Introduction: Customized Car Instrument Cluster Gauge Face

About: Architect by profession, Designer by occupation, Techie by choice, Artist by heart.

Our trusty old Mazda 323BG's (1994) instrument cluster is clearly showing its age. Its lights are too dim to see at night and the design is clearly outdated so I decided to do something about it and give it a much needed "face-lift" :-)

What you'll need:

  • Workshop Manual for your car
  • Screwdrivers
  • Isopropyl Alcohol
  • Semi-matte or matte sticker
  • Scissors or Cutter
  • Diffuser plates (can be found on old LCD screens)
  • You can also use 2-3 sheets of tracing paper instead of diffuser plates

Step 1: Remove Your Instrument Cluster

Since different car models have different ways of removing their instrument cluster, I would recommend you download a Workshop Manual for your particular model. Some are pretty easy, but some might require you to remove your dashboard entirely.

This instructable is about replacing/customizing the gauge faces, so I won't be detailing here how I removed my cluster.

Step 2: Remove the Dials

It's pretty easy to remove the dials. Be wary though that the needles are pretty fragile and can easily break. You can use a tweezer as a kind of lever to pop the needle straight up, Be patient and do not force the dial to pop-out or you might regret it. You can also try using a fork to pull the dials off if you're feeling a little rebellious ;-P

If you feel the dial is stuck, you can use a hot air gun or a hair dryer to momentarily heat the dial and let the plastic expand a bit.

Step 3: Remove the Face Plate

There will be some type of screw holding the face plate, remove those and carefully pull-up the plate. There are small removable plastics that hold these plates level and steady. Identify these and put them somewhere safe.

Step 4: Designing Your Face Plate

After removing the faceplate, The first thing I did was scan it on a flatbed scanner. I then imported it to CorelDraw and traced the outline. (You can use other vector-editing software like Adobe Illustrator etc.) That way, I won't need to exactly measure the dimensions of the plate. I then proceeded to design the face and had it printed on sticker paper. I used a semi-matte sticker and a colored laser printer for the print-out. You can use an inkjet printer and photo paper if you want but it won't come out as nice as the laser printed one.

Step 5: Time to Remove the Old Face

We need to remove the old paint from the surface of the plate. I used a 70% Isopropyl alcohol so as not to "burn" the plastic beneath. Using paint removers or lacquer-thinner is a no-no. Soaking the face in alcohol effectively softened the paint and after a few minutes, I was able to remove the paint completely and left me with two clean plastic plates.

Step 6: Prepare the Stickers

Time to cut them stickers! So whip out your scissors and cut them to shape.

Step 7: Stick 'em Time!

To ensure that no air bubble gets in-between your plastic plate and sticker, make sure to wipe the plate clean. Separate a small portion of the sticker from the backing and make a small fold and align it with your plate. Slowly ease the sticker onto the plate using your index finger, a squeegee or an old plastic card.

Of course, after attaching the sticker to the plate, you will need to cut-out the holes on the sticker corresponding to the holes on the plate.

Step 8: Attach a Diffuser to Your Plate

Light from your stock bulbs will unevenly spread on your faceplate since bulb on an instrument cluster tend to shine only at a given point. To spread the light evenly, we will need to attach a diffuser to our faceplate. Here I used an old (cracked) LCD's diffuser plates (3 pieces of silver, smoked-like sheets), cut it to shape then attached it to the back of the faceplate.

Note: You can also add additional LED bulbs to your instrument cluster to spread the light evenly but that will be for another tutorial.

Step 9: Replace the Bulbs

Since we're replacing and upgrading the looks of our gauges, this is the best time to replace old lights. Its pretty easy to remove the bulbs, you just need to turn the holders about a 1/8th turn counter clockwise. Then just pull-off the bulb from the holder. On my mazda 323 there are 5 main wedge-type peanut bulbs which illuminate the gauges. I replaced these with T5 LED lights.

Step 10: Put Everything Back Together

Once you tested and confirm that all your lights are working, you may now put everything back in its place. Just reverse the steps on how you removed it.

Pat yourself on the shoulder and congratulate yourself for a job well done.