Many modifications to the instrument cluster of a Ford Focus make its owner much happier.
I drive a Ford Focus. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
My Focus is my best friend. It is my life, etc. Throughout my ownership of the Focus, I have become disgusted with the stylings of Ford engineers. They managed to ruin the color green. They ruined it so hard, I have spent most of the ownership scrubbing away the design fallacies. I must warn you, the Focus's story is a long and winding account, but it gets better. I think. This is my tale.
In my quest to rid the green, I covered the gauge cluster with an EL backlit panel. I also put some red tape over the needle slits, so they had a darker appearance. And last, I replaced the green reflective backing on the odometer LCD with blue electrical tape. This pleased me for the time being. Soon after driving in the dark, I had come to loathe the rest of the dash. Green here... orange there... constant reminders of my precious's flaws.
My next attack was to install those pretty blue glowing lights under the seats. I had not even the slightest idea about current, so I hooked them up to one of the leads on the light control switch that turned on when I turned the lights on. I thought that was pretty clever until my headlights stopped working.
I took Veronica (that's her name) to a mechanic, who informed me that I had blown out the lighting switch and it needed to be replaced. So I purchased a replacement and installed it, and still no headlights. Angered, I traced the wires and found the problem. Then I promptly drove back to the mechanic (it was getting late, and I didn't have headlights, so I was very prompt). He wired around the short, leaving me with two working light switches.
Since I now had a nonrefundable spare, I thought I might as well crack it open and attempt to rid some more green. I replaced all the LEDs with shiny new blue ones that could possibly blind small children. This was not my intent, but I knew little about electronics then, and I was quite proud that I only burned myself a few times with the soldering iron.
Blue LED replacement on light switch.
Next, I decided that the green HVAC controls were unsightly and needed to be addressed. I did some research and found out that there is a green plastic coating under the paint that rejects all the pretty light and forces putrid green to its viewers. This was scraped away and handpainted black with blue accents. I also wired in some blue LEDs to backlight it.
HVAC -- repainted to blue.
This was changed using blue electrical tape and a steady hand.
My last endeavor was to get rid of the drab incandescent lit needles. I scoured eBay hoping I could find something easy, but I ended up settling on a 1993 Ford Contour cluster from a local junk yard. I grabbed the needles out of it, repainted them a brighter white, and installed them into Veronica. They looked brilliantly white and fantastic. At night, they looked awful. The light of the bulbs was a hideous yellow and had to be replaced.
I threw in some of the standard plug-and-play bulbs from the auto parts store, but they just weren't bright enough. So I grabbed some white LEDs and custom mounted them so they would be blasting right on to the needle's lightpipe. This looked pretty good. But then I realized they could look better. I pulled out an Arduino and got to work. After several failures, I was able to fade LEDs using the signal from the OBDII port.
The original (without color shifting) white replacement needles with white LEDs.
Next, I tore the cluster back apart and mounted two red and two white LEDs behind the tachometer. They needed a little encouragement from my bench grinder to fit, but in the end, there was only one casualty. I bolted it back together, and now I have an RPM-based red line on my tach needle.
Testing the brightness/color output of the red LEDs.
The last problem that I faced, because of its awesomeness, was the OBD reader is always on. I did not like that. So I took it apart and put in an NPN bjt to be able to control the power to the reader from the micro. Problem solved.
Using a NPN bjt to turn off/on the OBD reader.
And to bring the story full circle, I use the bluelit light switch to power the Arduino that powers the OBD reader to illuminate the needles that came from a Contour to rid the green in Veronica the Focus that Ford built.
My next plan is to build some boards with surface mount LEDs to light up all of the needles independently and have Veronica change the status accordingly -- low fuel, high temp, excessive speed, etc. This has been put on hold due to the university's time-sucking curriculum.
Sen Starnes is an engineering student attending Missouri University of Science and Technology via Missouri State University's cooperative engineering program. He loves taking things apart and analyzing the circuitry. He also enjoys programming microcontrollers to do his bidding.
Submit your product repair or redesign story as part of our Frankenstein's Fix competition on EE Life, and you could win a Tektronix MSO2024B digital oscilloscope. The deadline is Oct. 26, 2013. Submission details and full contest rules here.