You've probably replaced burned-out headlights and taillights yourself. But if you've backed away from replacing burned-out dashboard lights because you thought the job was too complicated, you're now out of excuses. We'll show you how to remove the trim panels and instrument cluster on a 1999 Ford Taurus. But you can apply these disassembly tips to almost any vehicle. Pick up several packages of new bulbs at an auto parts store before you start the project (replace all the instrument cluster bulbs at the same time), and plan on devoting about two hours to the job. You'll save the cost of an hour or two of shop time by doing this yourself.
Removing dash trim panels is actually easy. The hard part is figuring out which panel to remove first. That's where exploded diagrams from a shop manual really pay off. Online factory manuals offer the most detailed diagrams (search online for “factory manuals” for your car model; most are available free or for minimal cost). If you hate reading shop manuals, at least follow these two important tips: First, remove the bottom-most trim panel; we had to remove the Taurus radio to get to the bottom trim panel screws (Photo 1). A lower panel always hides the screws for the panel above it. And second, if a panel won't pop out, don't pull harder. You must have missed a retaining screw, so look harder.
Then pry at a corner of the instrument cluster trim with a non-marring tool. Buy a set of nylon pry tools (available for a few dollars at auto supply stores) or wrap electrical tape around the end of a butter knife (screwdrivers can damage the dash). Insert the tool and use a quick snapping motion to dislodge the spring clip panel fasteners.
Disconnect the negative battery terminal before removing any electrical connectors. Then remove the connectors from the switches and controls and lift out the panel. Every electrical connector has a lock/release tab. Release it before trying to pull off the connector. Next remove the instrument cluster bezel (plastic window) to access the cluster retaining screws. Tilt the cluster forward and disconnect the electrical connectors (Photo 2). Remove the cluster, turn it over and locate the bulb sockets. Remove the old bulbs and insert the new ones (Photo 3). Handle them with a clean rag or gloves to keep skin oils off the glass. But be careful. Miniature bulbs can shatter and slice your fingers if you squeeze too hard trying to get them out of their sockets. If the bulb won't budge, use a small screwdriver to pry it out.