Since receiving my 2011, I wasn't a fan of the red on slightly-darker red background of the gauge cluster LCD panels. It reminded me of the Nintendo Virtual Boy
screens; and while that was cutting-edge 3D technology and ahead of its time back in the mid-90s, it didn't seem fitting in a vehicle made in the 2010s, so I set out to change this.
- Soldering or reworking SMD components
- General disassembly/assembly skills
- 21 x 3528 SMD PLCC-4 LEDs in a color of your choice (I chose cool white; the OEM ones are obviously red) (no affiliation w/ this site; I bought the LEDs from them via their ebay listing)
- 10 x additional 3528 PLCC-4 SMD LEDs for gauge face backlighting (optional)
- Stubby phillips screwdriver
- Trim removal tools
- T-15 Torx bit
- 1/4" box wrench
- 3mm allen wrench
- Soldering iron/hot air rework station
- 60/40 solder
- Isopropyl alcohol (>=91%)
- Cotton swabs/q-tips
- Metal spudger or other smooth pry tool
- Mini curved pliers, forceps, hemostat (optional)
Removing the gauge cluster is probably the most difficult part of this mod. The way it's wedged into the dash almost makes it seem like Lotus never intended for it to come out separately from the dash itself. But it can and does come out with a bit of persuasion.
Lower the steering wheel to its lowest position. This will give you a bit more room to work.
Start by removing the trim pieces on either side of the steering wheel. The one to the left (on LHD cars) has a single screw in the back of the pocket underneath a sticker. Once the screw is removed, there are 2 clips that hold it on; one near the upper left, and one near the lower left. Give it a good tug and it should pop off.
Removing the one to the right of the steering wheel is a bit easier if you've ever done any ICE/headunit work. It's just held on with 4 clips in the corners, so utilize the trim removal tool(s) at your disposal, or try and get your fingers behind the panel and pull towards the rear of the car.
You can disconnect the button connections if you'd like. I opted to leave them hanging for the duration. If you disconnect the connectors on the left-hand panel, make sure you know which one goes where, as the connectors fit either location.
In the lower corners of the gauge cluster you'll find 3mm cap head screws. Remove both of them.
Now remove the upper instrument shroud. It's held on by 3 pieces of velcro. Using the stubby phillips, remove the 2 screws that hold the top of the gauge cluster in. You can see them through the windshield on the outside.
The last 2 screws are T-15 torx, and they're holding the cluster to the metal mounting bracket from the "backside" (side closest to the windshield). They're at an angle that doesn't allow for many tools to fit; I was able to use a T-15 torx bit and a 1/4" box wrench as a make-shift right-angle tool to remove these. See the image below to give you an idea of where all the screws are.
With all that done, the gauge cluster can now come out. The upper edge of the cluster sits "inside" the dash curvature, so you have to tilt it downward while also trying to pull it towards the rear of the car. This was rather difficult to do, but the dash material is flexible, and I believe it's the same SRIM that other interior panels are made out of, so it's strong and won't break easily. There is the potential for rubbing off the smooth rubbery coating that covers the cluster though, so be mindful.
Once the cluster is free of the dash, you can reach behind and disconnect the 2 connectors. I chose to first disconnect the main battery from the car (after allowing for proper system shutdown), but I don't know if that was necessary. Since we're dealing with Lotus electronics, it's usually better to be safe than sorry.
Opening it up
Changing LEDs in a gauge cluster requires that we open it up. Luckily, it's rather easy to get the Pektron-made cluster apart. There are no screws, so everything is press-fit and held by clips.
There are 7 clips that hold the 2 halves together. Using the spudger (or pry tool), work it between the 2 surfaces and lift the plastic over the hook. I started at the top of the cluster and worked my way around counter-clockwise. It doesn't really matter which way you go, just that it makes it easier to separate the halves if you get one side done, and then work on the other side. It does require some force to release those clips, and there's the potential to break the surrounding plastic, so use caution. See the below pics for the clip locations.
Getting to the good stuff
With the halves separated, remove the front and the mid-plate and set them aside. To get the gauge face, PCB, and side LCD panels out you need to release them from the clips on the back half of the shell. There are 2 rectangular stickers that cover holes. Carefully remove those stickers and set aside. Inside the square holes you'll want to place a thin screwdriver/pry tool and move the clips outward from center. This allows the side LCD panels to become free, which is really all that's holding the assembly to the inside of that shell. See pictures below:
After undoing all 4 clips, you should be able to extract the PCB, side LCDs, and white inner shroud.
Flip the assembly over and disconnect the 2 side LCDs and the top LCD ribbon cables. You do this by pushing the brown retainer outward as shown below:
Remove the side LCD PCBs from the back by releasing the 2 clips in the corners (repeat on other side):
You should be able to see the 9 LEDs per PCB that provide the backlighting for each side LCD screen:
These are the LEDs that need to be replaced on the side PCBs. To change the center top LCD backlight, there are 3 more LEDs behind the main white shroud. In order to get to those, the white shroud must be removed, and for that to happen, the speedometer and tachometer needles need to come off. The needles come off from the front, by pulling them directly away from the gauge face. Both of them were thoroughly attached, so it might be good to have a curved pliers or hemostat available to leverage them off. Before removing the needles, you'll want to make note of their current position on their respective posts. Failure to do this will result in speed and RPM readings that are slightly off visually once everything is reassembled.
If you've ever taken a gauge cluster apart, you might have your own preferred method of marking these positions. My method is to gently rotate the needles as far counter-clockwise as possible until they hit their natural stops. Once there, I place a piece of tape above, and a piece of tape below the needle's position, both parallel with the needle. This gives me a reference of where to reseat the needle when it comes time to put them back on. Do the same for both needles.
Once marked, firmly pull or pry the needles upwards, away from the gauge face, and set aside.
With the needles off, you can now separate the main PCB from the gauge face and white shroud. There are 3 clips that you release from the backside:
Move the shroud aside and flip the main PCB back over. Along the top, you'll find the 3 LEDs that provide the backlighting for either the gear indicator (IPS) or the odometer (MT):
Doing the swap
Now that all of the backlight LEDs have been identified and exposed, the main gist of this how-to is swap them with different color LEDs. Make sure when you buy the LEDs that they are indeed 3528 PLCC-4, with a single anode and 3 cathodes, like so:
I won't go into specific details on the actual removal and replacement of each LED, as that is a prerequisite skill/knowledge before jumping into this endeavor. But the idea is you remove an LED, making note of its orientation (these are polarized after all; use the notched corner for reference), clean the pads with the flux, add new solder as necessary, and put a new LED in its place. If you have a bench power supply, set it to around 2.85V @ .5A and you can test the new LED to make sure it's properly attached to the pads and is functioning. Repeat 20 more times.
Once you're all done, you'll probably want to at least put the main PCB, side LCDs and main gauge face shroud back together. I wouldn't worry about putting the needles back on just yet. Take the half assembled cluster out to your car and test it to make sure all the LEDs come on and that everything looks like it should. I had skipped this step, since it was close to midnight when I finished, and I wish I had done it, as the cool white LEDs that I chose are much brighter than the red ones they replaced. The dash dimming button still functions as normal, and it does reduce the brightness quite a bit, but had I tested it, I would have taken it back to my bench and added a layer of tint film to the backside of each side LCD to help further diffuse the backlight. Oh well. Maybe I'll get around to doing that the next time it comes out.
If you're satisfied with the outcome, you'll want to button everything back up, in reverse order of how it came apart. When placing the needles back on their posts, I like to gently press them on until I feel some resistance, and then rotate them against the physical gear stops until they come to rest between the tape lines. Then press down to fully seat them. Don't forget to remove your pieces of tape. Make sure you put those rectangular stickers back on to cover the holes, otherwise dust can get in. And don't forget to put the middle black shroud in on top of the gauge face, beneath the top half.
Getting the cluster back into the dash is almost equally as difficult as getting it out. But make sure you put in the connectors first, and then finagle it back into position.
If you've made it this far, your end result should be something like this (depending on what color LEDs you choose):
Good luck, and let me know if you have any questions.
EDIT: Now that I've seen it during the daylight, I like the outcome even better:
EDIT2: I've saved this post with all the images as a PDF and attached it, just in case something happens to my image host later down the line. Not sure why LT doesn't allow direct image linking to imgur any more, but this should help avoid an old post with no images.
EDIT3: I pulled the cluster out again and swapped the 10 LEDs that backlight the gauge faces. This helped average out the brightness across the entire cluster, and now the gauge faces seem in-line with the LCD backlights. See photos below:
There are 2 tabs on opposite ends of the gauge face that hold it in place. It's also lightly adhered to the center of the white middle shroud:
With the gauge face off, you can see where the 5 LEDs are per-gauge:
Once you remove the middle shroud, you have access to the LEDs themselves:
And the end result on brightness level 2 during the day:
Unfortunately even with the brighter cool white LEDs, the gauge face backlighting still looks a bit yellowish. This appears to be the gauge face plastic itself, so not much can be done about that.