehicle Regulations - Addenda to 1958 agreement - Regulations 21-40 | work = UN Economic Commission for Europe | accessdate=2007-01-07] 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.

European Union member states must also grant type approval to vehicles meeting similar EU standards. The ones covering speedometers [cite web | url=http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/automotive/directives/vehicles/dir75_443_cee.html | title = Directive 75/443/EEC - Reverse and speedometer of motor vehicles | work = European Commission | accessdate=2007-01-07] [cite web | url=http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:31997L0039:EN:NOT | title = Commission Directive 97/39/EC of 24 June 1997 adapting to technical progress Council Directive 75/443/EEC of 26 June 1975 relating to the reverse and speedometer equipment of motor vehicles | work = European Commission | accessdate=2007-01-07] [cite web | url=http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:32000L0007:EN:NOT | title = Directive 2000/7/EC - speedometers for two- or three-wheel motor vehicles | work = European Commission | accessdate=2007-01-07] 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. 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, 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.


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. [cite web | title = Australian Design Rule 18/03 - Instrumentation | work= Road Vehicle Certification System | url = http://rvcs-prodweb.dot.gov.au/files/ADR%201803.pdf | accessdate=2008-01-07 ]

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. There is also the added problem of cars not complying with the United Nations standards, being imported and allowed to be registered, making the situation even more complicated. This needs further investigation.

[cite web | url = http://www.comlaw.gov.au/ComLaw/Legislation/LegislativeInstrument1.nsf/0/A678C717ABCB8D02CA2571CC0014D003?OpenDocument | title = Australian Design Rule 18/02 - Instrumentation | work = Commonwealth of Australia Law | accessdate=2008-01-14] State assemblies may also set their own requirements but (as of 2004) none specified tighter limits on the accuracy. [ cite web | url = http://www.aussiemotorists.com/misc/msa-speedo.html | title = Vehicle Speed Measurement II | work = National Motorists Association Australia | year = 2004 | author = Leslie Felix | accessdate = 2008-01-14] 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. [ cite web | url = http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/rsc/DEMERIT/demerit3.htm#6
work = Victoria Road Safety Committee, Inquiry Into the Demerit Points Scheme
date = November 1994 | title = 3.6 Accuracy of speedometers | accessdate = 2008-01-14

United Kingdom

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. [cite web
url = http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200001/ldhansrd/vo010312/text/10312w01.htm | title = Speedometer Accuracy | work = Written Answers, Hansard (UK Parliament proceedings) Monday, 12th March 2001 | accessdate = 2008-01-07

The Motor Vehicles (Approval) Regulations 2001 [cite web | url = http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2001/20010025.htm#sch3 | title = The Motor Vehicles (Approval) Regulations 2001 : Schedule 3 | work = Office of Public Sector Information | accessdate=2007-12-19] 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 that 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.There is also the added problem of cars not complying with the United Nations standards, being imported and allowed to be registered, making the situation even more complicated. This needs further investigation.

United States

As of 1997, Federal standards in the United States allowed a maximum 5% error on speedometer readings (per "Auto Tutor", American Automobile Association of California magazine, Oct. 17, 1997). Aftermarket modifications, such as different tire and wheel sizes or different differential gearing, can cause speedometer inaccuracy.


GPS devices are capable of showing speed readings based on change in position between measurements (usually taken at one-second intervals). As the GPS is an independent* system, its speed calculations are not subject to the same sources of error as the vehicle's speedometer. 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.

As mentioned in the satnav 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

ee also

*Airspeed indicator
*Pit log
*Vehicle instrument
*Digital speedometer


External links

* [http://www.autoblog.com/2005/03/28/gauging-changes/ Autoblog: Gauging changes]
* [http://www.kouki.co.uk/utilities/visual-tyre-size-calculator Visual Tyre Size Calculator with speedometer error]
* [http://www.rickimauto.de Repair of speedo failure]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • speedometer — (n.) 1904, from SPEED (Cf. speed) + METER (Cf. meter). A Germanic Greek hybrid and thus execrated by purists. [T]he ancient Greeks & Romans knew what speed was, & yet no one supposes they called it speed, whence it follows that speedo &… …   Etymology dictionary

  • speedometer — ► NOUN ▪ an instrument on a vehicle s dashboard indicating its speed …   English terms dictionary

  • speedometer — [spi däm′ət ər] n. [< SPEED + METER] a device, often combined with an odometer, attached to a motor vehicle, etc. to indicate speed, as in miles per hour: it is usually connected to the transmission by a flexible drive shaft …   English World dictionary

  • speedometer — /spee dom i teuhr, spi /, n. an instrument on an automobile or other vehicle for indicating the rate of travel in miles or kilometers per hour. [1900 05; SPEED + O + METER] * * * ▪ vehicle instrument  instrument that indicates the speed of a… …   Universalium

  • speedometer — UK [spɪˈdɒmɪtə(r)] / US [spɪˈdɑmɪtər] noun [countable] Word forms speedometer : singular speedometer plural speedometers the piece of equipment in a vehicle that shows how fast it is going …   English dictionary

  • speedometer — Instrument usually found on the dashboard which is used to determine forward speed of a vehicle in kilometers per hour or miles per hour. See analog speedometer digital speedometer HUD …   Dictionary of automotive terms

  • speedometer — [[t]spiːdɒ̱mɪtə(r)[/t]] speedometers N COUNT A speedometer is the instrument in a vehicle which shows how fast the vehicle is moving …   English dictionary

  • speedometer — spee|do|me|ter sb., speedomet(e)ret, speedometre, speedometrene, i sms. speedometer , fx speedometergaranti, speedometernål …   Dansk ordbog

  • speedometer — greitmatis statusas T sritis Standartizacija ir metrologija apibrėžtis Judančio kūno greičio matuoklis. atitikmenys: angl. speed counter; speed gage; speed gauge; speed indicator; speedometer vok. Geschwindigkeitsmesser, m rus. велосиметр, m;… …   Penkiakalbis aiškinamasis metrologijos terminų žodynas

  • speedometer — greitmatis statusas T sritis fizika atitikmenys: angl. speed counter; speed gage; speed gauge; speedometer vok. Geschwindigkeitsmesser, m rus. велосиметр, m; скоростемер, m; спидометр, m pranc. indicateur de vitesse, m; vélocimètre, m ryšiai: dar …   Fizikos terminų žodynas

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