The instrument cluster shows you critical vehicular information at a glance. Engine temperature, fuel, mileage, speed–whatever the data you need, the part has it. While the cluster usually lasts throughout the car’s service life, it might wear out faster than anticipated. It will usually display warning signs that something has gone wrong with one of its components or if the entire part has failed.
This article covers the most common instrument cluster problems and their symptoms, helping you identify potential issues as early as possible.
What Are the Common Problems of the Instrument Cluster?
Here are some of the most frequently reported instrument cluster problems:
Dim or No Backlighting
Artificial lighting is critical when you drive at night or in bad weather that reduces the amount of light available. If you can’t see the information provided by the instrument cluster, you might make a mistake on the road. That’s why dim lighting or no backlighting poses a problem.
While many instrument cluster gauges have glow-in-the-dark markings, most clusters use a light source when it gets dark. In older vehicles, the instrument cluster has one or more light bulbs that provide illumination. Newer vehicles might have display screens with a backlight or another illuminator.
Whatever the light source of the instrument cluster, it will cause trouble if it performs poorly or fails. Light bulbs grow dimmer over time and might burn out without warning. If the instrument cluster loses its backlighting while you’re driving at night, you’ll find it more difficult to see its readings.
Inaccurate Gauge Reading
Another recurring instrument cluster problem is inaccurate readings on one of its gauges. The cluster contains several gauges that provide critical information about your vehicle.
Each gauge shows the reading taken by its respective sensor. However, one of the gauges might start displaying inaccurate values. For example, a speedometer might show a speed value that isn’t as fast or slow as the vehicle’s actual speed.
There are several possible reasons behind inaccurate gauge readings. The simplest explanation is that the gauge has developed a problem that requires either repair or, more likely, replacement. Other possible causes include a faulty sensor, damaged connectors, loose connectors, and issues with the wiring between the different parts.
In any case, inspect the relevant parts to determine what’s causing the instrument cluster gauge to show the wrong readings.
No Gauge Reading Displayed
What happens when a gauge on the instrument cluster stops working? You can’t get any updates on the performance or status of your vehicle that the faulty part usually displays. For example, a malfunctioning speed gauge stays at its resting value of 0 miles per hour, even if you’re cruising down the highway.
Many possible causes for inaccurate readings also apply to a gauge that doesn’t show any information. Again, check everything related to the instrument cluster gauge and identify the exact component or part that triggered the problem.
Pixelated LCD Screen
Many modern instrument clusters feature a liquid-crystal display (LCD) screen that displays some of the information presented by analogue gauges. In some vehicles, the LCD screen acts as a digital instrument cluster, completely replacing the measuring devices in older designs.
While an LCD-equipped digital instrument cluster enjoys several advantages over its analog predecessors, it can develop pixel-related problems. Pixels can disappear, fade, or fail.
A dead pixel leaves a dark spot on the LCD screen that usually can’t be removed. While some bad pixels are defects created during manufacturing, others can form as LCD components wear out.
Bad pixels can hide important information displayed on the LCD screen. You might not understand the readings on the digital instrument cluster if there are dead pixels distorting the image. If enough pixels die, the LCD becomes unusable, forcing you to replace the faulty part.
There are many issues that can cause pixels to fail. One of the most common causes is a bad cable that links the display to the instrument cluster. BMWs manufactured between the mid-1980s and early 2000s often suffer from this issue. Bad or damaged LED lights can also lead to faulty pixels.
Broken LCD Screen
In severe cases, the LCD screen can stop working altogether. Perhaps it’s not getting enough power to run. Or a critical component failed, taking down the digital instrument cluster with it.
While you can sometimes fix a broken LCD or digital instrument cluster, a new screen might be required.
Instrument Cluster Doesn’t Activate
When you start your vehicle, the instrument cluster also fires up. Powered by the battery, the part shows you relevant information like how hot the engine is and how much fuel remains in the tank.
A faulty instrument cluster might fail to activate during your vehicle’s start-up sequence. The cluster’s gauges stay in their starting positions, leaving you in the dark about the state of your vehicle.
Instrument Cluster Failure
Sometimes, the instrument cluster accumulates too much wear or develops too many problems. If the cluster reaches its limit, it might stop working altogether, forcing you to replace the entire part.
Symptoms of a Bad Instrument Cluster
Here are the most likely warning signs of a faulty instrument cluster:
- Gauge needles move erratically
- Sticky or dead gauges
- Dim or flickering backlighting
- Instrument cluster stops working
Many instrument clusters will diagnose themselves to look for potential problems.
Can a Bad Battery Cause Instrument Cluster Problems?
Yes. Many instrument cluster problems originate from a bad car battery. If the cluster stops working, check the battery for any issues that might affect the power it supplies.
The car battery provides current for parts and systems while starting your vehicle and when the alternator cannot meet the load. The instrument cluster is one of the parts that relies on battery power.
A weak battery can cause issues like flickering lights and irregularly moving gauges. Conversely, a faulty instrument cluster can drain the battery even after you turn the vehicle off.
Inspect the car battery’s terminals for corrosion or looseness that could interfere with the current sent to the instrument cluster. Don’t forget to check the battery date.
How Much Does a Replacement Instrument Cluster Cost?
Sometimes, you must replace the entire instrument cluster. A replacement cluster can go for anywhere between $150 and $1,100. Various factors determine the product’s price tag, such as your vehicle’s details.
Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.