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JEEP WRANGLER DASH UPGRADE

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Get that "classic" CJ look for your YJ Short Cuts
by: Randy L. Wheeler

The elegant lines of a CJ dash.  Simple, uncluttered and no-nonsense.  That's how I wanted the dash in my 1991 Wrangler to be. But the stock YJ dash is anything but that.  Up until now, the only option was to swap in a CJ dash to get that "classic" look. Pneu-Con Systems, Inc (the business that is now making the dash's that Dave's Off-Road used to sell) sells laser-cut steel dash's that are made specifically for the YJ.  The dash is custom made to accept stock YJ switches, heater controls and speakers as well as two 3-3/8 gauges (speedometer and tachometer), five 2-1/16 inch gauges (instrument cluster gauges) and two power ports. All the stock mounting holes are pre-drilled.  The dash will not work with the stock gauges since these are all on one circuit board. Aftermarket gauges will need to be purchased.



The dash comes unpainted and can be custom made to your specifications. I chose to have only four of the instrument cluster holes cut. I also had three 1/2-inch holes drilled above the instrument cluster so I could mount three indicator lights - 4WD, Check Engine and Maint. Req'd.

Gauges:

The gauges I selected were Auto Meter Phantom Gauges. These gauges have a white face and a black bezel; a perfect compliment to my white/black Jeep.  I ordered the follow mechanical gauges:

Auto Meter Gauges Diameter Part Number
Speedometer (0-120 mph) 3-3/4 in. 5892
Tachometer (10,000 rpm electrical) 3-3/4 in. 5897
Volt Meter (8-18 volts) 2 in. 5791
Fuel level Gauge (0 ohm empty/90 ohm full) 2 in. call
Water Temperature (100-250oF) 2 in. 5737
Oil Pressure (0-100 psi) 2 in. 5721

 

Removal of the Stock Dash and Gauges

To remove the stock dash, first disconnect the negative battery cable, then unbolt the rollbar support bars from the windshield frame, remove the dash pad, instrument gauge cluster, tach, speedo, heater control and light/dimmer switches until you are left with just the flat metal part. The indicator lights and instrument cluster gauges are wired using a flex circuit board and each running to a separate connector (the indicator lights have two connectors, each molded into the plastic bracket and there is one on each side of the steering column). Detach these connectors from their respective circuit boards. The wires on the jeep side of the harness will be used to splice the connectors onto the new gauges. I recommend leaving the connector attached so you can trace out the wire colors for each gauge.

Remove the steering wheel.  Fold down the windshield and remove the bolts that run along the top of the tub beneath the windshield cowling and on the side of the dash. Remove the metal dash and admire the maze of wires!  And you thought this was going to be easy?

Dash Preparation

Painting
Since the new dash comes unpainted, the first order of business was to wipe it down with xylene to remove any grease or dirt from the surface prior to applying the primer.   Don't forget to apply primer to the back side of the dash to help prevent premature rust. Apply two coats of primer and let dry for an hour or so. I used black hammerite paint for the entire dash and applied about 4 coats of paint for a thick, tough and durable finish.

Electrical Wiring Preparation

Since the stock gauges are wired using a flexible circuit board, each wire needed to be traced out to find it's respective color/gauge.  I enlisted the help of a friend of mine, Vance Anderson (who just so happens to be an electrical engineer!), to wire up the dash gauges. 

We started tracing the wires on the stock instrument cluster circuit board to determine which wire went with what gauge.  This would have been a great time to have a Factory Service Manual (which we didn't), so we had to do it the hard way.  Tracing each wire, we made a table showing gauge, wire color, polarity and pin number on the connector.  We repeated this for the indicator lights.

Indicator Lights
Once the wires were traced out and tabulated, we set about selecting which indicator lights we wanted, or didn't want.  I really didn't need the blinker, brake or the high beam indicator lights, so we didn't wire these up.  Only three lights were going to be used:   4WD (green light), Check Engine (red light) and Maint. Req'd (blue light).  This simplified the wiring.  For the connectors, I purchased a couple of 4-pin and one 12-pin connectors.  On the indicator light wiring harness, we wired up the appropriate wires using a 4-pin female connector and the wires soldered for good measure. On the dash side of things, the three indicator lights were wired in series and daisy-chained together into the male connector.

Instrument Cluster Gauges

The instrument gauges (volt, water temperature, oil pressure, fuel) were wired up using a 12-pin male/female connector in similar fashion to the indicator lights. The speedometer only required wiring up the bulb and the tachometer used the gauges existing wiring harness.  The vehicle-side wiring harness was first assembled using a male 12-pin connector. The wires were crimped and soldered for extra strength.

Speedometer (0-120 mph): Only the illumination bulbs required wiring up. The speedometer cable snaps onto the back of the stock speedometer instead of screwing on.   The new speedo comes with a standard 5/8" x 18 threaded cable input that requires a 0.104" square male drive.  The stock speedo cable has the square male drive but it clips on instead of screwing on. A new speedo cable should be used that screws onto the gauge.

Tachometer (10,000 rpm electrical): The illumination, sensor, ground and power required wiring.

Volt Meter (8-18 volts): The voltage meter requires wiring the illumination and the power lead.

Water Temperature (100-250oF):  A new temperature sender is included and replaces the stock sender. There are two temp. senders on the 4cyl engines - one is used by the computer to control engine performance (located at the front of the engine near the water pump) and the other is used for the gauge readout. The coolant temperature sender is located at the rear of the cylinder head on 4cyl. engines.    The Auto Meter gauges are designed to work with the Auto Meter sender that is included with the gauge.

Oil Pressure (0-100 psi):  A new oil pressure sender is included and replaces the stock sender.

Fuel Level Gauge: Measure the ohms of the sender, both with the fuel tank full and empty. The ohm reading for most Ford & Chrysler vehicles should be 73 ohms empty and 8-12 ohms full.  I found out later that the factory ohm readings for my 1991 YJ (2.5l) are 1 ohm empty and 88 ohms full.  I have since replaced the Fuel Gauge with one that has ohms of 0 ohms empty and 90 ohms full. If the ohm reading is different, another gauge is required to match the sender. CHECK THIS PRIOR TO ORDERING YOUR GAUGE, it may save you some time.

Once the wiring harness was complete on the vehicle side, we installed the gauges into the new dash and secured them using the included mounting hardware.  The gauges come with three different bulb colors - clear, red or green (the red and green are rubber light bulb covers).  After testing the bulb colors under dark conditions, I opted to go with an amber color bulb instead of the clear, red or green.  This color provides a nice illumination of the gauge faces and it just looks cool!

With the gauges installed in the dash, the wiring harness for the gauges/lights were attached and secured to the back of the dash using zip ties.  Number 8 ring clamps were used for the terminal connections and the ring clamps/wires were crimped and soldered for extra strength.

The stock speakers were installed onto the back of the dash and the headlight switch and dimmer switch were also installed.  The cut-out for the dimmer switch was too small so a dremel tool was used to enlarge the opening a bit.

With the gauges wired up and secured to the dash, it was time to install it into the Jeep.  Maneuvering the dash into place over the steering column was a bit tricky, but it does fit.

The last bit of work was to connect the indicator light plugs, the gauge panel connector, hook up the tachometer wires, mount the vent/heater control panel onto the back of the dash and install the speedo cable.  Secure the dash to the tub with the stock bolts and you're done!   Well, almost.

After everything is connected up, wires checked, loose wires secured out of the way, connect the negative battery cable up and fire up the engine.

The one thing I do notice with the placement of the gauge cut-out and the type of gauges I used, is that unlike the stock cluster where the gauges are angled up a bit, the Auto Meter gauges sit flat against the dash and the top portion of the speedometer and tachometer are slightly hidden by the gauge bezel.  I suppose you could use some angle rings to point the gauges up a bit, but I suspect you'd have to enlarge the dash cut out to accommodate the angle of the gauge.

The defrost/vent is a different story. Living in Northern California, I think I've actually had to use my defroster one or two times, and that was only to warm my fingers up.  I disconnected the vent duct tubing beneath the dash and will cover the hole up when I get around to it.

The windshield wiper holes on the windshield frame will get covered up using some stock CJ covers.

This dash project was a dream come true.  The new dash looks absolutely fantastic and the quality of the dash is excellent.  The new dash is heavy duty and adds a "classic" touch to the Jeep.  Most of the gauges fit into the cut-outs perfectly, with the exception of the dimmer switch cut-out that had to be enlarged just a bit.

The addition of the Auto Meter Phantom gauges dressed up the interior and gave the Jeep a truly custom look.  The quality of the gauges is outstanding and the installation instructions were complete and easy to understand. I still have to add a grab bar to the dash though as one is not included.  You may also notice that there is not a glovebox.  Contact Pneu-Con to see if they offer this dash with the glovebox option.

The wiring of the gauges was something I probably could have muddled my way through, and having a Factory Service Manual would have been a big help, but even with a FSM, I'm not all that comfortable with re-wiring things.  If you plan on doing this swap, make sure you are very comfortable and familiar with electrical wiring diagrams, can read schematics and know the basic principles behind circuits and such.  I didn't, so I enlisted the help of a good friend.  Thanks Vance!  I couldn't have done it without you!

If you're looking to upgrade you Jeep YJ's interior, this is one option you might want to consider.  It's not a 2 hour job, but in the end, if you take your time, think things through and aren't afraid of re-wiring the dash, this is the project for you.

For more information on the new Chisholm Trail dash and Auto Meter gauges, contact them at the addresses listed below.

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