The exciting world of instrument clusters.
April 24, 2008 11:57 PM   Subscribe

What are options for replacing the instrument cluster on a car?

I'm having issues with my instrument cluster. The needles run outside their normal area, stop and start, and get miscalibrated; the gas gauge and speedometer are still accurate but I don't know how long that's going to last.

I want to replace it. I have several friends who can physically swap it out, but I need something to replace it with. And frankly, I'd rather migrate to a digital display if at all possible. I've tried googling what I would consider to be usual keywords here, but I can't really find any information about what is involved in replacing a cluster or what my options are so far as the replacements available. Like I say, I'd rather have something different if I'm going to have to change it out anyway.

The car, by the way, is a 2003 Chevrolet Cavalier. Hope someone can help.
posted by Phyltre to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total)
Presumably, your car is using VDO so any VDO compatible cluster should work. If your existing cluster is having issues, I would look and make sure the ground connections are clean all along the harness from your ECU to the cluster. A bad ground will cause inconsistent communication between the two and could explain the behavior you're experiencing.
posted by tmt at 1:13 AM on April 25, 2008

2nding grounding, with the possible option of a faulty instrument regulator - on older Toyotas at least, these used to go bad quite regularly. Replacement regulators were $2~$20 from the dealer, depending on type, and a 30 second job to replace once you had the cluster out.
posted by Pinback at 4:06 AM on April 25, 2008

3rding grounding. Also check the cluster harness & clean the contacts.
posted by zippy at 4:18 AM on April 25, 2008

In general, you won't find a replacement for your instrument cluster. When my friends have decided they need new instruments on whatever car they're building, they tend to just tear out the old stuff, order each individual gauge from whatever performance parts outfit they like, and mount them in a piece of plywood that then gets screwed into place where the old cluster was (or not).

The gauges aren't cheap. There are cheap ones, but they aren't digital, and they don't look cool. This actually looks like exactly what you want. Btw, I just googled "speedometer gauge" and went through the sponsored links.

Unless you have another reason for wanting to replace your gauges, you should probably just fix the ones you have. It's going to be way cheaper, and isn't going to weird out the next owner as much.
posted by Netzapper at 5:25 AM on April 25, 2008

If the problem isn't a loose ground, go to a junkyard and get the whole thing out of an '03 Cavalier that was totaled from the rear. It's then a simple swap-out. If you're not experienced in removing a dashboard, pay a mechanic to go along with you -- perhaps someone from a Chevy dealership -- who knows where all the screws are and has an electric screwdriver to back them out.
posted by KRS at 11:36 AM on April 25, 2008

I don't know about Chevys but in some makes of car the immobiliser & ECU are tied the the instrument cluster. As a consquence, only a dealer can change the instrument cluster because only they have the means to generate the codes to authenticate the new cluster to the ECU.

Something to check out before you go paying for a new cluster from a scrapped vehicle...
posted by pharm at 11:55 AM on April 25, 2008

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