Instrument Cluster Buyer’s Guide
- The instrument cluster is the part of your car that tells you what's going on in its internal systems.
- It usually contains the speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge, temperature gauge, and warning and indicator lights.
- The instrument cluster displays pertinent vehicle information and alerts you of possible issues in your internal systems. It helps you drive safely and maintain your automobile better.
- Despite the durability of your instrument cluster, it can wear out over time. In some cases, frequent usage and poor upkeep may cause the instrument panel to wear faster.
- Symptoms of a bad instrument cluster include inaccurate readings, loss of LCD, busted warning and indicator lights, and erratic or non-functional gauges.
- An aftermarket instrument cluster costs anywhere from around $100 to $500, depending on your vehicle's year, make, and model.
- When buying an instrument cluster, make sure it fits the specification of your vehicle.
As you drive, you rely on the features on your dashboard for information on how fast you're going, how much fuel you still have, and how hot or cold your engine is. These data help you drive safely and maintain your vehicle better.
This component is called the instrument cluster. As one of your car's essential parts, it requires immediate attention if it malfunctions. In this guide, you'll learn all about the instrument cluster, its functions, and when to have it replaced.
What is an Instrument Cluster?
The instrument cluster, also known as the electronic instrument cluster, digital instrument panel, and digital dash, is the part of your car that tells you what's going on in its internal systems. It is typically located on the dashboard directly behind the wheel.
An instrument cluster can be analog, digital, or a hybrid of both. Modern instrument clusters usually have both digital and analog gauges. These, along with warning lights and information display, make up the instrument cluster.
What Does an Instrument Cluster Do?
An instrument cluster displays pertinent vehicle information. It usually consists of the following:
- Fuel Gauge
- Temperature Gauge
- Odometer (trip computer in other vehicles)
- Warning and Indicator Lights
- Information Display
Note: For digital instrument panels, the information display typically contains the thermometer, transaxle position indicator (in automatic transmission cars), average fuel consumption, clock, and odometer.
What Does the Instrument Cluster Contain?
There are several kinds of instrument cluster designs, which vary depending on the year, make, and model of your vehicle. Some contain all of the parts mentioned above, while others only include the primary gauges and standard warning lights.
The instrument cluster includes various gauges, like the fuel gauge, temperature gauge, speedometer, and tachometer. The fuel gauge indicates the amount of gas in your tank, the temperature displays the temperature of your engine, and the speedometer presents the speed of your vehicle. Meanwhile, the tachometer shows the rotation rate of the crankshaft in the engine.
On the other hand, warning and indicator lights alert you of possible issues and updates your car may need. These features include the check engine light and low fuel light. Warning and indicator lights vary across vehicle types, with some having more detailed warning lights than others.
Analog vs. Digital Instrument Cluster
Instrument clusters can be analog, digital, or a hybrid of the two. Most cars nowadays have both analog and digital components, with needle gauges driven by stepper motors.
Most cars nowadays still have analog instrument clusters despite the increasing popularity of digital instrument panels. Some parts of the dashboard may appear digital, but most gauges, like the speedometer, fuel gauge, and the tachometer, remain analog.
Advancements in technology made it possible for some car manufacturers to go completely digital. Everything from the speedometer to the fuel gauge now has digital readouts instead of the typical analog gauges. Cars with digital instrument panels use heads-up displays (HUD), which can assist in automotive night vision. Digital instrument clusters can usually be found in luxury models and premium cars.
Depending on what kind of vehicle you own, your dashboard may have more analog components than digital, which is typically the case in older models.
Why is an Instrument Cluster Important?
An instrument cluster is important because it displays various critical information that is critical in ensuring safe drives. For instance, it tells you how fast you're going so you can slow down when needed. It also lets you know how much fuel you still have, letting you fill up in advance during long drives.
Additionally, the instrument cluster alerts you of possible issues within your internal systems. So if the check engine light, charging system warning light, or engine oil pressure light is activated, consider having your vehicle checked by a mechanic immediately.
How Does an Instrument Cluster Fail?
Despite the durability of your instrument cluster, it can still wear out over time. In some cases, frequent usage and poor upkeep may cause the instrument panel to wear faster.
Signs of a Bad Instrument Cluster
Here are the most common signs of a bad instrument cluster:
The first symptom of a faulty instrument cluster is when it displays inaccurate readings. This could mean anything from a loose needle to a blown fuse. Regardless of the cause, an instrument cluster that gives inaccurate readings typically requires immediate replacement.
Inaccurate readings could potentially be dangerous. It may also have legal implications if you unknowingly drive over the speed limit.
Erratic or non-functional gauges
When none of the gauges work, a blown fuse may be the culprit. When just one of the gauges stops working, it could mean a broken gauge, stripped gear, or faulty wiring.
Warning and indicator lights won't turn on
If the warning lights don't work correctly, it could be caused by a wiring issue. If the lights don't turn on at all, this may mean a blown bulb.
Loss of LCD
Another symptom of a bad instrument cluster is the loss of the LCD. When your information display doesn't illuminate, this could mean a problem with the fuse or the LCD itself.
A failing instrument cluster can be caused by issues other than the ones mentioned above, so it's important to have it checked by an expert for an accurate diagnosis. If your instrument panel behaves erratically, gives inaccurate readings, displays weird or broken characters, or shows nothing at all, it may be time for a replacement.
As this is a crucial component, don't brush off any issues and immediately bring your vehicle to a mechanic at the first sign of a problem.
How Much is an Instrument Cluster?
An aftermarket instrument cluster costs anywhere from around $100 to $500, depending on your vehicle's year, make, and model. Other factors that can affect instrument cluster replacement costs include its brand and style. An instrument cluster replacement is typically sold individually.
Finding the Right Fit
When buying an instrument cluster, make sure it fits the specification of your vehicle. Whether it's to replace a faulty part or simply an aesthetic upgrade, choose one that perfectly matches your car.
Get the right instrument cluster for your ride by entering its year, make, and model into our search engine. You can also filter your search according to your preferred brand and price range. Just click search and browse through our selection of top-quality instrument clusters.
Step-by-step Installation of a Replacement Instrument Cluster
Because an instrument cluster is an important device and aesthetic enhancement to a car's interior, it needs to be maintained at its best condition. In case your car's instrument cluster looks worn, or you just want to have an upgrade, get one that is especially made for your car make and model. Doing so ensures easy installation, and here is the general step-by-step instruction if you will DIY:
NOTE: The law requires you to set your new odometer to the original mileage reading before the replacement. Or, mount a label that has the previous mileage reading of your old part and the date you replaced it.
Level of difficulty: ModerateThings you'll need:
- Phillips screwdriver
- Set of wrenches
- 1/4-inch drive ratchet
- 1/4-inch drive sockets
- Always wear safety glasses and gloves when working on your instrument cluster.
- Wait for your engine to cool before removing your old instrument cluster.
- Disconnect the negative battery cable to avoid electrocution.
Step 1: Deactivate the vehicle's SIR air bag system by letting 10 minutes pass after disconnection of your negative battery cable.
Step 2: Remove the screws holding the upper trim of your instrument cluster using a ratchet and socket, and pull the lower section slowly to free the trim panel.
Step 3: Unbolt the mounting hardware that holds the ?carrier' of the instrument cluster. Pull the cluster and unplug its connector from the power source.
Step 4: Clean the carrier and install the new instrument cluster in it.
NOTE: Make sure there is enough space for the electrical wire and plug and ensure that the cluster's alignment pins are inserted appropriately.
Step 5: Push the carrier into its original slot, and install the screws on the trim panel.
To check your new instrument panel, reconnect your negative battery cable and turn the engine on. Let your vehicle run for a few minutes to see if the gauges and electrical wires are working. If they are, you have just installed a new instrument cluster!