Instructables

Change an Ignition Switch without Removing the Dashboard

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Picture of Change an Ignition Switch without Removing the Dashboard
This Instructable will show how I replaced the ignition switch in my car without removing the dashboard.

In a recent Instructable I discussed problems with the instrument cluster on my 1999 Oldsmobile Alero. In that previous Instructable I had believed my ignition switch tested good and I soldered some metal-on-metal connections to by-pass oxidation that may have added a critical amount of resistance to the circuit. Still, the same difficulties returned a few days later. I read articles like this one to see if my 12 year old car with 110,000 miles could be suffering from an ignition switch in the early stages of failure. I decided I wanted to remove the ignition switch from my car for examination and possible replacement, but do it without removing the dashboard. 

The Oldsmobile Alero has some "cousins," like the Chevrolet Malibu. But, the dashboard trim in the Malibu is different from that in the Alero. In the Malibu the bezel around the radio simply pries off, and when it is removed the two bolts that hold the ignition switch in place are fully accessible. The Alero is different, though. The same two bolts are hidden behind the dashboard.

For this Instructable I needed:

A 10mm open end and box end combination wrench that I could sacrifice.
A couple of screwdrivers.
A nut driver with a 7mm wrench socket attached.
A torch for heating and bending the wrench as needed (I used a carbon arc torch on an electric welder.).
A vise (for holding the wrench while heating it for bending).
A hammer for making the bend in the wrench as sharp as possible.
A Dremel tool with a cylindrical grinding bit and a burr bit.
A mechanic's inspection mirror.
Auxiliary lighing (flashlight or a mechanic's trouble light)
A Haynes manual for my car.
A multi-meter.
A new ignition switch. 
 
 
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Bill WW2 years ago
A few years ago I took the dash and ignition switch cover off a car, trying to see if I could improvise a remote start system. It was a company car and I was on a construction project in a way below zero Winter. I was smart enough (that time!) to quit when I realized some of the wiring I was messing with went to the air bag.
Phil B (author)  Bill WW2 years ago
Yes, I would not want an air bag firing unexpectedly when I was too close. Thank you for looking.
Could you have used magnets on the bolts attached to something metal in case they fell?
Phil B (author)  maggiemcstout3 years ago
I have a flexible "grabber" with a magnetic end. It probably would have retrieved a bolt that fell, unless the bolt wedged itself into a small space. But, the magnet on my grabber is not very strong either. There would also have been the possibility of simply buying a new bolt of the same size and leaving the old one wedged someplace I could not reach. I also could have crumpled just enough newspaper to make a ball and wedged it between the dashboard and each bolthead until the time came to catch the mounting threads on the new switch. Thank you for looking and for commenting.
knife1413 years ago
Great instructable! Your making of a specialized wrench reminded me of growing up working in my Dad automobile repair shop. When we would run into needing a specially shaped wrench to save having to remove a lot of unnecessary parts, we'd grab a wrench, saw it up, and weld it to the shape we needed. All of these "custom wrenches" were stored in a drawer in the middle of the shop so that any mechanic that needed such a thing would know to look there first. One of my contributions to the process was making a custom tool that allowed you to replace the clutch on a 1970 Toyota Corolla without having to first pull the engine. Yep, the book said you had to pull the engine on this car back then simply because of two bolts located in a really bad place on the bell housing. Specialized tools are great.
Phil B (author)  knife1413 years ago
Thank you for your comment and the story about your father's repair shop. Congratulations on finding a better way to change the clutch on the '70 Toyota. We had a '79 Chevrolet station wagon. A bolt inside the differential has a smooth section followed by a threaded section followed by the bolthead. These tended to break at the transition between the smooth and threaded portions. I needed to remove the broken smooth section from a hole deep within the differential. I was able to make a drill extension with a centered hole for mounting a relatively small size twist drill so I could make a hole for an easy out. The process was what I described in this Instructable. It worked, but I must say I have never had to use that special tool again. It was worth its weight in gold that day, though. In the early '90s I replaced the clutch in my daughter's '86 Pontiac Grand Am. There was at least one bolt I had to remove that I never saw until it fell out on the ground. It was a matter of turning the wrench 1/12th of a turn, flipping the wrench and locating it on the bolthead again to turn it another 1/12th turn until the bolt was out.
Great job, I know a friend who is having similar problems with the same model of car, this might just help!

Also a word of warning don't do this in the middle of the night in a parking lot while wearing a ski mask.... you might just get a nasty surprise haha
Phil B (author)  arkangel19753 years ago
I shuddered every time I thought I would need to examine the ignition switch because I was certain I would need to endure the pain, time, and expense of taking the dashboard out and all that goes with it just to access the ignition switch. The good news is the ignition switch can be replaced without any of that. The other possible cause is a bad body control module (BCM), and that could happen if there was a water leak from the windshield, but the problem is most likely the ignition switch.

When I was still in school I had an after hours job in a bank. One night we were later than usual leaving the bank. I had gone through a car wash early in the day. Water had gotten into the door locks and froze as temperatures dropped. I got some complimentary book matches from the bank lobby and was kneeling down beside it in the parking lot heating my key and pushing it into the lock until the lock was free again. An armed guard saw me. He first thought I was breaking into a car, but realized I was having lock trouble when I did not run. After a couple more minutes the lock was free and I was on my way.
oh god, don't remind me about the BCM, I have a Saturn sl2 2001 and the bcm has been an utter nightmare. (it was problematic in that series anyway)...
Phil B (author)  arkangel19753 years ago
Be comforted. Most problems are due to simpler, cheaper things. When it comes to repairs, always pick the low hanging fruit first.
Wesley6663 years ago
Haha! My around town beater is a 1999 Olds Intrigue, it has the exact same problem. Design flaw maybe? Will have to bookmark this page for future reference! :D
Phil B (author)  Wesley6663 years ago
Check the cheap and easy things first, like blown fuses and obviously poor connections. You may want to check my earlier Instructable referenced in this one. It dealt with the instrument cluster. If those things pass, you could need an ignition swtich.
I have similar symptoms. I have a 2001 Alero. What happens with mine is. Once i run the car and turn the engine off and remove the key and close the door. The car still "dings" as if the keys are still in the ignition or I left the headlights on. Also, my power doorlocks do not work. I have at times experienced the same problem with my instrument cluster not giving readings right away. My trunk will also pop open on it's own. Now in order to drive it and keep the battery from going dead I have to pull the negative terminal whenever I park the car which is not very practical. I was told by 2 mechanics to start with the ignition switch and you just gave me the final go ahead and change it with your instructable.
Phil B (author)  spitfire23233 years ago
A friend has a 2001 Alero with lots of problems. The windshield had a water leak. That means water got to the body control module (BCM) located on the passenger side behind the blower motor for the heater. I saw a post on an Oldsmobile forum that says the BCM is likely to short out if water got to it. The BCM can be a source of problems visible in the instrument cluster, and might possibly be the source of some of your problems. You are probably due for an ignition switch. If that does not solve your problems, it might pay to have an electronic diagnosis to see if the BCM is identified as faulty.
Phil B (author)  spitfire23233 years ago
You have some more serious symptoms I did not experience on my car, but I would not be surprised if your ignition switch is failing. So very many things go through the ignition switch in addition to the actual ignition related circuits. It is difficult to predict ignition switch failure in a direct correlation with miles on the odometer. One driver may drive long daily commutes which require starting the engine relatively few times, while another with the same miles on the odometer started the car many more times for a very large number of very short trips. But, the age and mileage of your car is probably commensurate with ignition switch failure. The Haynes manual for my car officially covers only 1999 - 2000 model years, but I expect your car is nearly identical in all matters important to replacing the ignition switch. I tried to give all of the critical details in this Instructable so you can do the job without the manual. The exception to that would be the exact test points for continuity on the switch connection tabs. I could send those to you by private message, assuming they are the same on your vehicle. Compare your switch to photos of my switch when you get it out. Also, Amazon has two different ignition switches, only one of which was for my exact car. If I could have waited for delivery and had known in advance exactly which I needed, I could have saved a bundle of money. Let me know if I can be of assistance to you from a distance. The good news is I do not think you will need to remove the dashboard. I was able to do the whole job in about two hours. With the advantage of some things I learned and included in this Instructable, you may be able to do it a little more quickly.
prestux3 years ago
Great job Phil!
Phil B (author)  prestux3 years ago
Thank you. I hope it gives you an idea you can use sometime for a job you need to do.
Nice work
Phil B (author)  ron.rakesh.mandal3 years ago
Thank you.
:)
I have a full set of wrenches bent like that that I bought with a toolbox you might find a lot of uses for this. I know I have found them handy in the past.
Phil B (author)  backyardengineer3 years ago
Thank you for making me aware of that set of wrenches. I have often weighed the value of buying a set versus and individual wrench and usually bought the single wrench for the reason that I am not likely to do another job requiring that special style of wrench again. But, I am a home mechanic and not someone in the business. Thanks for your comment.
I am a mechanic and I not have bought them at the store, I just got a good price on a used set of tools that I could not pass up. I found a guy selling tool box full of snap on tools, box and all for $150
Phil B (author)  backyardengineer3 years ago
There are times when a deal is too good to ignore.
DIY Dave3 years ago
Great job. You find solutions for everything
Phil B (author)  DIY Dave3 years ago
Thanks. I often think about things for several days before I come to a solution.
rimar20003 years ago
Awesome work, Phil!

I usually see in TV series entitled "Impossible repairs." This could be a chapter.

You remember me an uncle, that did repairs like this, things that no one else dared to try.
Phil B (author)  rimar20003 years ago
Thank you, Osvaldo, for the comparison to your uncle. I remember you wrote about your uncle and the many things he could fix. I would enjoy a TV series like you describe. In the USA we do not have anything like that. We have programs where someone rebuilds an old car to make it look new. We also have a program where a man adds special parts to trucks for use in rough terrain or for adding special features to them.
I always complained about the argentine TV, until hired DirecTV and started to watch TV from other countries. I realized that there are many worse. But documentaries I usually watch are not made ​​here, they come from USA, Europe, Asia, etc. I look NatGeo, Discovery, Animal Planet, Encuentro (argentine), History Channel, Biography, Films&Arts (sometimes), Infinito and news.
Phil B (author)  rimar20003 years ago
We have DishNetwork, which is similar to DirecTV; but, we subscribed to only the most basic package of channels. So, we do not receive some of the channels you mentioned. I do like Discovery and The History Channel. My wife watches programs about fashion makeovers (that is, teaching someone how to dress for looking better), brides shopping for dresses, clothing design competitions, and home decorating. I like the documentaries, if they are honestly done. Some have an ideological agenda they are trying to get me to accept. We also have Public Broadcasting on our regular, non-satellite TV. On Saturday afternoons they have several good programs on woodworking projects. I do not always have the opportunity to watch them, though.
mikeasaurus3 years ago
wow, awesome job modifying that wrench!
Phil B (author)  mikeasaurus3 years ago
Thanks, Mike. I confess that I heated and bent it once. Then I found I needed to make a couple of minor corrections. So, I heated it again and bent it to a little different configuration. The price of a $6 wrench was nothing compared to the agony of dismantling the entire dashboard. Thanks for looking and for commenting.
Modifying or making your own tool is way more satisfying anyway.
Phil B (author)  mikeasaurus3 years ago
I have a couple of tools I modified for a special project. I cannot say I have used them since, but they hold memories of a solution to a problem in the past.
Robot Lover3 years ago
This would have been the best instructable to explain the wiring to the keyswitch and perhaps how to hotwire a car in an emergency. Great Instructable!
Phil B (author)  Robot Lover3 years ago
Even having replaced this ignition switch myself, so many things go through it and are connected to so many interlocking things that I doubt I could hot wire this car!
zazenergy3 years ago
nice work, featured!
Phil B (author)  zazenergy3 years ago
Thank you. I also appreciate that I do not need to buy a new car, at least not yet.