Explorer repair in Seattle

While Val and I were out in Seattle for Xmas, I did some work on my mom’s 2002 Explorer.  The ford trucks from the late 90’s to the mid 2000’s have an issue with the digital odometer not lighting up randomly.  Some days it will work, others it will not and you can’t read the display.  Eventually, it will stop lighting up completely (this does not mean it will stop accumulating miles, lol)  The issue is from cold solder joints on the backside of the instrument cluster circuit board.  The repair usually runs about $500 from a dealer and involves a new cluster.  The other option, is to just resolder the joints yourself, which is $free.99.

Now the dash design has changed from the late 90’s to even the early 2000’s, so getting the cluster out may be slightly different depending on the year.  Also, the circuit boards are different from what I found out.  The earlier models have broken solder joints where the ribbon cable attaches to the board.  The later models appear to have broken solder joints around a couple of the resistors that run the odometer display.  I was dealing with a later model.

On the 2002’s, you must first unclip the radio surround.  A flat blade screwdriver will help pop the frame loose from the 6 clips that hold it.  Just work around the trim carefully.  I started at the top and worked down.

Next, remove the lower trim panel.  2 7mm screws on the bottom, and then unclip the top (3 clips).  Set aside.

Once the bottom trim is off, remove the 3 lower screws on the upper section, the 2 upper screws above the gauges, and then pop a clip loose on the top (1 by the air duct, and the other on the other side near the radio end).  Lower the steering wheel to the lowest setting, and pop loose the trim piece near the cluster that is attached to the rubber column boot.  Next, from underneath the steering column, remove the 3 screws holding the upper and lower column covers together.  Wiggle the lower cover piece out.  Then you can remove the upper gauge surround piece after removing the 4 electrical connectors on the backside.  Carefully rotate it counter clockwise and out.  With that out of the way, remove the 2 lower screws holding the instrument cluster in, remove the 2 electrical connectors on the cluster, remove the 7mm bolt holding the gear selector to the column, unhook the cable off it’s column and remove from the car.

Cluster out of the car.  Next you can slide the gear selector out of the cluster and set aside.

Flip the unit over and remove the gold screws holding the cover on the back.  Pop the front face cover off by unclipping it, and remove the 2 gold screws on the front side.  I put the cover back on then to keep the gauge needles from getting damaged.

Now you are looking at the rear of the board where the bad joints probably will be.

I pulled the entire assembly apart to check the solder joints on the odometer display as well.  The circuit board actually just pulls off the back of the gauges.  There are 4 pins on each gauge that extrude through the board, and they are just a press/friction fit, so no screws to remove.  Just evenly work the board free if you want to check the rest of the joints (note, this step was not necessary in my case as all the front solder joints were good, but you might as well check)

I found 4 bad solder joints on the odometer end of the board (passenger side).  I also found a joint at the bottom middle of the board that I repaired.   It is hard to see in the pictures, but very obvious with a good magnifying glass in person.

I heated up the joints with a solder iron and added a fresh bit of solder to repair the joints.  On the back side of these joints are actually resistors which run the odometer display.  The one joint was cracked bad enough you could wiggle the resistor on the board.

The other joint that was bad (repaired shown)

Once you have checked all the joints and repaired them, reinstall is opposite of removal.  The big gauge surround piece takes some wiggling to get in, but just be careful and it will eventually slide into place.

Odometer display is lit up and visible!


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