Why the Speedometer Goes Up to 100 mph When the Vehicle Won’t

The dashboard of my 2001 Jeep Wrangler Sport

The dashboard of my 2001 Jeep Wrangler Sport

While driving to work this morning I realized for the first time that the speedometer in my 2001 Jeep Wrangler goes up to 100 miles per hour.   This is not to say the Wrangler will actually move that quickly; It’s simply recognition that the markings on the dash top out at 100.  I’ve never tried to push the Jeep to go that fast fearing, legitimately, that it might shake itself to pieces before getting anywhere near triple digits.  So, either Jeep wants me to think the Wrangler can go that fast or something else is going on here.

Apparently, it’s something else.  Yahoo Autos recently picked up an Associated Press story tackling just this subject in an article called “Speedometer top speed often exceeds reality”.  The premise is that in a country built on the idea that bigger and faster are better, American drivers like the illusion.  As an example Yahoo cites the Toyota Yaris in which the speedometer climbs to 140 mph but whose engine isn’t capable of cranking out anything over than 109.

Yahoo also says there’s some cost-saving going on in that many automakers will use the same speedometer in a variety of vehicles with different engine capabilities or that are headed for different markets.  The same car driven in the U.S. where speed limits top out at 85 mph (on one stretch in Texas between Austin and San Antonio, in case you were wondering) would have to register higher speeds if driven on Germany’s Autobahn.

Over the years there’s been a lot of debate about whether speedometers with higher numbers encourage drivers to exceed posted speed limits, thereby putting more motorists in danger.  Even though I will admit to occasionally feeling “a need for speed”, the Jeep would self-destruct long before that need was met.   Because I’m aware of that weakness I purposely chose a vehicle not known for being lightning-quick… no matter what the speedometer might have had me believe.


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