This article was co-authored by wikiHow staff writer, Dan Hickey. Dan Hickey is a Writer and Humorist based in Chicago, Illinois. He has published pieces on a variety of online satire sites and has been a member of the wikiHow team since 2022. A former teaching artist at a community music school, Dan enjoys helping people learn new skills they never thought they could master. He graduated with a BM in Clarinet Performance from DePauw University in 2015 and an MM from DePaul University in 2017.
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You’re driving along and you notice your gas gauge needle moving erratically. It needs a reset, but how do you do it? Resetting the needle is a quick and straightforward process that doesn’t require a mechanic. The exact steps may vary depending on the make and model of your car, but the procedure is typically the same for most vehicles. We’ve put together a thorough guide to resetting the gas gauge needle yourself, plus signs that there may be a problem with your fuel gauge and how to diagnose the issue. Keep scrolling to get back on the road without fear of running out of gas!
Method 1Method 1 of 3:Resetting the Needle with the “Trip/Odo” Button
- 1Put the key into the ignition switch and turn it to the "ON" position. Make sure you’re parked on a flat surface so the fuel in the tank is level.XResearch source
- Have your vehicle’s owner’s manual on hand while you rest the needle. It will provide clear instructions for your make and model if they differ from the usual procedure.
- This reset process works for digital gauges as well as needle gauges.
- 2Push the "Trip/Odo" button to put the Odometer into "ODO" mode. The location of the button depends on your vehicle, but it can usually be found on your dashboard. Consult your owner’s manual if you can’t locate it.XResearch sourceAdvertisement
- 3Turn the car key back to the "OFF" position. Keep it in the ignition—you’ll have to turn the car on and off several more times throughout the reset process.XResearch source
- 4Press and hold the "Trip/Odo" button and turn the car back on. While you’re holding the button, turn the key back to the "ON" position. Hold the button down for another 2 seconds after the car’s back on, then release.XResearch source
- 5Press and release the "Trip/Odo" button 3 times, holding it down the third time. Complete all of your button pushes within 5 seconds. On the last push, hold the button down for 4 to 5 seconds until the Odometer displays the car’s leveling information. Then release the button.XResearch source
- 6Press and hold the "Trip/Odo" button again until the Odometer says "1." This means that the reset process has begun. Keep holding the button down while the fuel gauge resets.XResearch source
- 7Release the "Trip/Odo" button once the reset is complete. You’ll know the process is finished when the Odometer display moves back to normal. After you release the button, your gas gauge is reset! You’re free to turn the car off and remove the key from the ignition.XResearch source
Method 2Method 2 of 3:When to Reset the Gas Gauge Needle
- 1Reset the gas gauge when the needle begins moving erratically. This is one of the first and most obvious signs that there’s a problem (likely with the fuel gauge sender). For example, the needle might indicate you have a half-full tank and then suddenly drop to a quarter-full just a few minutes later.XResearch source
- 2Reset when the needle is stuck on "Empty," regardless of the fuel level. This is a very typical sign that the fuel gauge needs a reboot. This is by design—it’s better to think your tank is empty and preventatively add more gas than vice versa. Sometimes, turning the car off and back on will temporarily fix this.XResearch source
- 3Reset the needle when it’s stuck on "Full." This is a less common sign there’s an issue with the gauge or the sender. Make sure you fill up frequently if this happens since you won’t be able to tell how much fuel you actually have until the gauge is fixed.XResearch source
Method 3Method 3 of 3:Diagnosing and Fixing Fuel Gauge Problems
- 1Replace any blown fuses. Turn the car on and off several times and look for needle movement. If the needle doesn’t move it all, it probably means there’s a blown fuse that needs to be replaced. Check the fuse box—likely located in the engine compartment or the driver’s side dash—for a damaged fuse, probably labeled "instrument panel" or "illumination."XResearch source
- Consult your owner’s manual if you’re not sure where the fuse box is.
- Remove the fuse with pliers and replace it with another one with the same amperage.
- If the gauge continues not to work after a fuse is replaced, it’s a sign there’s an electrical issue.
- 2Clean off corrosion on the sending unit’s ground connector. The sending unit is a small sensor located on the outside of the fuel tank underneath the car (it tells the fuel gauge what to display). Examine the ground connector (the point where the grounding wire connects to the sending unit) for any corrosion from salt, rain, or snow. Remove the wire by twisting off the nut that holds it in place with pliers and then brush the buildup away.XResearch source
- Use a wire brush or sandpaper to remove corrosion. Brush until the connectors are shiny and debris-free.
- Reattach the wire firmly by looping the circular terminal over the connector and tightening a nut on top of it.
- 3Test the fuel gauge sending unit with a multimeter set to ohms. Disconnect the grounding wire (the large wire coming out of the middle of the unit) by removing the nut that holds it in place with pliers. Place one multimeter probe on the sending unit terminal (where the wire connects) and the other probe on the grounding wire. Move the float (a piece of foam on a thin metal rod attached to the sending unit) up and down with your hand and look for change on the multimeter.XResearch source
- Read the multimeter for change while you move the float. If there is no change, the sending unit is broken.
- Make sure to securely reattach the wire to the sending unit once you’re finished.
- If the sending unit is broken, it will have to be replaced by a mechanic.
- 4Test the sending unit's grounding wire with jumper cables. First, disconnect the wire from the sending unit by removing the nut that holds it in place with pliers. Then attach the negative jumper cable to the frame of the car and the positive cable to the sending unit’s grounding terminal (the point where the grounding wire connects to the sending unit).XResearch source
- If the gauge works when the jumper cables are connected, then the sending unit’s wire needs to be replaced.
- Visit a mechanic to officially diagnose and replace the grounding wire.
- 5Replace broken wires on the fuel gauge sending unit. Locate the sending unit on the outside of the fuel tank and inspect the wires around it. If you spot any damaged or broken wires, they will have to be removed and replaced by a mechanic.XResearch source
- When it comes to electrical work and rewiring, it’s always best to have a professional mechanic or technician do the work.
- 6Confirm that the wiring behind the gas gauge is securely connected. To do this, remove the dashboard and examine the backside of the instrument cluster (the group of gauges and displays on the dash). Look for the wires connecting to the back of the gas gauge—if they’re loose, tighten the nut holding them in place with pliers. If they’re damaged or broken, a mechanic will have to replace them.XResearch source
- Consult your owner’s manual for specific dash removal instructions since this process is different vehicle to vehicle.
- Dash removal typically involves disconnecting the battery and all internal dash wiring, then unscrewing the assembly bolts to lift the dash out. Unless you have experience with this process, it’s best to have a mechanic do this.
- If the sending unit, wiring, and fuses are all in good shape but the gauge continues to malfunction, the gauge is the problem and needs to be replaced.
- It might take more than one attempt to successfully reset the fuel gauge needle. If you need to try again, remove the key from the ignition and wait at least 5 seconds.XResearch source
- If you make a mistake or get interrupted during the reset process, start over from the beginning.XResearch source
- The fuel gauge sender isn’t a regularly serviced part. If you suspect a problem, ask a mechanic or technician to take a look and recommend repair or replacement.