What is Wrong if the Instrument Panel Does Not Work on a Car?

by Tony Oldhand
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detail: glowing dashboard image by davidcrehner from Fotolia.com

A car’s instrument panel should never blank out completely. If it does, it is usually a system-wide fault, as opposed to a fault in just one instrument. However, a system-wide fault may be an easy fix, depending on where the signal is breaking up. By approaching the problem logically, you can pinpoint where the fault is occurring and correct the problem.


A system-wide fault indicates a total loss of power to the instrument cluster. This indicates the main power wires to the clusters are broken or disconnected somewhere. Main power consists of the positive leads and the ground wires. However, if only one instrument is not working, the problem lies either in the wires feeding that instrument or in the instrument itself.

Easy Circuit Tracing

To isolate the problem, you must do a circuit trace. Look to the easy solutions first. Perhaps you left the lights, heater and wipers on, and used the cigarette lighter at the same time. This overloaded the circuit, causing a fuse to blow. Inspect the fuse box and replace blown fuses accordingly. If no fuses are blown, look underneath the dash. Check for any connectors that have worked themselves loose. If you find any unplugged connectors, disconnect the car battery and plug the connectors back together. Reconnect the battery and check the instrument cluster.

Professional Circuit Tracing

If all the connectors and fuses look good, you will need to perform a more in-depth circuit trace. This requires specialized test knowledge and equipment. A professional auto electric technician can read the wiring diagrams for your car and determine where the fault is.

Computer Faults

According to professional technician Adam Garberg, a computer problem may also cause erratic behavior. For example, in Volvo cars, one wire can carry two signals. If the computer is at fault, nothing may be wrong with the wiring, but the software itself may be corrupted or the computer module may have a hardware problem.

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