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Changing an Instrument Cluster Lightbulb

Comments by Ronald Chong

The light behind my speedometer burned out. This procedure took me about 4 hours working gingerly; trying not to harm my baby. Here is a pretty detailed description of the job:

  • Disconnect the battery. Standard procedure for most repairs.
  • Remove the driver's seat. Easy; four bolts and an electrical connector. It just makes diggin' around inside the car easier. I'm 6' 1", 200, so I took out both seats, just to be "comfortable".
  • Remove the steering wheel. I don't have an airbag for my removal easy. If you have an airbag, they will need to be ultra careful. You will definitely wanna check a service manual to abide by all the precautions. The steering wheel takes some pulling. But DON'T TAKE THE BOLT OFF ALL THE WAY WHEN YOU'RE PULLING or you're liable to bury the wheel in your face when it finally comes off. :) Mine came off more gracefully than that, but you never know.
  • Remove steering column cover. It's a two-piece, plastic casing.
  • Remove center console dash components; a copy of the manual page will make this easier to understand. Remove the hand brake console piece first and work your way forward. The center console, which hold the ash try, stereo, center vents, etc is kinda tricky. You HAVE TO DISCONNECT SOME MECHANICAL (as opposed to electrical) CABLES UNDER THE DASH, beside the accelerator pedal. Those cable work the vent/circ and the hot/cold levers. This is why I took out the driver's seat; I needed to lie on my back with my head at the pedals to get at the cables. Move the levers around and you find the ends of the cables. The center console doesn't need to come completely out. You just need to dislodge it so that the adjacent dash pieces can be removed. Y'see, the whole dash is a bunch of overlapping pieces.
  • Remove the driver's side dash. This is the piece that has the power mirror adjuster and instrument cluster dimmer thingie. The driver's side vent is also on this.
  • Now the scary part (at least for me). Disconnect the speedometer pinion from the transaxle. The speedo is driven, by a pinion connected at the end of a cable, off the transaxle. And the cable doesn't have enough "play" to allow you to pull the cluster while it's still attached. You need a long phillips to remove the screw that secures the pinion end into the tranny. BTW, the speedo cable is pretty easy to identify. It's a solitary black cable coming through the firewall roughly behind the cluster. It goes right down to the transaxle. Once you remove the screw, pull the pinion out of the transaxle. Since I has limited room, I jacked up the driver's front side, and removed the wheel so I could see the pinion at eye level. Be careful no to get clumps of dirt and other crud in the hole. In fact, clean around that pinion end before you pull the pinion out. Once it got it out, I loosely wrapped the pinion in a rag to keep it as clean as possible.
  • With the pinion removed, the cluster panel comes right out, once you've removed the four screws that hold it in, of course. :) you now have access to the back of the cluster. Whew. Finding the right bulb may be tricky. I used an ohmmeter to verify that the suspect bulb really was open.
  • Reverse the process. Putting the pinion back it was easy. I was afraid that I had inadvertently turned the pinion and it wouldn't mesh when I tried to put it back it. But it slid right in. Luck?

The worst part of this whole thing is having to wait until sundown to guarantee that you changed the right bulb.

CAVEAT: I got mail from someone who has changed an instrument cluster light also. He said that I did a lot more disconnecting, etc than he did. In retrospect, I would agree that some of the stuff I did wasn't totally necessary. For example, removing the seats. He said that he did it without removing the steering wheel! What ever the case, you should eliminate points on this list as you see fit. If you discover a more terse procedure (that is still doable by the average Joe), please let me know. Thanks.

Comments Dave Scampoli

I just read your description of changing a blown instrument panel light on your SE-R. I think I found an easier way (although it took me close to 3 hours to figure it out).

  • After disconnecting the battery....
  • Remove all the driver's side dashboard panels and loosen the center panel.
  • Take off the steering wheel column plastic shroud (you have to pry it apart after you take out the screws thanks to some plastic locking tabs).
  • Put the tilt steering wheel in the lowest position.
  • Now here's the part that took 3 hours (and a frustrating read through almost every page in the 4 inch thick factory-issue service manual)--and you may still have to take out the driver's side seat to do this. If you reach up under and behind the dashboard past the driver's side air duct (and there isn't much room to do this) you can just about get your fingers on the speedometer cable where it connects to the instrument cluster (forget trying to reach the bulbs--you can't get sufficient leverage on them to turn them). There are 2 small buttons on either side of the speedometer cable about 1/2 inch back from the panel to disconnect the speedometer cable. If you press these while gently pulling the instrument panel back, the cable will disconnect. You can then access the bulbs by tilting the panel back. The hardest part is doing all this blind, as you have to feel your way around behind the dashboard up to the speedometer cable.
  • The best place to put you hand up the dashboard is next to the steering column right between the clutch & brake pedals. There's an air duct that runs longitudinal on the driver's side that you have to go around, and a pretty big wiring harness that you need to push back to make room. You can also just feel around the firewall for the speedometer cable (it is about 3/8" in diameter and is stiff like coaxial cable) and just follow it up to the instrument cluster. Anyone with big hands may have problems with this because there is not a lot of room around that duct.

After spending an entire Saturday flat on my back on the floor of my SE-R, I decided I was never going through this again and replaced all the bulbs in the instrument panel while I had it apart. I was very surprised to find there was no reference to changing instrument panel bulbs anywhere in the service manual.

Another way to do it by George Roffe

1. Start by lowering your steering wheel.

2. Take out the screws for your upper and lower dash trim, the ones above the radio, and the one on the lower left side of the console.

3. Carefully remove the upper and lower trim. The lower should come off without any fanfare. The upper one you have to be careful with. You have to maneuver it around a bit. To actually get it out, you have to bend it slightly (be careful). If you don't want to deal with this, take off the steering wheel. Also be careful around the vent. There are clips that attach on the sides of the vent. You need a small screwdriver to release these. If you've had part of your dash apart before, it should be familiar. If not, have patience, and you should be able to figure it out.

4. Now you should have all of the trim pieces off. The instrument cluster is held on by four screws. Take them out.

5. You are now ready to disconnect the speedo. You need a phillips head screwdriver or a 10mm socket. I actually used both. I used the socket to loosen the screw that holds the cable in, and the screwdriver to take it completely out. The screw is located just behind the cable where it attaches to the gearbox.

When you get the screw out, you have to reach down (tight fit for my big hands) and at the bottom of the cable you'll find a knurled ring. Turn it a little while pulling up. Mine was a little difficult. The pinion is sealed with an O-ring. Don't worry, it will come out (mine took me awhile).

6. Once you've disconnected the speedo, push the cable into the car. The instrument panel should now be pushed out far enough to disconnect the cable from the rear. Disconnect the cable. You can now tilt the cluster around to find all of the lights you have to replace.

7. Reassemble is the reverse of these steps. There are a couple of things to watch out for. You might have to turn the pinion a little to get it to go back in (spiral cut gears). This shouldn't be a problem. Also, I had some trouble reconnecting the clips around the vent. If I remember right, Wayne Cox had that problem a few weeks ago. Again, have patience and you'll get it.