The lights on your dashboard tell you a number of things from when your brights are on to if you are having transmission problems or you need to take your vehicle in for maintenance. These lights are lumped in with your fuel gauge and the speedometer and automotive professionals call them instrument clusters. In most cases it isn’t a matter of replacing one or two of these lights, the cluster will come with all of the warning and monitoring lights and the individual bulbs don’t typically get replaced in newer vehicles.
Instrument clusters can be really tricky to replace because with most vehicles, the entire dashboard must be taken apart and in some cases the steering column must also be removed. On average a mechanic will charge you $951 to replace the dashboard lights in your vehicle.
The Instrument Cluster Is Your Dashboard Lights
An instrument cluster is the term used to describe the devices on your vehicle that display data on operations, safety, maintenance, fuel levels etc. Included under this umbrella are the digital or analog meters (depending on your vehicle) such as the odometer, hazard lights, tachometer, fuel gauge, speedometer, warning lights, check engine lights, turn signals and much more
Instrument cluster is the term used to refer to the array of analog or digital devices used to display vehicle operation data. The speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge, warning lights, check engine (and other) fault lights, and other indicators are included in the instrument cluster.
How does a Instrument Cluster work?
On new vehicles the data transfer from the sensors to the gauges is all done electronically. In older vehicles, the speedometer would be connected directly to the transmission and the fuel gauge to the fuel tank. Now most cars this information is connected electronically and processed by the computer system. Though some of these gauges may appear to be analog, they are all electronic and fed data through the computer chip in the car.
The Symptoms Of A Bad Instrument Cluster Include
Lights that dim or flicker when you drive or for no reason at all. Of course the entire instrument panel not lighting up or a single light in the set not working. Sometimes these issues may be related to a bad fuse so checking your fuses first is generally a good idea.
Driving With A Bad Instrument Cluster Is A Bad Idea
If you don’t know how fast you are going or how much fuel is in your vehicle, a bad train of events is likely to follow you from speeding tickets to running out of gas. You want to be safe and confident when you get behind the wheel of a car, and you also want to have all the information you need to ensure the vehicle is in working order and even that you are in the proper gear and your car isn’t overheating. Under no circumstances should a vehicle be driven with a bad panel of lights in the dash. If your instrument panel is acting up, it is time to get the vehicle to a mechanic to save yourself future headaches.
Diagnosing A Vehicle’s Instrument Panel
It is quite simple for you or for a mechanic to check the integrity of the instrument panel, you will want to start with having an idea of what a fully functioning panely on your car looks like when all the lights are working. Pull up a photo of this specific to the make, model and year of your vehicle and have it handy. You can also check your owner’s manual for information on what dashboard lights your vehicle.
Next you’ll simply put the key in the ignition and turn it one click, in most vehicles with push to start you can accomplish this same process by pressing the button once quickly (not holding it) without your foot on the brake, but all vehicles are different. What will happen with both of these processes is the car will not start but the electrical workings of the car will. The air conditioning fan will engage, your radio may come on and the dashboard lights will illuminate.
Once these lights come on, check them with the photo you found on google and check for any dark spots in your dash. In some cases just one signal could be blown or in other cases the entire panel may be compromised. A professional will also be able to verify the voltage being supplied to the instrument panel and compare it to the values displayed on a wiring diagram. This form of testing will show if the issue is with the panel itself or with other electrical workings such as wiring or fuses or even the unit that delivers the signals to the cluster.
A mechanic can do a more thorough job of diagnosing your dashboard lights because they will test the sending unit and can produce a measurable effect in the cluster. A blown fuse is traditionally a symptom of a bigger electrical problem and not the cause of a set of bad dashboard lights.
Instrument Clusters Don’t Usually Require Replacement
The dashboard lights in your vehicle are designed to last the life of the car. 98% of vehicles never need their instrument clusters replaced as it is designed to be a lifetime part. Typically when issues due occur it is thanks to water damage in the electrical system or some form of accident that has jolted the vehicle.
How Instrument Clusters Are Replaced
There isn’t a one size fits all answer for this query. Each car is going to have its own process for gaining access to the components within the dashboard and some will have an easier process than others. Because these lights are designed to last, it isn’t something the manufacturer considers heavily when planning the convenience of removing the dashboard. Another reason the dashboard is tough to get to is to prevent people from tampering with the odometer which is illegal.
It is important to obtain vehicle specific information for making this repair or removal and replacement. A technician will start by cutting the electrical power to the vehicle by disconnecting the battery. This makes it safe to begin working on the electrical components of the car. Then the proper procedure for your vehicle will be followed by the technician to remove and trim any panel or accessories blocking access to the instrument panel.
Once the technician has loosened the panel from the dashboard and the wiring has been disconnected appropriately the cluster is removed. The odometer chip will be removed from the old cluster and inserted into the new one to transfer the mileage reading of the vehicle. The new cluster is then connected to the wiring, installed and all parts will then be put back together in the dashboard.
Why You Shouldn’t Replace The Instrument Cluster Yourself
The reason this task should be left to an experienced professional is because each car varies widely on the process of removal. An inexperienced person may crack your dashboard or even damage the wiring. The testing of each vehicle will also change from make to model to year. Finally the odometer reading must be certified after the replacement is complete and this is a matter of legal ramifications if the process is done improperly.
Finally, we must mention cost. The cluster is expensive and great care should be taken when handling and installing this new part. Moreover if the issue isn’t with the panel itself and was instead an electrical issue, then that time and effort will have been wasted.
What To Be Cautious Of With Instrument Cluster Replacement
Be sure that the mechanic replacing your instrument cluster is experienced because you could end up wasting your money or even have the dashboard of your car end up with extensive damage which would be costly if not impossible to fix. The odometer is the legal item that you need to ensure is taken care of properly.
Care must be exercised to prevent damage to expensive dashboard trim components or to
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We hope this article has answered all of your questions regarding instrument clusters and that you feel more prepared to handle such issues both now and in the future. Consider protecting your vehicle with an extended warranty plan from Protect My Car. In addition to warranties, Protect My Car also offers insurance and maintenance plans and can negotiate the best prices on repairs with mechanics.