View Full Version : a write-up of my gauge / dash color conversion

12-01-2004, 09:49 PM
Post by Nullcore

for those of you who wanted the how-to on changing the color of your dash lights, here's a bit of a writeup.


testor's transparent red model spray paint. for other colors, you'll have to ask around. i haven't seen testors transparent in any other color. you'll need something that can deal well with a little heat, and not fade.
# ten 3v, 3mm, led lights. your color of choice. radioshack has them, but they're cheaper elsewhere and radioshack has the habit of having 4 packages of two, when you need 5. http://www.jameco.com/ is good for small electronic parts. you may need more, or less, leds for your particular setup.
soldering equipment. skill not particularly required. this is the first time i've done it. just read the damn directions, i'm not gonna teach you to solder too. ;)
desoldering equipment. ditto to above.
a little masking tape.
a piece of cardboard.
adhesive. i used a spray adhesive

gauge bulbs

ok, we'll start with the gauges themselves. i don't have pictures of dash disassembly, but i'm sure there's a writeup of that out there somewhere. if someone has a link, please post it. i'll start assuming you have the gauges out of the vehicle, sitting in front of you.

first off, if you look at the back of the gauge cluster, you see the ass-end of all the bulb holders. there are five or six of the larger bulbs which determine the color of the existing lights, as well as one or two smaller bulbs. they're clear bulbs with green covers. determine which ones you want by pulling them out [twist counter-clockwise 1/4 turn or so, then pull] and looking through hole to see what they light up. you won't need all of the bulbs as the ones with no covers control the warning lights, high-beam indicator, etc. pull the bulbs out of their holders and remove the green covers. i can't recall the exact size of the bulbs, but if you need replacements, the number should be printed somewhere on the sides. there will be mostly larger bulbs with one or two smaller ones.


photo: those are not the bulb holders you'll see in your dash. those are for my auxillary gauges in my a-pillar, which use the same size bulb. the green holders will look exactly like the red ones shown [also came with the auxillary gauges]. i decided to paint these bulbs too so all my reds match.

now, set these aside for now. let's get at the rest of the bulbs we need.

climate control bulbs

these instructions may be slightly different, depending on the layout of your specific climate controls. mine are automatic, with a dial which controls fan speed, rather than buttons.

after you have your dash mostly apart, you should be able to get to the screws which hold in your controls. unscrew and unplug the unit, and remove it. to get it further apart, you'll have to pop all the button covers off from the front. remember which ones go where. there's nothing to remind you upon reinstallation. mine were old and brittle, and i broke a few of the the buttons while popping them out with a very small screwdriver. i'm still working on a way to fix them. be very careful. i couldn't find any way to get them off of there, save for just prying gently until they popped out. you won't have to remove the dials [at least i didn't in my particular setup].

after the buttons are all off, begin to dissasemble the backside. remove all the screws, and you should then be able to remove the circuit boards. remove all the clear plastic light diffusers, and pull all of the smaller bulbs from their holders and covers. you'll need to paint these as well.

my rear defroster unit comes apart seperately, and includes two more bulbs which require paint. all of the buttons, save for the rear defroster use bulbs to light the face, and led lighting to light the indicator light [which comes on when pressed]. the defroster uses bulbs for each. the indicator bulb has a yellow cover to make it appear orange, and match the front defroster indicator. since my front defroster indicator led was dead, i opted to make both red. if you wish to leave both orange, leave the yellow-covered bulb alone.

painting the bulbs

i took all of my bulbs together, and taped them onto the top edge of a piece or carboard using masking tape. i applied tape on the bulb contacts, so just the top of the bulb remained clear to be painted and none of the contacts became gunked up with paint. from there, i simply sprayed 3 coats of testors, letting the bulbs dry between coats. i let them sit for a day before i reinstalled everything. depending on how thickly you apply coats, what kind of paint you're using, and how deep you wish the color to appear, you may need to apply more, or less, coats. trial and error.


photo: front of bulbs, painted.


photo: rear of bulbs, painted. you can see the testors can lid in the very bottom. i used it to prop the cardboard up while drying.

12-01-2004, 09:56 PM

climate control led lights

ok, while you're waiting for bulbs to dry, it's time to get to work on all those pesky leds. firstoff, in your button array within your climate controls, each button has a single green led. they look clear, but they light up green. desolder them all unless you plan to keep the defrosters orange. the orange leds look almost the same as the green ones, so you'll have to look closely, or just remember which button is which. once you have them all desoldered and out of the way, clean the contacts with a cotton swab. i used water alone, but you could probably use a very mild soap. don't skip this part, or you'll have a hell of a time getting the solder to make contact when you put the new lights in. solder hates dirt.

now, simply run the led leads of your new bulbs through the holes in the circuit board, solder in place, and cut the leads. some people like to cut their leads before soldering. whatever works for you.

don't forget the recirculation lights up top, and the a/c button down below.


photo: the led bulbs i used. make sure you get 3mm, as 5mm is too big. i just guessed the voltage on the circuit board, and 3v seems to work fine. even as dull as these ones are, they light up properly in a dash application. any brighter, and they might be a little piercing.


photo: recirculation button leds before replacement.


photo: button array with most of the leds replaced.

automatic window controls

for the real, nitpickers with automatic windows, i also did these with red leds. essentially, you'll be doing the same thing as above. i believe you have to remove the entire door panel to get to the control module out.

once removed, pop off the switches [be careful not to lose any of the parts. there are some very small springs, contacts, and little plastic rods that go together in there. keep everything somewhere safe. plastic baggies work great. upon reinstallation, one of the springs jettisoned a little plastic rod across the room, so now i have to fashion myself a new one with a dremel.

12-01-2004, 09:56 PM


photo: backside of the door controls. after you get everything else apart, you've got to pry off these two small circuit boards. they're glued on, so just pry til they pop off. use the above procedure to remove and reinstall the led lights. be sure to accurately replicate the existig bends in the led leads, so your lights shine in the correct location to light the switches.

next, re-glue the boards back into place. i used a 3m spray adhesive on the black plastic after masking off the correct area. i then quickly unmasked, and pushed the boards firmly into place.


photo: proper alignment of the original bulbs. try as best you can to replicate this with your new leds.


reverse of removal. ; )

and that, kids... is that.