Open the dashboard and replace the bulbs
1 of 3
Photo 1: Remove the radio
Pull the radio (if required) using a set of
radio removal tools (available for a few dollars at any auto
parts store). Then remove the bottommost
trim panel screws and pop off the
panel to reach the screws for the panel
2 of 3
Photo 2: Disconnect electrical connectors
Remove the instrument cluster screws and tilt the assembly
out far enough to reach the electrical connector and
speedometer cable (older vehicles).
3 of 3
Photo 3: Pull the bulbs
Twist the bulb socket a quarter turn and pull straight out.
Swap in a new bulb.
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.