LED Air Vent Gauges Are A Tasteful Mod For The Mazda Miata

Anyone in the JDM scene can tell you, round air vents are prime real estate for round analog gauges. If you want a gauge but don’t want to block your vent, you could consider building these LED vent gauges from [ktanner] instead.

Tasteful, no?

The design is simple. It relies on 3D printing a replacement bezel for the Mazda Miata’s stock round air vents. This bezel is designed to hold a NeoPixel ring from Adafruit. When built with the optional laser-cut diffuser, the parts have a near-stock look when the LEDs are turned off. It’s a classy, stealthy mod – exactly the sort of thing Miata owners need but never seem to have! (Author Note: don’t be mad, I was once one of you!)

With 24 addressable RGB LEDs, it’s possible to display all kinds of data by turning the LEDs on and off and varying the colors. For example, you could readily build a boost gauge that turns on more LEDs at higher boost pressure. It could then be set up to flash red in the event that you surpass safe thresholds. [ktanner] hasn’t specified any particular microcontroller for the setup — but just about any part you like can be used to drive NeoPixels, after all.

If you’re new to NeoPixels, you might find a simulator useful for developing your projects. Meanwhile, if you’re doing similar work on other cars, be sure to hit us up on the tipsline!

23 thoughts on “LED Air Vent Gauges Are A Tasteful Mod For The Mazda Miata

    1. Compared to jamming a generic gauge in the middle of the vent? Definitely. They can stay quiescent and invisible unless you need the information. You can make them as bright or as dim as you want. Tastefulness is up to the programmer. They’re all lit up with a gradient in the headline pic to show the coverage and their ability to display RGB instead of being fixed colors.
      In my car, I had them hooked up to a switch panel that allowed me to change modes – including “all dark”.

    2. I’m not sure why the negativity. When the lights are off, it’s hard to tell the mod was made. By having full control over them, the RGB LEDs can be configured to convey many different kinds of information that would normally require multiple add-on gauges, but the effect can be even better since the brightness and other behavior can also be controlled.

      My best guess is that those folks that tend not to modify their own cars and/or don’t enjoy driving just can’t see the possibilities here.

      I agree with the article that this is a tasteful (and stealthy) mod and look forward to seeing how [ktanner] will utilize it.

  1. Ha, I didn’t expect my little Christmas break project to show up here.
    At the moment, the demo set is being run with an Adafruit Feather that wears a custom hat to bring in info from the stock gauge cluster – RPM, temp, oil pressure, etc. But really, it’s just blinkenlights, they do what you tell them to do. I’ve been tempted to add a mic so they can pulse in time with music for giggles.

    1. Note: the project was a result of the exercise “how can we display information in the vents without blocking them”. This is the third version, the first two used a 60 LED ring from Sparkfun. More granular display options, but it’s a slightly smaller diameter so it didn’t sit over the vent quite as nicely.

      1. Not at the moment, but it’s an upcoming product I’m working on. Basically just a signal conditioning unit that uses the Feather form factor to allow it to read signals off the back of the cluster. Nothing exotic really, just not something that’s available in the wild.

  2. The only common ‘tasteful mod’ for a Miata is a 5.0 V8. I wouldn’t criticize a mouse/rat/LS/Merlin/Allison either.

    This is pure ricer. Don’t forget to repurpose a cafeteria tray as a spoiler.

    1. An old 5.0? You’re at least 15 years out of date there. They make a pretty noise but they’re slow, heavy and don’t package well compared to a more modern mill.

      I use a similar augmented LED display behind the speedo/tach faces on my LS376/525 powered ex-rally track Miata with a repurposed Car of Tomorrow wing. They allow me to convey more information, quickly, in a high-stress environment than I can with the stock instrumentation.

      It’s not rice if you use it for something functional, but it is the sign of a closed mind to not think about the possibilities of alternate ways of communicating information. Given these LED rings, what could you do to augment the car? Figuring that out is a big part of the fun. Dismissing them out of hand because you can’t be bothered to exercise your grey matter a bit is not interesting to anyone.

      1. I suggest putting a 24 liter compound supercharged V12 into a Miata and you jump on the 5.0 pushrod cast iron engine?

        I doubt you can make enough traction to hold the LS. Even with an supper stubby rear-end, a giant tub job and slicks.
        Cheap has a virtue all it’s own. Old ford 5.0 parts are cheap and still available. If you only need 500 HP they’re good, if a bit heavy.

        Racers don’t generally have time to look at extra gauges, anything but tach and oil pressure are penalty weight. Lose the speedo, don’t add blinky lights. Engage your grey matter.

        1. The old pushrod was your first choice. The rest was clearly a partial attempt at humor.

          You may doubt the ability of the car to work, I know it can. Because the difference is that I’ve done it.

          Racers need the right information at the right time. Tach is useful, shift light is an upgrade. A color coded bar display that increases in intensity, even better – you’ll notice the same on F1 steering wheels. Oil pressure is good, having a warning light is better. Having the instruments alert you if something important is out of range or going out of range is very useful. I’ve got it set up to give me a precise water temp indication that I can read with both position and color so I can manage the car if necessary, and if it’s all good the indicators disappear so they’re not distracting. The whole cluster freaks out on out of range oil pressure because that’s something you need to know about ASAP and not just the next time you scan the gauges. Speedo – well, rally cars have to be operated on public roads for transit stages.

          This project is an extension of that cluster project. It starts with a challenge – add the ability to display information without losing the vent, which is the usual result with an auxiliary gauge mounted in that location. Then, come up with a way to use that ability properly. Like you said, engage your grey matter. It’s a much more interesting way to spend the holidays than watching TV.

  3. I think if printed with resin it would be very tasteful, I do not have NA anymore, but NC suffers from the same BS oil gauge, so I thought I would place rear oil gauge in front of fake one and use some of that round displays for it, but now I’m thinking I can just use that silver ring that is around the vent! Great idea

  4. Very neat modif…, err, enhancement. I don’t care much for the monochromatic Darth Vader enthusiasts out there, and in here commenting, I believe the more info you can convey to the driver, using as many biological paths as possible, is a good thing. Next, seat vibrations? That would get the “good taste” purists go nuts…. Yet would be quite discrete.

    As for the neopixels, that’s it, I am adding this kind of universal gauges to my Ford Ranger. Radioactivity at ground level, optimal wifi and gps fields, will be brought to my attention without boxes sticking out of the ceiling.

    Great project, thanks for bringing it out!

  5. “Tasteful, no?”


    Could be the way it’s shown here but at least in the picture, but it doesn’t look nice imho. I get that you don’t want to block the air vents, but there are other options.

    You could have made a mount for an actual guage that uses the hole of the vent for mounting it to the dash, sort of like a figure 8, then have the guage mounted right above it so it doesn’t block the vent but you do have an actual guage.
    You could have used a darkened acryl ring for over the LED’s so they don’t look so tacky. Make it blend in, instead of sticking out.
    You could have used something with more LED’s so they don’t stand out. Something with 100+ LED’s so it’s a full ring.
    Using something else than that painful purple/pink/something color would also help (my head hurts looking at it). At least using white, red and green would be a lot better.

    But at least you got this working, which is nice.

    1. Not sure if you’ve seen what most gauges look like out of their mounts, but they’re…industrial. A couple of inches deep, often a different color on and with a bunch of inputs and threaded mounts and wiring coming off the back. Hanging one of those in midair is not a slick look. Then there are mechanical problems of a cantilevered mass like that hanging in space and wanting to vibrate.

      If you look at both pictures and read the article, you’ll see that there is indeed an LED-transparent acrylic ring over the LEDs. That helps them blend in when the LEDs are off. More LEDs would be nice, but since this was using an off-the-shelf commercially available ring as a proof of concept instead of a custom PCB there were some limitations. I built another set (not shown here) that had a 60 LED ring but the overall diameter was smaller and it was more obviously modified when turned off because the dimensions ended up chunkier. So the 24 LED ring got the nod.

      The LEDs themselves are RGBW so they can be white, red, green, blue, teal, light yellow, painful purple/pink/something, whatever you choose, in whatever intensity you choose. It all depends on how you tell them to illuminate. In the headline shot, I set them up with a blue-to-red fade to try to show they weren’t just monochromatic. If you’re looking for the lights to warn you of something, having them invisible when off but standing out when turned on is exactly correct.

      But at least you saw a picture and reacted to a word in the headline, which is nice.

  6. Recently saw a aging Prius with about 20 linear feet of NeoPixels sloppily SuperGlued along the interior dashboard, door jams, console, etc. Would love to have seen it lit up, but (mercifully) this vehicle was at the local Pull-N-Save salvage lot. Airbags deployed. Something about karma I suspect.

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