Introduction: Buick Instrument Panel Cluster Repair

Picture of Buick Instrument Panel Cluster Repair

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

Picture of 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
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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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.


Nelson975 (author)2017-08-09

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?

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. (author)2017-10-15

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

Hey, glad to hear it!

FreakyDan (author)2017-05-15

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.

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.

Jasmin80 (author)2016-09-23

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.

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.

moddy (author)2016-06-07

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.

Kurt E. Clothier (author)moddy2016-06-07

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 for about $0.10 each, plus a few dollar for shipping, and get them in a few days.

moddy (author)Kurt E. Clothier2016-06-07

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.

KyleB108 (author)2016-06-06

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 ?

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

JeremyJ45 (author)2016-05-23

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!

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.

TimH156 (author)2016-05-15

Hi, I went through the steps here, got it all done, plugged it back in, and now the car will not start at all. Turn key, check eng light comes on, dings that key is in and turned to on/start position, but start isn't clicking or anything as I try to start it. Any ideas at all?


Kurt E. Clothier (author)TimH1562016-05-16

Well that's not good! The only reason this could affect the starting mechanism at all is if you messed up a sensor like the oil pressure. Then the car won't start as a safety precaution. Are you SURE you didn't touch anything else, and only replaced these particular faulty resistors?

What is your vehicle year, make, and model?

You probably need to find someone with an OBD-II reader to see if the car is giving you any diagnostic error codes. If you don't know what that means, then it's time to call in a professional... :(

TimH156 (author)Kurt E. Clothier2016-05-16

It's a 2001 Buick Century. I only replaced the 4 resistors in top corner, one had fallen off the board entirely. Can't get board to light up still and now having the issue of the car not cranking at all.
I don't have anyone with an OBD reader, and since it won't run I can't limp it to auto store. Might have to grab one myself .

Bought the car used a month ago to piece back together for a spare car, and seems to be turning into more of a project than I'd hoped for.

Kurt E. Clothier (author)TimH1562016-05-17

Aside from double checking your work, there isn't much else I can suggest from here aside from ensuring your battery didn't get drained while you were working (this happened to J Scott above you). Sorry, and good luck.

J ScottS (author)2016-05-16

Same problem as TimH156. Replaced the resistors, plugged it in, and the car won't start. Panel indicator lights light up and then go out as it should, but the blinker, which I accidentally turned on as you can imagine, wasn't blinking, and I tried both right and left indicators. I double checked my soldering and the panel, and can't see any damage on the panel. Like Tim, everything comes on when the key is turned on, but starter doesn't engage.

J ScottS (author)J ScottS2016-05-16

Problem solved. The blinkers were working very dim and slow, and the "light came on over my head" (pun intended) that I had battery problems the other day when I left my e-cig battery charger plugged in over night. I got a jump, and waa-laa, everything fired right up, including the odometer/shift indicator. It turns out I took a break pulling apart the dash, left the doors opened with all the lights on, and it was enough to weaken the battery to where it would light up the dash, but not start the car. Thank you! the fix itself was a lot easier than I could've ever imagined!

Didn't you read step 2: Don't get killed! You were supposed to disconnect the battery before starting! In any case, I'm glad you got it figured out. Sometimes it's the simple things...

Mjtrinihobby (author)2016-05-16

great repair job.

LunaR4 (author)2016-03-10

Hi, I've got a real similar issue on my 2001 Regal, theres two digital displays in the cluster, one of them is absolutely dead and the other is wonky: sometimes its really dim, sometimes it's really bright, and other times I can control it with the dimmer switch, but often enough the dimmer switch does nothing for the digital displays only. I've got a buddy of mine at GM who's gonna give me the wiring diagram soon, but what's your take on this? do you think my issue lies with the resistors, will soldering some connections maybe help me with my dimmer switch situation ? do you think I'll need more than 4 resistors since I have two digital displays?

Kurt E. Clothier (author)LunaR42016-03-11

It's really impossible to know without having the schematics to see how things are hooked together. I'm not familiar with that model, but I'd imagine it's similar to the '01 Century. It could be a similar issue, but I cannot say that with certainty. I would probably just open it up to see if anything looks bad - these resistors were easily identifiable, just crumbling on the board. If it is a resistor issue, you can usually buy packs of 10 or so at Radio Shack (if you can find one that still sells parts, that is).

If you open it up and nothing looks wrong, then I'd either just learn to deal with it or buy a new one. Of course, if I was going to buy a new one anyway, I'd probably poke around a bit first without fear of damaging the original one. Just remember, you can't really drive without it... (you can, but it's not recommended)

zeeball (author)2016-03-05

Thank you so much for showing this. I got one going again because of this.

Jshan1705 (author)2016-02-22

Have you ever heard of ur headlights not working after making this repair? Not sure if it's a coincidence but I fixed my odometer with this repair now my headlights don't work

No, sorry. Is that the only thing wrong? Are you sure you got the IPC connector plugged back in all the way?

KevanJ (author)2016-01-27

This worked perfect. Dash came apart easier than I thought and the soldering was not too hard at all. The resistors were in OK condition but one of them was burnt our badly. This fix was great and the instructions spot on. Thank you.

Kurt E. Clothier (author)KevanJ2016-01-28

Fantastic to hear.

Cesar DanielT1 (author)2016-01-09

Thanks a lot!!! It worked!!!

John Gio (author)2015-12-03

I replaced the four resistors and it didn't cure the problem .I also replaced two others that were below the 4 and that didn't work either . does anybody have any suggestions?

John Gio (author)2015-12-03

I replaced the four resistors and it didn't cure the problem .I also replaced two others that were below the 4 and that didn't work either . does anybody have any suggestions?

DanielG130 (author)2015-10-20

will 150 ohm 1 watt be to much to put in it?

That is fine. The wattage rating is how much power the resistor can safely handle. A higher value is fine - it will typically just cost more and be larger parts.

DanielG130 (author)2015-10-20

i took everything apart and there looks like a burnt mark in the bottom right corner of the digital display . does that mean its something other than the resistors? mine was very dim when i got the car and it was like that for months and all of a sudden there was no display at all

Possibly. It's hard to say. There are numerous components that could fail. This guide just explains how to replace this common point of failure.

KeithO4 (author)2015-10-06

RadioShack only had 150 ohm 1/8 watt resistors. Will that work?

Kurt E. Clothier (author)KeithO42015-10-06

I believe so. The original resistors on the board weren't marked with a power rating. I chose 1/4 watt as a safe guess. I presume 1/8 W would work OK, as I don't think these resistors need to handle much current.

It's hard to test, since plugging in the board will hide the resistors away. If they were exposed, you could just measure the voltage dropped across them to calculate the power, or even simply feel how much heat they are generating.

Tonyfrank15 (author)2015-09-25

Do you need solder experience to do this? I'm a novice but I really need to get this done

You do need to be able to solder - there is no other way to reliably replace the resistors. The solder joints don't have to be perfect, but they do need to be good enough to last. If you can wiggle the resistors, the solder joint is bad.

There are plenty of 'ibles that talk about how to solder!

SamP24 (author)2015-09-08

Does this procedure apply to a 2002 Buick Park Avenue?

lzalcik (author)2015-08-12

I want to perform this repair to my car, but it looks scary. I feel like taking the whole thing apart may take me a long time, and I am not sure if I will be able to put it back together nicely the way it looks before I disassemble it. Do you have any advice about the dismantling and reassembling the dashboard? How long would it take for a complete newbie to do do it?

Kurt E. Clothier (author)lzalcik2015-08-12

Hey, I know it can seen overwhelming at first, but the trick is to just take it slow. Before you take anything apart, look around and find the actual mount points for the dash panel components. Make sure you have the tools you need before you start.

It might help if you make yourself a little diagram, or even take pictures of what piece you take off from where in what order. Label each piece with some masking tape.

There typically aren't a lot of individual pieces .. I think my car had less than 5. The fact that most of the dash was one big piece was actually the tricky part - I had to turn the key to accessory to pull the gear shift lever down and tilt the steering wheel down in order to get the dash piece out.

The best thing to do is try to find a friend that is handy in some way. If you've never soldered before, that is really the trickiest part, but there are plenty of other instructables that talk about how to do that.

Good luck!

lzalcik (author)2015-08-11

Hey! Thank you for this instructable! I have the problem you described with the gas meter and gear indicators not working. The mechanic where I took the car to get that looked at got me looking for the entire dashboard panel cluster to replace the one in the car, so as this model is discontinued, I have been hunting for the part in the wreckers, but if your method works, it sounds a lot more simple than replacing the whole thing for another used part that may also have its own issues.

JannaR (author)2015-08-07

OK, this sounds like loads of fun, yet I lack the equipment (soldering iron, tools) and the desire. How much should I pay for this repair? Thanks!

Kurt E. Clothier (author)JannaR2015-08-07

The repair in a garage can cost upwards of a few hundred dollars. Do you have any friends or friends of friends who do have the equipment?

JannaR (author)Kurt E. Clothier2015-08-10

I'm working on it!

About This Instructable




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