What Causes the Instrument Cluster to Stop Working?

The instrument cluster, or digital dash, provides the driver with important information necessary for a safe driving experience. It is located on the driver’s dashboard and includes the speedometer, fuel gauge, and odometer. In some cases, though, it stops working. What causes the instrument cluster to stop working?

Here is a list of what causes the instrument cluster to stop working:

  1. Computer faults
  2. Blown fuse
  3. Loose connectors
  4. Bad sensors
  5. Stripped gear
  6. Overloaded circuit
  7. Wiring problems
  8. Grounding issue
  9. Defective instrument cluster

This article will go over how instrument clusters work, what causes them to stop working, and how to determine the exact problem. We’ll also include some examples, such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, to understand why it sometimes doesn’t work.

What Causes the Instrument Cluster to Stop Working?

Sensors in the vehicle generate signals that send to the car’s computer. The computer converts them into something that can be read by the instrument cluster.

If one doesn’t work, such as the speedometer, how can you tell if it’s a problem with the entire instrument cluster or something else? You may immediately think it is a problem with the instrument cluster, but it may actually be a problem with the vehicle sensors, computer, or wiring.

Instrument Cluster Speedometer Mileage

Causes of Instrument Cluster Problems

Let’s look at what causes the instrument cluster to stop working in more detail:

1. Computer Faults

For some vehicles, one wire can have two signals that cause weird behavior. It comes from the computer not correctly functioning, which may be due to corrupted software or a hardware problem. For 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee instrument cluster problems, this is not the most common cause, and replacing the PCM only renders a 50% success rate in fixing the dashboard problem.

2. Blown Fuse

A blown fuse is one of two guaranteed causes for a non-working instrument cluster and only happens when none of the gauges work. It is also a probable cause if your Jeep Cherokee warning lights are not working and should be inspected first before concluding that your warning lights need new bulbs. To verify, access the fuse box in the engine compartment under the driver’s side dash, or refer to your owner’s manual for its exact location.

3. Loose Connectors

Connectors that are either loose or have come unplugged are easy to fix and are part of what you need to check when doing a simple circuit trace. If this happens to cause your instrument cluster problem, make sure to disconnect the car battery, plug the connectors back together, fix loose ones, and reconnect the battery. Your instrument panel should come back to life shortly after.

4. Bad Sensors

In most cases, only one or two gauges in your instrument cluster do not work. When this occurs, you would probably trace the problem to a bad sensor. The type of sensor that most commonly goes bad is the speedometer sensor. Symptoms include speedometer and cruise control glitches, power loss, and check engine light activation.

5. Stripped Gear

Non-working odometers and speedometers usually point to this reason. Defective gauges could likewise be due to a broken cable – that is, if your vehicle uses a physical cable instead of sensors for the speedometer to function. To fix this, you need to pull out your instrument cluster to get at the gears. While you’re at it, use compressed air to remove dust and a microfiber cloth to clean the clear plastic.

6. Overloaded Circuit

A faulty voltage regulator, which sends power to the instrument panel in most current vehicles, may be responsible for what causes the instrument cluster to stop working. When this is defective, your digital dash may not entirely stop working. However, your gauges will read extremely high/low, act up, or become erratic. Even jumpstarting your vehicle or switching out the battery can cause an electrical spike that can lead to, say, a speedometer going berserk.

7. Wiring Problems

Should your voltage regulator work just fine, then chances are the issue is caused by a fault with wiring – one of the two causes leading to a fully non-working instrument panel. This fact is especially true for a 2000 Jeep Cherokee, whose wires tend to rub through on the steering column that causes a short with the BCM. A tell-tale sign that wiring triggers your IC to misbehave is when your vehicle’s gauges show the highest possible readings. Any capable mechanic should be able to rectify this. Otherwise, go to a professional who can perform an in-depth circuit trace on your vehicle and pinpoint where the fault is.

8. Grounding Issue

A grounding issue one of the last things any vehicle owner would suspect that’s causing the instrument cluster to stop working. However, if you have already looked into all the before causes, this may be the culprit. A grounding issue affects your dash lights, gauges, and indicators.

9. Defective Instrument Cluster

If you have exhausted all the necessary tests and cannot identify anything wrong with wiring or sensors, you are just unfortunate to receive a vehicle with a lemon dash. Some electronic instrument clusters don’t have separate gauges that receive independent inputs from individual senders. You may need to replace it in this case.

Vehicle Instrument Cluster Speedometer

Diagnosing the Problem

To determine which of the above the exact cause is, you must first isolate the problem. Here are some steps to try:

  1. Start your diagnosis by doing an instrument cluster self-check. Generally, this happens when the ignition turns on, during which all the warning lights and display sections come on briefly. Watch closely for any dark segments or non-working indicators. Different vehicles have varying self-check procedures. You can even manually trigger the self-check diagnostic in some applications. Your owner’s manual and OEM service websites should be able to provide you information on how to run it for your specific vehicle.
  2. With the use of a Fluke 87-V Digital Multimeter (view on Amazon), identify the fuse connected to the instrument cluster by turning the ignition key on (there should be light on both sides of the fuse).
  3. If you cannot find any problem with the fuse, remove the whole instrument panel, and check the gauges individually for power. Also, check the ground using a power probe (view on Amazon) and ensure that it does not cause failure or inconsistent readings. This step applies whether all or only some of the gauges are not working. If only some gauges are affected, the problem may be from the gauge, sender, or wiring.
  4. When isolating the source of electrical faults, disconnect the wiring harness from the dash and check for a grounded power circuit with an ohmmeter. Replacing a blown fuse without resolving the issue is a guarantee that your IC issues will happen again.
  5. Look for any battery or ignition voltage at the instrument panel harness using a voltmeter rather than a test light. Using a voltmeter ensures that the voltage readings will be sufficient for your vehicle’s instrument cluster to operate correctly.
  6. Check that there are no irregularities with your coolant, oil pressure, or gas gauge, as these lead to the gauges working unpredictably. Make sure to include all other vehicle sensors. Electronic instrument clusters require accurate inputs from the sensors to work problem-free.
  7. Depending on how many gauges in your instrument panel are left working, you may need to perform either a gauge or sensor diagnostic test. You will need an oscilloscope, such as a Siglent SDS1104X-E 100Mhz Digital Oscilloscope (view on Amazon), preferably the 4-channel one. It is one step that not many DIY vehicle owners do – not because of its complexity, but because it requires patience.
  8. Lastly, you may need to pull out the entire digital dash. This method may be the best way to determine what is keeping your instrument cluster from working right. A working IC should have flawless, unburnt silver-laminated traces during an inspection. If you find any in bad shape, a jumper wire or a conductive liquid is good to have in your kit for quick fixes. This video shows you how straightforward it is to diagnose and repair what causes instrument cluster to stop working:

Resetting an Instrument Cluster

There will be instances when there is nothing wrong with components affecting your instrument cluster’s proper function. During these times, your dash simply needs a reset.

This video shows you how to correct a cluster replacement on a Jeep Cherokee:

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I know if my instrument cluster is bad? Signs of a bad instrument cluster include dim/flickering gauges, inaccurate or unreliable readings, all gauges dropping to zero while driving, and an unworkable instrument cluster. These error symptoms can result in your vehicle going out while driving, displays failing occasionally, or complete/intermittent failure.
  • How much does it cost to fix an instrument cluster? Replacing the instrument cluster can cost between $880 and $1,000. The costs depend on your vehicle’s make and model, and condition.
  • Can you drive your car without the instrument cluster? If you have a Jeep, you are probably aware that you can drive your vehicle with the cluster removed. But even if it is possible to do so, you should not do it. Being on the road without working warning indicators is dangerous. Furthermore, driving in a vehicle without a functioning speedometer is deemed illegal in numerous jurisdictions.
  • Can a bad instrument cluster cause transmission problems? It depends on where a vehicle’s gearbox gets its road speed signal. On cars with ABS systems, the road speed input is passed on to the ABS’s digital dash or panel and then forwarded to the gearbox control unit. When an instrument cluster fails in this situation, the gearbox may receive incorrect vehicle speed data that could result in premature or delayed gear change timing that could play with the transmission.
  • What does check gauges mean? The check gauges light specifically indicates the occurrence of a malfunction that requires inspection, service, or repair. A loose gas cap, low engine oil, an overheating engine, or electrical haywire can trigger the check gauges’ light. When it does, you will need to do as this warning light points to – to look at all the gauges in your instrument panel while the engine is running to see which one is not within the standard. For Jeep Cherokee owners, your temperature gauge should be about 195°, the voltage should be about 14V, and the idle’s oil pressure should be about 40 psi.

Conclusion – What Causes the Instrument Cluster to Stop Working?

To summarize, here are the most common causes of why your instrument cluster stops working:

  1. Computer faults
  2. Blown fuse
  3. Loose connectors
  4. Bad sensors
  5. Stripped gear
  6. Overloaded circuit
  7. Wiring problems
  8. Grounding issue
  9. Defective instrument cluster

Generally, your instrument cluster will last the lifetime of your vehicle. But should one or all of your gauges fail, expect to get error symptoms that range from mildly irritating to troublesome. Knowing ahead of time what the probable causes are and how to fix it will save you time, effort, and money in going to the mechanic. It will also help improve the way you take care of your vehicle’s different components.

Kris Peter

Adventure seeker and off-road enthusiast. I love the thrill of going off-road and taking on the elements.

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