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My temp gauge never goes 1/4 above the lower cold line, even when ambient temp here is over 100F. I replaced the thermostat but that made no change. The heater core was bypassed by previous owner. Could the temp sender be bad? I have occasional poor running, like a cylinder is missing. Could this be part of the cause?
 

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Find your temperature gauge sender unit and ground it to see if the unit on the dashboard actually works .
others will now pounce on the issue!
 

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The gauge is not a precision instrument, get an IR gun and measure the actual temperature at the thermostat housing...
 
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My temp gauge has sat on 1/4 for years. The temp gauge basically becomes important when your needle is suddenly sitting at a place where it hasn’t been before. As Fordem says, an IR thermometer, pointed at the thermostat housing, will tell you if your engine is properly warmed up. It should read about 170F at that location.
You may want to start a thread about your ‘poor running’ with details of what the engine does, any tests you have done, etc.
 

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My gauge used to be at the 1/2 way mark. I replaced the waterpump and coolant as part of my valve job/ timing belt replacement and now it only goes to the 1/4 mark, even when ambient temps are high. Been like this for several years now.
 

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99 Tracker, 5 door, 2L, 4x4
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Is the thermostat secure with the correct gasket ?
 

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The temp ‘sensor’ that control the temp gauge on the dash basically runs off resistance, so wiring, corrosion, connection, etc., aside from actual coolant issues, all affects its output. The best way to see if your engine is warmed up is with an IR thermometer. They’re not expensive.
 
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