Dear Car Talk:
I have a 2011 Ford Crown Victoria retired police car. The dashboard lights and gauges do not work most of the time. Occasionally they will come on briefly when I hit a bump in the road and then go dead again. I think it is a problem with the wiring. However, my mechanic says it is the circuit board behind the dashboard. What do you think is the cause of the problem? Thank you. -- Christee
I think your mechanic is right, Christee.
There's a printed circuit board on the back of the instrument cluster. That's a thin sheet of plastic onto which the "wires" are, essentially, printed. And after getting bounced around and flexed for 100,000 or 150,000 miles, it's not unusual for one or more of those little "wires" to crack, taking your instrument cluster down with it.
The broken "wire" is still there, with the two pieces almost touching one another. That's why, occasionally, when you bounce the thing just right, they reconnect for a moment and then go out again.
So what do you do so that you can see your instruments again at night? Well, you can buy a Zippo lighter. Or, if you're really cheap, a box of matches. But fixing it will require either repairing the existing circuit board or replacing it.
Having yours repaired is certainly the least expensive option. It'll probably cost you around $150 to send it away and have someone re-solder it. The problem is that you'll be without an instrument cluster -- which means without a car -- while you're waiting for it.
Some places will send you a refurbished one from another car and then give you a credit if you send your broken one back to them -- which they can fix and sell to somebody else. That's a pretty good solution, because you won't have to wait.
Start by talking to your mechanic. He may have done this job before and may have suppliers he trusts. Or, if not, maybe he can get you a deal on some Zippos.