Many owners of Ford F-series pickups (F150, F250, & F350) and full-size sport utility vehicles (Explorer and Expedition) manufactured for model years 1999 through 2003 are dealing with a very frustrating — yet very common — problem with their odometer. The digital odometers in these vehicles seem to have a mind of their own. One minute the odometer is working fine and a moment later the digital mileage display suddenly grows extremely dim or vanishes altogether for no apparent reason. Sometimes the display can be restored by a firm smack on the dash. At other times, nothing seems to help. The display often returns unexpectedly, works fine for a while, and then disappears again later. This erratic cycle becomes progressively worse until the odometer eventually does not work at all.
If you own one of these vehicles, you can most likely identify the status of your odometer as well as your own mental state as the intermittent odometer “disease” progresses through the following stages:
1. It Won’t Happen to Me. You have seen nothing unusual about your digital odometer. Congratulations! You are one of the lucky ones and you may never have to deal with the problem. But you might want to read the rest of this article just in case. Keep in mind that if you ever see the problem (even once), the odds are great that you WILL see it again.
2. The Odometer Problem is not so Bad and I Can Simply Live with It. Your vehicle has developed the problem, but it has only happened a few times and it is not yet bad enough to consider spending money to have it repaired. You will deal with it later IF it gets worse and IF it doesn’t cost too much to have it repaired. Besides, thus far it has been easy enough to simply thump the dash to restore the display each time that it went blank.
3. It has Gotten Really Bad and It is Causing Unanticipated Problems. Your odometer is blank most of the time. You have no way of knowing when to perform mileage-based maintenance such as fluid changes, tire rotations, wheel alignments, etc. Service providers will not honor your mileage-based warranties (extended warranties, tire warranties, major repairs, etc.) because they cannot determine whether the warranted miles have elapsed. You have thought about trading the vehicle, but you can only get a very low trade-in value. It is appraised as a high-mileage vehicle even though you know that the actual miles on the vehicle are very low for the model year. But you can’t prove it because the odometer doesn’t work. It is time to visit the dealer and have the odometer repaired. Surely it won’t be expensive to repair.
4. I Visited My Ford Dealer Today to See about having the Odometer Repaired. I’m Still in Shock! I was totally unprepared for the $600 estimate. The dealer said the instrument cluster is defective and the only way to repair it is to replace the instrument cluster with a new one. Over $400 for the cluster plus $200 for installation and programming the new cluster to the vehicle mileage and the PATS system. I decided that I could live with the problem for a while longer. I need to look for cheaper alternatives. I think I saw the odometer flicker on for a brief moment one day last week. Perhaps it can be repaired instead of replacing it. I will check with a few odometer repair shops.
5. I Spent Most of the Week Calling Odometer Repair Shops. I would be happy to pay the $150 to $200 that most repair shops charge to fix this problem. The only thing holding me back is the fact that I have to remove my instrument cluster and ship it to the repair shop. They told me that they would try to repair it next week or perhaps the following week if I could get the cluster to them by the end of this week. Unfortunately, I’ve never removed an instrument cluster and I’m afraid that I will damage it (or my vehicle.) Besides, someone told me that my vehicle won’t run without having the instrument cluster installed. Looks like I will have to rent a vehicle for a couple of weeks while the cluster is being repaired. That is, IF I can figure out how to remove the cluster without destroying something important. I’m sure that rental car is going to be costly. Maybe paying the dealer $600 is not such an unreasonable thing after all. If only I had $600 to spare. On the other hand, perhaps I should just try to live with the problem. Or perhaps I should just trade the vehicle. But I need to fix the odometer before I trade it. I’m s-o-o-o-o Confused!
The GOOD NEWS is that the common cause of most intermittent odometer problems has been identified and it CAN be repaired without replacing the instrument cluster. You don’t need to spend $600 to have the dealer replace the cluster.
The Better News is that there is nothing seriously wrong with your odometer. Your odometer is still working and accurately tracking your mileage. The display problem is caused by one (or more) defective solder joint(s) on a printed circuit board (located on the back side of your instrument cluster.) These defective solder joints are preventing the odometer signals from reaching your odometer display module. It simply cannot display the mileage due to the defective solder joints.
The Best News is that you don’t need to send the instrument cluster to a repair shop for repairs because…You can fix it yourself! A number of online forums can be found that discuss the intermittent odometer problem. These forums provide several years of feedback from many individuals who have repaired their own odometer problem. These pioneers discuss the lessons learned through their own trial and error and share the resulting successes and mistakes with other forum members. You should be able to fix your own odometer if you first carefully read these forums and apply the knowledge to your own repair efforts.
Don’t be in a rush and attempt the repair before you have read the entire threads, so that you can plan ahead and avoid the mistakes that many people have made throughout the years, some of which resulted in excessive work, broken headlight switches, damaged trim and paint, etc. All these can be prevented by learning how to remove each component the correct way before attempting to do it yourself.
If you still do not feel comfortable with attempting the repair after studying the forums (or if you would rather have all the information extracted and laid out before you in a concise, detailed and easy-to-follow guide), there is still yet even better news.
The Greatest News is that all of the information contained in these forums, including the lessons learned from the mistakes of others has already been meticulously extracted, combined with additional experiences of performing the repair, and transformed into a detailed and richly illustrated intermittent odometer repair manual, which will guide you step by step through the repair of your own odometer. If you can use a screwdriver and a low-wattage soldering iron (less than 30 watts), you can perform this repair from start to finish in about two hours and for relatively little cost.
If you are not proficient with a soldering iron, you can use the repair manual to easily remove your instrument cluster and identify the defective solder joints. Then you can have the actual repair (resoldering the defective solder joints) performed at a local electronics repair shop. In most cases, the solder joints can be resoldered in only a couple of minutes at a cost of less than two dollars.