I Did A Thing: Gauge Cluster Swap

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So, I have this Jeep.

Specifically, I have a 1995 Jeep Cherokee SE, with a 4.0 and an AW4 automatic transmission and no 4WD.

It’s barely a Jeep at all.

And it came with idiot lights instead of gauges. Or, at least, it came to me with idiot lights instead of gauges. I don’t know why anyone would willingly swap that shit, but who can tell. Someone, at some point, did some batshit insane things to it, like cutting the shit out of the radio wires, and mangling the interior fuse box.

Doesn’t matter. It’s mine now. And I seem to be able to do something about it.

I did something about it. Where ‘it’ is the maddening lack of real time data on what the hell is going on with my vehicle.

Seriously. Look at this shit:

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I can tell you how fast we’re going, and I bet that someone in a vehicle following at a safe distance could tell how full my fucking gas tank is. That’s all the information I get.

Speed and gas. No tach, so no fucking clue if my idle is high or low. No little battery gauge, so I don’t have any warning about an alternator issue–just a light that will go on when shit’s already gone wrong. No oil pressure gauge, either. Another fucking light that, guess what! Only goes on when you’re four fucking quarts low! No temperature gauge, because why the fuck would that be essential? Hell, that doesn’t even need to light up–because you’ll know when you hear the sound of boiling from your radiator anyway.

When I got this thing, I honestly thought this was just how automatics were. Lights everywhere instead of gauges. Except, no, it couldn’t be, because everyone else I knew had automatics, and they all got to see what was going on, often in addition to warning lights.

Apparently, this was just random Jeep stupidity. It annoyed people enough that they figured out which years could swap clusters.

The demand is so high that finding an actual gauge-having instrument cluster in XJs at junkyards can be like finding a four leaf clover–possible, but it takes a lot of time. And four leaf clovers don’t sell for nearly as much on eBay.

I got lucky. Sort of. I found one on eBay that was close to my [estimated] mileage, and for less than a hundred dollars.

Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention: my odometer stopped working a while ago.

And my XJ didn’t come with a trip meter.

Seriously.

Seriously.

What, did they expect people to do math to track their mileage? Who did Chrysler think they were selling these things to? Asian stereotypes?

This is actually a really easy job on the 95–especially mine.

It’s made slightly more difficult by the beefier, annoyingly in-the-way airbag steering wheel, though. The first step is to remove the plastic covering between the steering wheel and the dash. There are three screws on the underside, and two of them are really deep in there.

Getting at them…well, you just gotta find a position you can do it from comfortably.

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There was probably a better way to do it, but, well, my driver side door is missing the part that keeps it from swinging shut, and this just seemed like a good idea at the time.

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One of my screws was missing. And the other two….

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Well, lucky for me, they weren’t original. Original, apparently, are Torx, and I don’t have anything that could have reached them. So, hooray for ‘putting things back together with the wrong screws’.

Next comes the plastic bezel, which stretches from the vent on the driver’s side to…past the damn radio. It’s held on by four screws, and also seems to press into some holes or something. Two of the screws are right there on the overhang over the cluster; the other two are sneakily hiding just above the headlight switch, and just above the cigarette lighter.

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Once those are out, the ‘how the fuck does this come out’ commences.

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Unlike Richard MacDuff’s sofa, it could be turned just the right way [in four directions at once, I think] to slide out over the steering wheel.

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The offending cluster, exposed and ready to be excised.

The fact that there are only three screws [one may not be pictured here–it was on the collection of lights off to the left–brake, belt, a few lights that we don’t even have] makes me wonder what the hell happened to this thing in the past. Did someone actually swap clusters in the past? Did someone deliberately install these idiot lights? Or did the factory really only use three screws when there’s holes for six?

Maybe it’s just evidence of ‘well, I fixed it, but I lost some of the screws!’

Who the fuck knows. Let’s get it out of the way, and…oh, right. Wires. There are wires back there. Because that’s how it knows what’s going on. Wires.

The middle plug is obvious and one way. The second plug could go either way, so I made sure to mark the one side. So I’d know which way it went.

I also had to ask for help here, because the plug is wide, and was a squeezey clip sort of thing that was wider than the outer limit of my hand’s effective gripping range.

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This is what’s behind the gauge cluster. A big empty space, and some wires.

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Time to go in reverse. Get the new one in there, and…hey, wait, what the hell is that?

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This space is to the left of the steering wheel, and it’s behind a panel in that bezel I removed.

I guess something goes there in vehicles that aren’t mine. I wonder what….

Fuck it. Time to wrestle that bezel back into place.

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How the fuck did I even get it out, because it clearly does not fit–oh, there it goes.

Screws back in, then steering wheel plastic back on, and….

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Fuck, these are ugly. And I’ve got the less torn ones here somewhere, so let’s replace them real quick. And forget to take a picture of the new ones in place, because really, we’re avoiding the terror of the actual ‘shit could go wrong’ stage of this job.

Replacing the sensors.

See, the idiot lights get their information from these senders in the engine bay. And, since they’re lights, they only need to send really simple information. Everything okay? No light. Everything fucked? Better make that light come on.

Gauges need more information than that, so I need to swap the switches for actual sensors.

According to stories on the internet, the oil pressure sensor can go really, really badly.

Actually, it can go badly even when you’re not working on it directly, because look at this shit:

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Extreme foreground: the oil dipstick. If you look farther back, you can see the oil filtre…which is slightly too far back. Forward and, well, slightly forward [slightly more foreground and toward the front of the vehicle a little more] is the oil pressure sending thingy. It’s screwed into a square-ish thing, is really narrow where it screws in, and metallic, then morphs into this plastic thing.

This thing gets broken a lot during oil changes–mine, in fact, was probably broken during an oil change. In my case, it was the wiring that was broken–the little clip on the plug that plugs into it was snapped right off. I tried buying a replacement online, but everything that claimed to be compatible online was a two-wire thingie. Mine is single wire. I had to go to the junkyard and harvest my own.

I harvested a few, just in case.

These oil pressure senders generally get broken in worse ways, though. The plastic will break off of the metal part, or sometimes, the metal part will break off where it goes all narrow.

That last one is what I was afraid of.

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That’s why I bought this sensor socket set. Because having a special socket might save me.

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It came right out!

On to the temperature sensor!

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…which is way the fuck back there. Seriously. Rear driver’s side corner of the engine block. Otherwise known as ‘a really annoying place to reach’

I go to unplug it, and the top half comes off in my hand.

Fuck. Fuckfuckfuck.

Twenty fucking minutes of zero-turning-radius ratcheting and anxiety about it having broken off in the block later, and here it is, next to the new, unbroken one. The plug-in bit was still attached to the plug.

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Fuck this thing. I hope I never have to change it again.

Partly because I don’t actually have a socket that fits it. My fancy [hah, no, it was cheap] set doesn’t have one, and I don’t know where the hell I’d look for one, because it’s just so oddly shaped up top.

But I’m done now, so let’s do the obsessive tool inventory [don’t want to lose a piece, or, worse, leave one somewhere under the hood where it can do damage], reconnect the battery, and see if it works.

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It works.

Victory.

For actual tutorials on how to do this, I recommend this on naxja.org, and this, on jeepin.com. They probably have much more accurate information, and much better pictures [because they weren’t trying to take pictures with the sun apparently three feet away].

I also recommend studying the hell out of your year’s factory service manual, which you may or may not be able to get from JeepsLimited.com.

I’m just going to leave this here, and go find something else to obsessively research now….

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