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So, what is a clinometer? Its a combination tilt, slope and altimeter
gauge pod that came factory installed on certain Toyota 4WD trucks, its
mostly found in the '84-'88/9 SR5 pickups and 4Runners. A similar meter
is found on the 4WD Tercel wagons, although it lacks the altimeter
Its normally installed on the dash, in a slight recess and is held in
place with a bracket and two screws. Its entirely mechanical in nature,
the only electrical connection is for a back light. I find its a fairly
The altimeter is handy when in the mountains to see how high up you are
heading towards a pass and is a sort of poor man's GPS when coupled
with a topo map. I find mine is fairly accurate in two different
ranges. From sea level up to around 4000' and then reset at 4000', its
good up to the maximum reading of around 12000'. I try to set it on the
road when passing elevation signs, California is pretty good putting
signs at every 1000' increment on mountain roads. Setting the altimeter
is easy to do, just turn the far left knob until the pointer on the
gauge points to the elevation you are currently at. If you don't know
your elevation, here is a handy page that you can look up the
elevation given your zip code. Or many smart phones have built
in GPS functions and you should be able to find your elevation there
(or with a real GPS).
The altimeter works off barometric pressure, so it will vary with the
weather conditions. In fact, Toyota has set the altimeter up to read
barometric pressure as well, at least near sea level. The 0' mark on
the altimeter dial points to the barometric pressure which is shown in
mBars in orange lettering around the elevation readings. In the above
photo, you can see the 0' mark is pointing just past the 1013 (mBar)
mark on the outside, this corresponds to about 29.92"/Hg pressure
reading on a barometer. The 1013 mBar pressure is the standard
atmospheric pressure at sea level. Pressures below 1013 (low pressure),
especially when falling, indicate the potential for worsening weather
and pressures above 1013 (high pressure), especially when rising can
indicate improving or good weather. Note that going up in elevation
causes the barometric pressure to fall, approxmately 4% per 1000 feet
elevation gain, so you would need to compensate for that to get a
relative barometric pressure reading. It is not like you are going to
be doing 7 day weather forecasts with the crude barometer dial, but if
you notice that you have gained 500' of elevation overnight, this is
probably due to falling pressure ahead of an impending storm, so watch
out! And, you could use a known barometric pressure to set the
altimeter, by turning the "0" on the dial to the known
pressure. This will probably be the least accurate way to set the meter
as the pressure scale is pretty coarse (marks every 50 mBars).
This meter shows the sideways tilt or g-force on the vehicle in
degrees. A 30 degree side slope is equal to a 0.50g side or cornering
force or a 50% grade. I find this meter is quite handy to help me
"calibrate" my internal tilt gauge when wheeling. I notice if
I haven't been wheeling for a while, I tend to lose my sense of side
slope judgement and even a 10-15 degree tilt feels tippy. I can look at
the meter and get a hard number and after a few side hills, I get the
internal gauge working again. Its also handy in terrain where the
horizon is not horizontal or when wheeling at night and you can't get a
good visual reference.
This is probably the least useful of the 3 gauges. If just shows the
slope of the hill you are climbing or descending. With the stock range
of readings, the meter will peg out way before the vehicle's climbing
capabilities are met. It works just like the tilt meter and can be used
as a poor man's "g" or acceleration meter. Similar to the
tilt meter, a 30° slope reading under acceleration would equate to
a 0.5g acceleration. With the massive power and torque of the 22RE
engine, you'll be hard pressed to peg the slope meter :)
See the following section for information on how to increase the range
on the tilt and slope meters.
[back to the top]
One of the "cool" things I like about the 1st generation SR-5
4Runners is the dash-mounted clinometer. Its somewhat of a gadget, but
I find it to be somewhat useful on and off road. The altimeter is nice
to have and can also serve as a barometer. The gauges are lighted and
easy to see. One thing I did not like about mine, were that they seemed
to stop just a bit past 30° tilt or grade. When I first took the
truck off-road, I found 30° was more than enough lean to get the
old heart going, and heeding Toyota's warning:
"Warning - Accurate only when completely stopped. Do not exceed 30
But, I soon discovered my truck did not tip over past 30°, and I
wished the gauge would go farther to help indicate the degree of slope
I was on. I find that when I first start getting tippy, I can look at
the gauge and see that it is only at say 20°, then I can relax
knowing its nowhere near rolling. I've had numerous occasions where
extended lengths of trail were done with the tilt needle pegged at
~35°, with no idea how far over I really was.
Anyway, one afternoon, I decided to open up the clinometer and see how
it worked. Quite a mechanical marvel. In the image to the lower left,
the dial to the left is the up/down meter, the one to the right is the
left-right meter, viewed from the back side. In the center is the tilt
sensing gear. It uses a heavy brass weight attached to the bottom of
the big center gear. That big gear drives the smaller gear to the right
that turns the dial on the gauge. You'll note there is about a 4:3
ratio in terms of the gear diameters. So when the big gear turns
30°, the smaller gear moves the display about 40° (i.e. 30 x
4 / 3 = 40). This is what makes the 30° mark on the gauge look
like it is closer to 40° physical angle. Likewise the slope
indicator also has this increased sensitivty, just harder to see as the
gear train is front-back instead of side by side.
On the up-down gear, there is a plastic tab that stops the gear at the
+/-30° point, its easily removed. On the left-right gear, there
are stops cast into the clear plastic housing the are easily removed
with a small carbide bit in a Dremel tool. To the left, its hard to go
much past the stop, as part of the housing is in the way. To the right,
you can open it up farther, but internally, the brass weight on the
gear will hit the "lock" mechanism and stop.
Anyway, I made those modifications, put it back together and gave it a
test. In the above right picture, you can see the results, at least
45° of meter travel, can't wait to go out and try it out off-road!
[back to the top]
I don't typically watch the clinometer dials as I drive off-road. Once
you get upwards of 30°, you are so focused on the terrain ahead,
that the meter reading is not important. But what I do find handy is
that especially when I have not been out wheeling for a time, I do take
a look at the tilt meter when I first start to go off-camber. When you
are not used to that feeling or in unfamiliar terrain, a
10°-20° tilt can feel like you are getting ready to roll. But
you can glance at the gauge and see that what the angle really is, then
knowing you are not tipped over that far, you can relax and sort of
"re-calibrate" your inner tilt meter. Also handy at times
when you are on a side slope that is increasing in tilt and you can see
when you are getting up to "interesting" angles, so you can
decide if you want to preceed or not.
Nada, zip, zilch!
Don't have one in your truck and want to have one. Two options are to
get one from a 4WD pickup or 4Runner (usually an SR5 option) and you'll
have altimeter and the tilt/slope meters. Other option is from a Tercel
4WD wagon, you'll get til/slope meter and the 4WD indicator in the 3rd
dial area (see below). Since you already have the 4WD light in the
dash, its not quite as nice. Clinometers show up on eBay from time to
time, or check the junkyards.
So you found a clinometer and want to install it.
Mechanical install is pretty easy on the early trucks, you should have
slight depression in the dash for it. Not sure what all needs to be
done to install one mechanically, but you end up with a bracket on the
dash and then two screws hold the gauges to the bracket.
What about wiring?
The entire clinometer is purely mechanical, the only need for power is
for back lighting (and the 4WD light for a Tercel clinometer).
1. Wire the back light to a switched power (ACC) and ground connection
and use the built-in switch to turn it on and off.
2. Use a light source for power then ground the other wire, such as
something that turns on with the parking or headlights.
The back light will turn on and off w/ the dash lights but won't dim,
as the dimming resistor is in the ground leg of all the dash lights.
3. Wire the light in parallel with some dimming dash light, such as the
back light for the cigarette lighter. This way the back light turns on
and off with the rest of the lights and dims along with them, too.
This option above is the most correct and should work the best since
that is how all the dimming dash light work, they are floating int hat
they are not directly tied to power OR ground. All the
"ground" side connections are tied to the rheostat that
serves to limit the current in the lights to make them dim.
So what wires hook to what?
The 4Runner-style clinometer (altimeter, tilt and slope meters) has 2
Black and Black w/ White stripe for the back light
The Tercel-style clinometer (4WD, tilt and slope meters) has 4 wires,
wire colors may vary:
Green w/ Red stripe (or Red) wire is the hot side of the back light
Green w/ Yellow stripe (or Black) wire is the ground side of the back
Red (or White w/ Red stripe) wire is the hot side of the 4WD light
Yellow (or White w/ Black stripe) wire is the ground side of the 4WD
[back to the top]
Cost: $50-$100 on eBay or a junkyard (ca. 2000 prices, likely 5-10 times that
nowadays)) - search for toyota clinometer on eBay or Amazon
There are also aftermarket clinometer options available, some with just
tilt and grade, like
this one, others with a third display, like
this one with a compass.
[Last updated: 21.January.2022]