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HomeTips & GuidesAftermarket Instrument Cluster: Things to keep in mind while buying one

Aftermarket Instrument Cluster: Things to keep in mind while buying one

Aftermarket Instrument Cluster: If you have ever driven a vehicle, you must have realized that you notice the board in front of you now and then. 

It gives important details while you drive, including fuel, the car’s speed, etc. The following article will give you information about this board.

Table of Contents

What is an instrument cluster?

An instrument cluster is a board in the dashboard behind the steering wheel of a vehicle. This board has different gauges and lights informing the driver about the vehicle’s components.

A driver maintains the vehicle’s status based on the indicators and gauges shown.

An instrument cluster shows the following gauges:

  • Speedometer

As the name clears, it indicates the vehicle’s running speed. Nowadays, modern cars have an electrical sensor that gives input to the speedometer. Earlier, a cable connected to the rear transmission was used to drive the speedometer mechanically.

  • Fuel gauge
  • Odometer
  • Tachometer

This indicates the RPM or revolutions per minute of the engine. The engine control unit or ECU electronically drives the tachometer.

Sometimes, people refer to instrument clusters as dash, dashboard, and gauge clusters. 

However, the dash or dashboard is where the instrument cluster is.

 In an instrument cluster, if one component fails, you must replace the whole cluster.

Some instrument clusters show analog details, while others show digital. The latter ones are also known as digital dash or digital instrument panels.

Instrument cluster 

Instrument cluster 

Components of an instrument cluster:

An instrument cluster board has different designs for vehicles’ make and model. The cluster can have more gauges and fewer indicators and vice versa. 

Over the years, the instrument cluster design has had significant fundamental changes. 

Earlier, all the instruments and gauges were used to receive inputs directly from the sensors in the component monitored by them. 

For instance, the fuel level sensor in the fuel tank is used to send information to the fuel gauge of the cluster. 

However, modern cars have an engine control unit (ECU), and all instruments connect to this ECU to get input information through a wiring harness. 

Towards the instrument cluster end, the harness comprises a multi-pin connector, making it easy to connect and disconnect the instrument cluster. 

The fuse box under the dash supplies power to the cluster. Generally, there is a single fuse working for the cluster.

Do you need a Replacement Instrument cluster?

Mostly, the instrument cluster lasts for a long time, sometimes even for the vehicle’s lifetime. However, sometimes, clusters may lead to some failure due to the following reasons:

  • Vibration in the vehicle can damage the connections inside the cluster.
  • Mechanical failure of any components, be it a tachometer, odometer, or speedometer. Small gears in these components can be the reason for this mechanical failure.
  • Sudden high voltage from a defective alternator can lead to cluster failure.
  • Sometimes, cluster lights burn out. In such a case, the instrument cluster works, but you won’t be able to see it at night.

In any of the above situations, fixing the cluster may be difficult. So, it would be best if you went for a replacement.

Indicators of a damaged instrument cluster:

Here are some indicators that tell you that you are:

  • Corrosion or disconnection of the wires
  • Stuck needles
  • Burning out of indicator lights
  • Dark spots or burning out of lights
  • LED/LCD does not read the letters and numbers well
  • Blown fuse

Diagnosis of a failing instrument cluster:

All the above problems indicate an issue with the instrument cluster. However, the fuse is the first thing you should rule out in case of a failed instrument cluster.

To check if the reason is a blown fuse, follow the steps:

  • Open the car’s hood
  • Look for the fuse box
  • Check the fuse associated with the instrument cluster (mostly, only one fuse)
  • See if there is any melted or broken wire inside the fuse.

If you find a problem with the fuse, replace it immediately. If next time the fuse blows out, it means the major problem is with the wiring of the instrument cluster or with the cluster.

On the other hand, if the fuse looks good, look for any problem in the wires with the help of a flashlight. 

See if there is any damage or breakage. Check all the connections correctly.

If fuse and wire connections are fine, you must check the cluster itself:

Firstly, check for the cluster power

If there is power, look for the ground wire

Also, check the monitors and bulbs of the cluster

Replacing the whole cluster is better if you cannot identify the real problem or are in doubt.

Replacing an instrument cluster with an aftermarket instrument cluster:

OEM clusters have made a lot of advancements; still, they are not perfect. 

Whenever you go for any modifications in your vehicle, you may need more information based on the newly added electronics. 

And that’s when you have to look for aftermarket instrument clusters.

Aftermarket instrument clusters have been in the market for a long time now. 

The instrument cluster market sells a triple set of gauges (coolant temperatures, oil pressure, and voltmeter) with a tachometer, which can upgrade a modern vehicle with all the required information.

However, for you, the best gauge would be the one that can fulfill your needs and is compatible with the make and model of your car.

By installing an aftermarket cluster, you can not only enhance your vehicle’s performance but can avoid major mechanical failures.

What if only one gauge goes bad or for your added features?

It’s possible for only one gauge to go bad. When that happens, the rest of the instrument cluster may be fine.

 In that case, you can have only that gauge replaced.

You must consider the following points when choosing an aftermarket gauge.

Whether you want a mechanical or electrical gauge:

Mechanical gauges are common and are very old. They connect directly to the component to be measured. 

For instance, a mechanical gauge will use a temperature probe screwed into the coolant passage to indicate coolant temperature and an oil line to check the oil pressure.

Unlike mechanical ones, electrical gauges work very differently, and they use sensors, which are plumbed into the measurable component.

 This sensor takes information from the component and sends it to the cluster through an electrical wire. Based on the information, the gauge displays its results.

But remember that some electrical work will keep the cluster lights illuminated at night in both mechanical and electrical.

A few factors depend on whether you should use a mechanical or electrical gauge. 

  • Though a mechanical gauge has fewer wires, you must run the materials through the dash and firewall for the gauge operation. However, you do not need sensors in these gauges, so they tend to be cheaper than their electrical counterparts.
  • Also, you must look into your vehicle’s specifics before picking any aftermarket gauge. Does the electrical gauge sender have the right port size compatible with your vehicle’s engine? Does your vehicle have the port to attach the mechanical tap for the cluster? What’s its size? Some gauges come with the installation kit, while for others, you may need to buy them separately. Do your research thoroughly.

What are the added features of a vehicle?

Different gauges are becoming popular according to the added features in a vehicle. 

For example, a vehicle with a turbocharger should have a boost gauge because the car’s boost pressure differs from the original factory one.

Apart from this, a temperature gauge, also known as an EGT gauge, is quite common nowadays.

 With more fuel and boost, a diesel truck for towing can have higher exhaust temperatures. If the temperature rises beyond 1200 degrees, it can lead to major catastrophic failure. 

An EGT gauge helps a driver monitor the temperature vitals when the truck is in hard-working mode.

The next popular gauge is the fuel/air gauge, mostly used for gas vehicles. A perfect mix of air and fuel must be there for efficient combustion in gasoline vehicles. 

According to stoichiometry (the science of studying gasoline engines), proper combustion happens when there is a 14.7:1 ratio of air and fuel. 

Thus, it is essential to have a perfect balance between turbo, modified parts, performance, and fuel to keep the engine going. 

A real-time fuel/air gauge monitors the air-fuel mixture condition for this.

Installation of an aftermarket gauge

First, you must decide the location of the new aftermarket gauge. 

The site should be where you can easily read the gauge without getting distracted from the road view. 

You can choose a driver-side pillar to mount the gauges. Some companies also make pillars to fit into or under the dash.

Drill into the dashboard to install. While installing the gauge, you also have to run multiple wires into that location. 

  • First, all gauges need two voltage sources: 

One 12-volt headlight source to the headlight switch, from which gauges take power to light themselves when either the headlight or parking lights turn on.

A 12-volt ignition source. This source will power the lighting on your gauges to operate when the ignition key enters the RUN position. 

  • Then, if it is an electrical gauge, you need to connect the gauge to the sensor unit when necessary.
  • Lastly, the light circuit and the gauge will need a ground wire.

Conclusion:

If your instrument cluster fails or you want a new one due to modifications made in the vehicle, you must replace the instrument cluster and the wiring harness accordingly. 

Buying an aftermarket instrument is an effective strategy to supplement your vehicle’s cluster. 

Get OEM quality replacement harnesses or a new custom wiring harness for the instrument cluster from Cloom.

Hi I am Christa, sales manager of Cloom.

I have extensive expertise and experience in wiring harnesses and I believe I can help you.

And we have a very professional technical team who can clearly understand the customer’s needs and give professional suggestions and solutions after receiving the drawings.

If you also have wiring harness needs, please send me the drawing so that we can give you our quote and start our business.

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