Introduction: Replace You Cars Instrument Panel Lights With LEDs.

Picture of Replace You Cars Instrument Panel Lights With LEDs.

The bulbs behind my Tachometer burned out a while ago and I decided I would replace them with LEDs. I also replaced the ones behind the speedometer as well. Overall I probably spent more on this project than normal, but I bought a few miscellaneous items. My car is a 1992 Nissan Pick-up.

NOTE: This may or may not work for you. But it doesn't hurt to look and see if you really want to do it.

Tools:
-Standard Phillips Screwdriver
-Precision Screwdriver Set
-Leatherman*
-Vise Grip Pliers*
-Multimeter
-Soldering Iron
-Solder
-Alligator Clips
*Optional

Parts:
-4 Ultra High Brightness White (Or color of your choice) LEDs. These can be swapped for almost anything really. The brighter the better though.
-Resistors. Varies based on LEDs.

EDIT: Sorry for not having any before pictures. I took it apart before I knew I could replace them and then I just wanted to get it done.

Step 1: Disassemble!

Picture of Disassemble!

My favorite part! I love taking things apart. I apologize for not having any pictures, but every car is different. I also disconnected a few things to make the back of the instrument panel easier to access.

Step 2: Locate the Lights.

Picture of Locate the Lights.

I located the bulbs that burned out as well as the ones that were still good. I could have replaced more than what I did, but these are used most often. I analyzed how they worked and where power was coming from. They have two metal pieces that touch the copper of the circuit board on either sides of the holes that send power to the bulbs.

Step 3: Test for Voltage.

Picture of Test for Voltage.

This step requires a multimeter. When I first did it I tested with my car off and got 11.78 volts. I tested with my car on and got 13.69 volts. I decided to round up and use 14 volts as my base. I only tested with it off, because I didn't think about testing with it on until ten minutes later. Would have been bad if I didn't test with it on.

Step 4: Take an Environmentally Friendly Trip to Your Local Electronics Store.

Picture of Take an Environmentally Friendly Trip to Your Local Electronics Store.

Or you could: borrow a car, put your car back together, order online, etc. Whatever you want to do to get where you need to go. Once there I started looking around for what I needed and found some 10mm high brightness LEDs. They are 3.5-3.8v, 20ma, and 28,500mcd. Perfect.

When I was there I used Opera on my phone to go to Ledcalc.com and calculate what kind of resistors I would be needing. After putting in my inputs the resistor I would be needing is a 560ohm 1/4watt resistor.

Radioshack didn't have that specific resistor, so I just got a package of 470 and a package of 100 to hook together.

Step 5: More Testing!

Picture of More Testing!

Woo! I hooked an LED with the resistors with alligator clips and tested it with my car and...IT WORKS!!

I was so totally excited about it working I thought I would stick it in the hole to see how the LED would look from the other side. My lights shut off. I blew a fuse! I didn't know what it was at the time, checked all my fuses and they all looked OK. I was wrong though, but I didn't take anything apart so I was OK in the end. Had to buy fuses though.

So please make a note not to touch the two sides. Really slows things down.

Step 6: Solder!

Picture of Solder!

Time to solder. I soldered the resistors to the LEDs and put some heat shrink over it. I removed the bulbs from their plastic casings and had to use a little force to get the LED in, but it was all good. Didn't break on anything.

Next I soldered LED to the plastic thing. It was a bit challenging. I had to use sandpaper on the points I was soldering to and I melted the plastic a little bit, but it all worked out.

I tested it one last time to make sure my solder points worked. I had to re-do a couple to make them work right. I installed them and I was all done. Looks great too!

Step 7: Bonus!

Picture of Bonus!

This is somewhat of a bonus to myself. Might aid others as well. My panel had these blue cap like things over the LEDs that I was just going to keep there, but they kept falling cause the plastic around them broke a little bit. So as an alternative I found plastic caps from water bottles/sports worked perfectly. They fit nice and snug.

Also the LEDs were a bit too focused to just leave them uncovered. I wanted it to smooth, so I painted the top of the caps white.

Step 8: Finished!

Picture of Finished!

I am extremely proud of what I was able to accomplish. What with my basic knowledge of soldering and electricity. It looks great. You can't see them on during the day, but that's not what matters. I was also surprised to find my dimmer still works and dims the LEDs.

All in all I probably spent about $30-40, but that's because I bought a multimeter, shrink wrap, and alligator clips. If I had already had those items it would have been about $7-8.

If I left anything out or you have questions please let me know in the comments. Thank you for viewing my Instructable!

Comments

ShawnM31 (author)2017-02-28

if you sand the lenses on your led it takes the focus away and diffuses the light better.

joekurm (author)2015-12-26

You stated super bright. Do you know how many watts the LEDs were?

cdickinson2 (author)2015-09-18

I see that this Instructible is pretty old, but had a thought:

For those that dont know, the dash light dimmer is just a variable resister. In this case, the dash light dimmer is acting as a third resister placed in series with the two he added to the LED.

52193 (author)2014-10-06

Would your car happen to be a mitsubishi. My car is and it has the same style incandescent bulb holders. It is a real pain to get a resistor and a Led in the holder to be small enough to fit and to point in the correct direction.

yankie.scholz made it! (author)2014-08-17

Great instructions, however if you can't be bothered doing all of that work EnlightenOz sells kits which just plug right into the original bulb sockets, plus they use SMD LEDs so the light is even and not patchy.
I was messing around with the different colours they have which looked pretty cool.
Here is their Facebook page: www.facebook.com.au/enlightenoz

JakeThief (author)2012-02-24

Hey man just wanted to say, this looks like a great instructable and I really like your outcome. If everything checks out right tomorrow and I can do this with my car I plan on trying this. You used white LEDs but got a blue color, is that right? Also could I sand my LEDs to diffuse them to get more of a glow effect than a beam lighting effect? Thanks.

trayo (author)JakeThief2012-02-25

Thanks for the comment. I did use white LEDs, but my camera made them look blue. The color mostly looked like the original. You could sand your LEDs or you could cut off the plastic on the top like chrisayad points out in the comments below.

It looks like this:

www.instructables.com/files/deriv/FQM/Z1S7/FHY0I5KF/FQMZ1S7FHY0I5KF.MEDIUM.jpg

dush1 (author)2011-04-06

i make same 2 u!

MagicMikk (author)2010-05-25

I was interested in doing this also, but I notice the LEDs dont seem to balance the light, part of the guage displays are darker than others. I was hoping for more even light to light everything up the same

is there a trick to getting this? would the type of LEDs used determine the way they output light?


trayo (author)MagicMikk2010-05-25

 Yeah. Further down in the comments chrisayad pointed out that you can saw the plastic top off the LED and make the angle of the beam wider.

www.instructables.com/files/deriv/FQM/Z1S7/FHY0I5KF/FQMZ1S7FHY0I5KF.MEDIUM.jpg

super_kool_dude29 (author)2010-03-22

could you answer the question for "zerocarpileup" on here because i would like to do this but i dont if the lights go out. thanks

trayo (author)super_kool_dude292010-03-22

In the instructable I soldered two resistors for each light. I could have used one resistor had Radio Shack had a 560ohm resistor. Since they didn't I settled with using a 470 and 100ohm together; so it would be like having a 570ohm resistor.

I never had any burn out or had any complications, but I also don't have the truck in the instructable anymore because it overheated one day and cracked the engine block. So it's resting in car heaven. :(

abadfart (author)trayo2010-03-23

what kind was it because i had a 82 Nissan truck that would have lived threw the apocalypse if i hadn't wrecked it
www.instructables.com/id/red-neck-truck/
 

trayo (author)abadfart2010-03-24

 It was a 92 Nissan Pickup. The freeze plug fell out and we were told that's not something you would notice losing. I think they also said it was possible that fell out afterwards.

abadfart (author)trayo2010-03-24

ya my sister had the same thing happen to her car i dropped the axle and almost got thrown because i wasn't wherein my belt but i can't get in to the car without putting it on

hivoltage (author)2009-01-11

hey what year hardbody truck is that? i have one just like it but the transparent part of the face of the panel is yellow. i wanna put purple leds in there but i don't think the purple would shine well through the yellow gauge... it would be really cool to maybe put some rgb leds in it so the color could be changed whenever you felt like it. maybe use an arduino or something to handle the color selection and pwm. my speedometer needle broke off too it must be a common problem with those trucks. i just replaced it with a new needle i carved out of a piece of wood.

golddigger1559 (author)hivoltage2010-03-11

 you need to make an ible for that wood needle i want one of those 

trayo (author)hivoltage2009-01-11

It's a 1992. I think purple would be pretty tight. How did you carve a new needle from a piece of wood? Mine is still broken.

hivoltage (author)trayo2009-01-11

yeah mines quite a bit older its a 1986. the gauges look the same though so maybe i can get ahold of some of those ones instead. i just took a small piece of wood and sanded it down with a belt sander until it was wedge shaped and then rounded off the end and sanded it pretty thin. i varnished it and painted the tip white and sanded down and glued the remaining stub of the old needle on the back to attach it to the actual gauge. dont make it too thick or heavy or itll read too slow before 55 and then too fast after haha

trayo (author)hivoltage2009-01-11

From the dealership the gauges were $200, but from a junk yard or something probably not so much. I'll definitely have to make a couple needles. I would want to replace the other one as well. Thanks.

hivoltage (author)trayo2009-01-11

i have access to a wire edm machine, so i decided im gonna have some new gauge faces machined out of aluminum. my trucks got kind of a brushed aluminum thing going on with the new custom paint so i think brushed aluminum gauges should go well with that.

hivoltage (author)hivoltage2009-01-13

couldnt find any of the gauge faces at pick-a-part so ill definitely be making some new ones. i also bought some rgb wide angle leds from ebay. now just to think of a way to control them... i have one of those arduino microcontrollers but i really don't know how to program it. i think ill just use the circuit from this instructable to control the colors. just need to find a place to put the potentiometers in the truck. could even change few parts out later and have it control some rgb led underbody lighting too.

trayo (author)hivoltage2009-01-13

Cool. That instructable is pretty neat and it sounds like a good idea. I don't know much about Arduinos but it seems that it would allow more customization.

blakeredfield (author)2009-08-28

Allow me to think outloud for a sec...

When an traditional lightbulb is replaced by an LED, like on your a car dash, the supply being V=12V and the say 3 Watt bulb I just saw was replaced with an 3.5V, 20 mA LED alongside a 560 Ohm resistor.

The LED draws power P=V*I=3.5*0.02=0.07 Watts
The resistor draws power P=R*I2=560*0.022=0.224 Watts
TOTAL=0.294 W say 0.3 Watts

You seem to have replaced 3 bulbs, so instead of 3*3=9 Watts you are spending 3*0.3=0.9 Watts. If all of the lighbulbs (including the headlights - everything - everything) were replaced with LEDs, do you guys/girls think you would be able to observe an increase in mileage???

trayo (author)blakeredfield2009-09-02

I replaced four bulbs, so it's actually 4*0.3=1.2W.

Although I don't think it would have any sort of noticeable effect other than not draining your battery as quick?

matthew-max (author)2009-08-02

is there a green defuser on the d21 faces? I would think so because the bulbs are clear, and those trucks dash light up green. great idea thanks!

trayo (author)matthew-max2009-09-02

The D21 faces? I'm not sure what that is, but there weren't any green filters anywhere.

Resourceful (author)2009-01-24

FYI you might want to use concave led they are a wide angle rather then dome like you have only makes pointing beam.

chrisayad (author)2008-06-23

dude u ffed up theres bright and dark spots you should have thought about the positioning Did you know that you can sand almost to the metal inside near the top of the led to make it have a wider light angle? there is a little gap above the metal part don't go too far but I have leds i sanded TO the metal and they still work. your problem is because you directed them outward, should have put a foil in front there or even bend the wires for the LEDS so they point. you did a good job but let a pro handle something you are going to have to look at every day, someone like me, lol. I do this for all my friends and if ur near fremont ill hook it up any color custom. i mean i dont mean to plug but you gotta see my car its pretty much my passion ill do ur car if u need help!

like the lights in the vents man

trayo (author)chrisayad2008-06-24

I directed the LEDs outward? Bend the wires? What do you mean? I don't want things too bright and I don't mind the small gaps.

chrisayad (author)trayo2008-06-24

yeah dude also if you want theres a hella good website
http://www.ledwholesalers.com/store/
they have the pre-made bulbs for lazy ppl that use the reverse lens spreading the light pretty effectively although i made my own

trayo (author)chrisayad2008-06-24

I was wondering if you could explain a little better.

chrisayad (author)trayo2008-06-27

if you put them in a vice you can use a mini hack or something to cut them

chrisayad (author)chrisayad2008-06-27

forgot to attach

trayo (author)chrisayad2008-06-27

Oh. It widens the beam real well? I think I will give it a try.

zerocarpileup (author)2008-11-18

ok since you obviously have a 12v batery at the pow fluctuates(sometimes 9v t0 14v) what kind of resistors did you use? and did you wire two of them to each led? im trying to do the same thing to my denali and id like to know if you made a good selection on leds and resistors? have any of them burned out since? or any complications? thanks if you can just get back to me at timbermancan@aol.com

Havok S14 (author)2008-07-23

This is a great instructable good job. Real good for DIY but just letting you know they sell different colored bulbs online and at some auto parts stores. I think they cost like $2-$3 and the colors are dispersed evenly throughout the gages. So you won't get that blue in some areas and brighter spots in others. I'm not knocking on your instructable at all, just shooting a little fyi.

trayo (author)Havok S142008-07-24

Thanks for the info. I tried searching, but didn't come up with good results. I still enjoy looking at my dash though.

Yerboogieman (author)2008-07-06

ima go do this on my car once i get paid, im buying from the internet dealextreme.com free shipping

trayo (author)Yerboogieman2008-07-07

I'll have to check it out.

Yerboogieman (author)trayo2008-07-07

yeah, 20 UV LED's in the panel lights place.

trayo (author)Yerboogieman2008-07-08

Dang.

Yerboogieman (author)trayo2008-07-09

yeah its pretty kool. im glad its cheap though

DavidMF (author)2008-07-07

I was going to do something like this... only I wanted red to match my car. Then after dismanaling the dash I found out that gauges are gree because of the color painted on them in the back. Great instructable by the way.

trayo (author)DavidMF2008-07-07

Hey thanks a lot. I like when things match my car too.

juggalo_assassin183 (author)2008-06-15

hellz yes i feel blood red dash effects coming for my 86 ramcharger sweet dude i love u lol and u have the same mutimeter as me lol u should post a video of them in action

got my dash done it looks awsome i couldent get reguler leds to work for some reasom so i used led tape from deal extreame thats made to work on 12v sytems had i been thinking i probably would have taken pis for a instrucatble lol

Sweet.

gog (author)2008-06-16

Did you think of trying grinding/sanding the LED's down to change how they lit the dash instead of covering them?

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