Buick Instrument Panel Cluster Repair

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Introduction: Buick Instrument Panel Cluster Repair

About: Jack of All Trades, Master of One: Being Me!

One day I was driving our 2001 Buick Century Custom, and I noticed that the odometer wasn't lit up. At first I thought that a bulb was out, but this instrument panel cluster (IPC) is completely digital, so there are no bulbs in those locations. The odometer/tripometer is all LED segment displays. It wasn't until later I noticed that the transmission indicator was also unlit. This can be dangerous if you think you are in park and are actually in reverse and let off of the brake. My wife and I kind of just dealt with the absence of indicators for a few months until I finally got around to fixing it.

Since there was no erratic behavior of any sort, I figured this was just a faulty discrete component somewhere and set out to look for it. If certain parts of your IPC are not illuminated when they should be, there is a good chance that this is what's wrong with it. I have found lots of people who had or are having the exact same issue, and this procedure fixed them all!

Step 1: Helpful Tools

While this isn't a precise list of what you may need, it should get you started on the right track. 

To remove and open the instrument panel cluster I used:
Socket Set with Extension - Primarily a 7mm Socket
Battery Terminal Wrench - Equivalent to a 1/4" socket in most cases
Auto Carpet Plug Puller - Pliers and a flat head screwdriver should work as well
Pliers
Flat head screwdriver

To fix the IPC I used:
Soldering iron and solder
Alcohol wipes
4 x 150 ohm resistors

Step 2: Don't Get Killed

Anytime I work on a vehicle, the first thing I do is disconnect the battery. The easiest way is by removing the negative terminal - the black one that connects the battery to the car chassis. This is where the battery terminal wrench comes in handy, but if you don't have one a pair of pliers, a wrench, or 1/4" socket should work fine. Don't freak out if you see (or hear) a few sparks as the cable is disconnected. 

Step 3: Dismantling the Dashboard

The instrument panel cluster is the collection of gauges sitting behind your steering wheel. It is held in place by a couple of screws, but getting to it can be a challenge because of all of the other dash board parts in your way.

To remove the IPC, you will pretty much need to dismantle the entire dash compartment. Most of the plastic pieces are slid into place on one end and bolted at the other. Removing the bolts allows you to slide the pieces out. The other thing in the way is all of the carpet pieces used to cover up the mess of wires below the dash. These can be tricky to remove with a plug puller, but you should be able to pry them out with other tools.

A good idea is to start with the small pieces on the sides of the dash (what would be up against the inside of the car doors when they are closed, and work towards the large dash pieces from there. The screws and plugs will all be on the under side of the dash, so get down there and get to it! Try to only remove what you have to in order to get to the IPC, and don't lose any of those screws...

Step 4: IPC Removal

With the dash out of the way, you should be able to get to the screws holding the IPC in place. There are four of them, and they may take a strange screwdriver head. There will be a large wire harness connected to the IPC - mine was on the back left side. You'll probably have to put the key in the ignition to unlock and adjust the gear shift as well as the steering wheel to gain more access room. The IPC wire harness is held on with a few clip tabs. I was able to pry them open with a flat head screwdriver. Be careful not to break off the tabs!

With the harness unhooked, there should be nothing stopping the IPC from coming out. Be sure to put the car back in park so it doesn't roll off!

Step 5: Open It Up

Once you have the IPC to your work space, flip it over and locate the many tabs holding the case onto the back of the thing. You can use a flat head screwdriver to pry them loose. This should reveal the back of the panel circuit board. The front of the panel can now also be removed, but you may have to pry up on it a bit to disconnect the knobs connecting the circuit board to the gauges. 

Step 6: The Fix

With the case completely removed, you should be able to see the complete circuit board. Locate a group of four resistors in the upper right hand corner of the circuit board. They will not look like typical resistors, but more like metal cylinders. You may notice that one or more of these resistors is crumbling or has come off of the board completely - this is the reason the circuit isn't working correctly.

Remove the resistors and clean off the pads with rubbing alcohol. Then, add a drop of solder to each pad to prep it for the new resistors.

You will need four 150 ohm resistors (1/4 Watt) to replace the old ones. Through hole resistors (Color code: brown - green - brown - gold/silver) are fine. Clip the leads and fold them over before coating each lead with a bit of solder. Then, attach the resistors one by one where the old ones used to be. Don't worry if you accidentally bridge them together (like I did), they are all in parallel anyway.

When you are finished, you can use a multimeter to check your work. Four parallel 150 ohm resistors should have an equivalent resistance of 37.5 ohms.

When you are satisfied, put the panel back together and put it back in the car. You may want to test it out before you put all of the dash back together as well. Don't forget to reconnect the battery cable! If it still doesn't work right, then there is probably something else more seriously wrong.

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    3 Questions

    I have a 2002 Buick Park Avenue. The speedometer snd RPM return to zero frequently and then resume working. The gas guage also jumps to full when it isn't full and resumes to normal. And the temperature guage does the same. Does thiis require the entire replacement of the instrument closture?

    Bill

    I am looking to preform this repair on my buick what kind of time is involved from start to finish to complete this repair providing I have the correct tools and replacement resistors on hand?

    Hi, the entire fix can be done in an hour or less, given you have the correct tools at hand, and are used to doing similar work (disassembly, soldering, reassembly).

    Hi, my name is, Tonya. I have a 1997 buick regal gs, 4 dr, automatic. I have 2 dash warning lights that will not go off, i have made all the needed adjustments that should have reset both warning lights, but they r still on. (1), is the low tire warning light, n (1), is the dr/trunk ajar, warning light. And also i can be driving down the road anytime day or night, and sometimes my entire dash lights will shut off for about 2 /3 seconds and will come back on just fine. I would b so very grateful if someone could help me fix the problem or tell wats wrong. I dont have the funds to put my car in the shop, I have no one to help me figure out these problems with my car. Thank u for ur time, i hope to hear frm u soon, i kno ur very busy helping other ppl. God bless u, Tonya Tindall, 03/21/2018

    Hi, I'm sorry for my late reply. I'm afraid I don't know what is causing your issues. It sounds like you might have a lose connection if indicators and/or lights turn on and off while driving, but it's difficult to say what or where. With regard to the warning indicators, sometimes they must be reset by holding a button in the fuse panel. I wish you good luck!

    76 Comments

    Thanks for this post!

    Thanks so much for putting this together! I had a Crutchfield guide for the dash removal, which helped.

    1) Remove 2 screws from underside of climate control housing and pull it out
    2) Remove 1 screw and weird plastic clip pin from under driver's knee panel
    3) Open glovebox, remove screw under small kick panel, pull it out - takes some force, the whole panel needs to come straight out towards the rear of the vehicle
    4) Activate emergency brake, put key in ignition, put gearshift in low (as low as it will go), lower wheel as far as possible.
    5) Remove passenger-side fuse box cover, remove 1 screw from dash front, and working right to left pull out clips holding dash front in place.

    1 reply

    You mentioned using 150 ohm resistors (1/4 Watt), some other forums I read said 150 ohm (1/2 Watt) and others said 150 Ohm (1 Watt). I can understand their is a difference between the 3 but will I fry or mess something up if I use a wattage other than 1/4?

    1 reply

    Hi, sorry for the late reply... The power rating (watts) is what the resistor can safely dissipate as heat without melting. Here's some equations:
    P = I * V
    I = V / R
    P = V^2 / R
    P = Power, V = Voltage, I = Current, R = Resistance

    We're using 150 Ohm resistors (4 in parallel, so the equivalent resistance is 37.5 ohms). If there was 12V across the resistance, that's 0.96 Watts, but I highly doubt this is the case (and given that my Buick continued to work for years after this fix backs up that assumption). More likely, the signals are at most 5V DC, hence, there might be 0.167 Watts dissipated in each resistor, so 0.25 W (1/4) is sufficient. I could have powered the IPC to double check, but I'm confident in that rating.

    Also, I believe the resistors that were originally on the board were only 1/4 Watt, (you can tell by how fat they are), so there's that to boost my confidence.

    Thank you for this DIY! I did what you said and it worked perfectly!

    1 reply

    I made this repair recently to my 2002 Buick Century Custom. After the repair the PRNDL lights were working again, but my reverse lights no longer function. Do you know if there is anything about the repair that could have affected this? The only difference between what you did and what I did was that I didn't disconnect the battery and simply removed the fuse for the airbag.

    1 reply

    Sorry to hear that... I'm not sure if the IPC has anything to do with the reverse light function, but I bet it does since that's just switch triggered from your gear selector. Double check the IPC connections, and that the front and back panels of the IPC are completely pressed together. If you're sure the bulbs aren't burned out, and all of the other lights are working, it's likely a loose connection somewhere.

    Hello I recently replaced my stock radio with an after market one. It was working fine (I drove it at night) and when Monday rolled around and I headed to work in day light hours it went completely dead after about five minutes. There was a correlation between it dying and my day dash lights clicking on (which doesn't happen as soon as I start driving but approximately 5 minutes in). The next day I tried the drive with my headlights on and the stereo remained on even after the automatic clicking on of the dash lights. I turn them off and the stereo immediately dies. What is going on? The stereo was wired correctly. Everything on it works when it has power but it's as if it's surging or having power redirected when the dash lights come on. Even after it has died if I turn on the headlights it will not come back on until at least an hour has passed.

    3 replies

    Well, this doesn't have anything to do with the instrument panel cluster, but I have done a bit of work with stereos and other auto wiring harnesses.

    Who installed the stereo? How do you know it is wired correctly?

    Stereos typically need three power connections: Always On 12V (essentially, straight from the battery with an inline fuse), Accessory (12V Only when key is on), and Ground (to the car chassis). There is absolutely no reason any sort of "power surges" or "redirects" would take place if it is wired correctly, unless you also installed a high power amplifier or something else that the alternator cannot generate enough current to keep running. Given that your radio works with the headlights (which will draw significantly more power than the radio does), I doubt that is happening.

    In the harness that connects the stereo to your speakers and accessories, there is also typically a wire that goes to your dash lights. This is for the illumination of the stereo display to change with your dash light brightness. In my opinion, this wire is not connected to the right thing, so when your dash lights kick on, the stereo is shutting off as a safety precaution. Sometimes electronic devices have a component that act like a circuit breaker and trips when too much current passes (called an MCB). They will automatically reset after so often (so you don't have to do it manually like the breaker panel in a home).

    In my opinion, either the stereo is installed incorrectly, or you have some other short in a wiring harness. I once had a cluster of wires overheat and fuse together, but this completely drained my battery overnight.

    I was the one who installed the stereo and although it's something I've never attempted before I did do my homework and was overly cautious. The stereo has no option to dim the lights on the unit. All wires were put to their corresponding colours. I did not ground the black to the car as had been suggested because there was nothing but a flat back panel made of metal and it was too far for the wires to stretch. The original stereo was not grounded to the body so I was under the assumption it would be fine.
    The dash lights clicking on after driving for a short distance was concerning but the car seems generally happy and has not exploded thus far. My battery has not drained enough for me to not start the car and the stereo has been in for two weeks (I've just run out of time to rip it all out again). I'm thinking the accessory (red wire) is correct and fuels the stereo and then my alternator takes over and the yellow constant isn't doing anything at all. I don't understand how my headlights could be tied into the whole contraption. The only wires I used were from the previous deck. Unless some how there was a manufacturers defect in the placement of the wires? But then one would think I would be missing a channel/speaker and everything works...when it has power. I feel like if I were to rip it out I would rewire it all the same because I was so careful the first time. I just don't get it.

    Electrical issues can be confusing...

    It might help to know the year and model car you have, and more importantly, the brand and product number of the installed stereo.

    The stereo absolutely MUST be grounded. That doesn't mean you have to ground the metal stereo chassis to the car chassis, but there MUST be a ground connection to the car chassis somewhere. Sometimes it's in a separate harness with accessory and and constant 12V, sometimes it's in the harness with the speaker wires.

    The stereo wire colors are not a standard. You cannot just go by those alone. Most reputable brands stick to similar things, but not always - it's a bit of a mess. Consult the manual on what the wires actually do, and if you used the receiver harness already in the car, those colors usually are standard (and found on the internet).

    How did you connect the stereo wires to the car wire harness? Solder? Crimp tubes? Twist them together and tape over them (I've seen people do this enough to warrant me asking...)? The antenna connection is usually just a plug/jack (like a bigger headphone jack).

    As for the power, typically, it is a red wire that is "switched power" so it is only on when your key is on (also called accessory power). This is what actually powers the stereo. The constant power is typically a yellow wire, and it is wired to a constant (fused) power source and keeps your radio from losing its settings (time, favorite stations, etc - although, the auto industry is decades behind when it comes to this technology). You should take a volt meter and measure these power source.

    Have the dash lights always turned on a while after you start the car? That's common in a lot of cars, but I want to make sure it isn't a new thing.

    Without me able to physically inspect things, there isn't much else I can do for you. If can double check the stereo manual for connections, but that's about it. It might be time to take it into a car audio shop (that does installations) for help. If it really is some other external power issue, it needs to be taken care of by a professional.

    Thanks for sharing, I used this link to explore my 2000 Buick Century Custom odometer, and the need for repair was identical to yours. However, isn't there always, I soldered eight 8 inch wires to each pair of resistor contacts and soldered each pair to a properly rated potentiometer. After I reassembled the housing with the wires sticking out, soldered to each pot, I tucked them in the more than enough room available behind the instrument cluster.

    I didn't have the 150 ohm resistors, which I would have really appreciated, so I adjusted the dial to 150 ohm, soldered them in and have 142840 miles again. (Don't worry, the miles keep on rolling even though you can't see them). Thanks again.

    2 replies

    No problem. I'm a little confused about this one statement you made...

    However, isn't there always, [...]

    I cannot really recommend doing what you did, but it should work at least for a little while. If you used wire leads to potentiometers, I do hope you insulated the contacts so they don't short anything. Also, I'd recommend putting hot glue or something similar on the pots to keep them from spinning due to vibration. I have no idea what will happen if that resistance goes to 0 or the max of your pots, but I doubt it would be good.

    Finding a Radioshack with parts can be a PIA any more, but you can always order resistors from a place like digikey.com for about $0.10 each, plus a few dollar for shipping, and get them in a few days.

    The "however," is the caveat. There's always something. The type of adjustable potentiometer I used was the long barrel, high turn to adjustment ratio. And surrounded by electrical tape so I kept the ability for them to short of a minimum. Hot glue would have been a nice touch.

    Will see in about a week if it's going to hold up. With the outside temperature and the circuitry building up heat inside we'll see if it will last.

    My buick centery 2003 wont go from drive to park to i can start it ....ive tryed alot an cant find it ....does anyone know ?

    1 reply

    What? Try that question again, because I don't really know (at all) what you are asking...

    Before you try anything, try pressing the ODO/TRIP ODO BUTTON. I tried that first! Guess what, it reset the circuit and my display came back on without any disassembly or soldering!

    1 reply

    Nice tip. I've also had to reset the passenger door fuse block to get numerous notification lamps to turn off (when they shouldn't be on).

    I actually did this, but it was no use. In my case, the resistors absolutely needed to be replaced.