Many of our customers have been asking if they can replace the stock incandescent bulbs in their gauges with LED's. We recently decided to test this install on our 1996 Chevy Camaro Z28 5.7L LT1 with a 6-Speed. This is the first time we are documenting a project on this car, but we plan to post more projects in the future.
I stared by removing the dash and all the trim pieces. This went faster than expected and was actually very easy using basic tools. The main thing to remember is to take your time and go slow because it is very easy to break the trim pieces that you will be removing.
Once the dash was apart, the gauges came out as a full cluster. There were only 4 screws holding the cluster in place and only one large plug to remove and then the gauge cluster was out. I then proceeded to remove the protective plastic cover from the back of the gauge cluster. Once removed, I then had access to the bulbs. The bulbs that are used in the 1996 Camaro, as well as many other years, are in an assembly consisting of a 194 bulb in a plastic housing (see first picture below). Unfortunately you can't just remove the 194 bulb from the housing and then place a 194 LED replacement in. The 194 bulb's contacts are integrated into the plastic assembly, so this was the first obstacle to overcome. There were a few ways that I could have approached this. I could have just used our 12 Volt LED's and soldered the wires directly to the gauge clusters circuit board. Or I could have removed the glass 194 bulbs from the plastic assemblies and modified our 194 LED replacements to fit in the plastic assemblies. I decide to go with the latter, as I did not want to solder directly to the circuit board of the gauge cluster or have to worry about how to mount the LED's. To modify the plastic assemblies, I first removed the glass 194 bulb and attached contacts. I then soldered solid wire leads to the contacts of our LED 194 bulbs. I then bent the newly soldered wire leads to form the contacts and then replaced the modified LED 194 bulb in the plastic assembly (see second and third picture below). I repeated this for all the plastic assemblies. Below are pictures of the stock bulb assemblies and also the modified 194 bulbs and the modified 194 bulbs installed in the plastic housings.
One question that many of you may be thinking of is "How do you get the turn signals and other dash indicator lights to light up blue when they light up all different colors?" Yes is is true that with the Camaro's gauges, the turn signals light up green, so if you install a blue LED bulb it won't light up blue. The colors that you see in your gauge lights are created by a layer of translucent color sandwiched between the gauge face. Short of cutting out the translucent layer, you can't change the color of any gauge indicator that lights up red or green. (i.e. the seat belt, low coolant, brake, and turn signals). You may also wonder, "How do I know there is a translucent layer in between the gauge face?" At first I thought that it might just be a coating on the back of the gauges, so I tried to remove it with some acetone. This did work for any gauge indicator that lights up orange or amber (i.e. the skip shift, and check engine light). For some reason the translucent material is white and there is just a colored coating on the back of the gauge face. I found that by removing the bulb and then using a small amount of acetone and a Q-Tip, I could remove the colored coating from behind the gauge face.
I ran into my second major problem when I tried to do this procedure on the brake light. I tried to remove the red coloring, but when nothing was happening I tried more acetone and proceeded to eat a hole right through the face of the gauges (see picture below). To repair the hole, I decide to make use of our vinyl cutting machine. I cut out a small Chevy Bowtie and placed it over the hole. As you can see from the pictures below, if you look close you can see the edges are vinyl, but once installed you can't see them from the drivers seat. Now when I have my parking brake on, instead of seeing the red brake light, I now have a blue Bowtie.
I finished up the installation by removing the needles and removing
all the florescent coloring from the backs. My thought was they would
look better blue than florescent orange. However, once installed, I
think I would have rather left them the florescent color.
***If you remove your needles, be sure to mark their location so your gauges will be accurate once you re-install them.
To replace the light in the lighting controls required some modification to the plastic diffuser that is located behind the face of the climate controls. Unfortunately I could not product a direct LED replacement for the tiny bulb that is used in the lighting controls. To modify the plastic diffuser I first removed it from the back of the lighting controls. Then I drilled two holes the same diameter as our 12 volt LED's. Then I inserted the LED's in to the holes and wired the LED's to the contacts were the stock bulb was located. You can see the plastic diffuser with the two LED mounted in it below.
To convert the lights in the climate controls I removed the two bulb housings from the back of the climate controls. I then removed the stock glass 37 bulbs, and then replaced them with our LED replacement 37 bulbs part number LED-37. Below are pictures of the bulb housing, with the stock bulb and also with the LED replacement installed. The climate controls had two of these housings.
I also decided to make the lights in the defroster switch light up blue. To do this I first removed the entire switch from the lower dash panel. Once removed I removed the red back plug section which gave me access to the circuit board. As the first picture shows below the board already has a amber LED which lights up when the defroster is on. To replace the amber LED I just unsoldered the amber LED and soldered a blue LED in its place. Since I was replacing an LED I didn't have to include a current limiting resistor. I did however have to grind down the top of the LED. This was necessary because, as the picture shows the amber LED was much shorter then a 5mm LED. A Dremel tool with a grinding wheel made quick work of this step. You can see the new blue LED installed as well as the old stock amber LED in the second picture. There is also a glass incandescent bulb with a blue plastic cover that lights up when the light are on. To replace this bulb I first plugged the circuit board back it to the defroster harness and then using meter determined which side of the glass bulb was positive and which side was negative. Once this was determined I then unsoldered the glass bulb and soldered a LED with a current limiting resistor in it's place. The third picture is of the circuit board with the two blue LED's installed, the stock bulbs are also in the picture.