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DIY: E36 Instrument Cluster Dark Spot Fix

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  • DIY: E36 Instrument Cluster Dark Spot Fix

    This is not the same DIY as before and I have since come up with a superior method to fixing the dark spot problem.

    Please note: This guide is just about the cluster itself. It will not cover removal from your car. I will however mention that proper removal is done by removing the steering wheel, despite whoever tells you it'll squeeze out.

    Required tools

    -T6 through T8 Torx Screwdrivers (forgot to write down the exact Torx sizes, will fix later)
    -Solid pair of Combination Pliers
    -Solid Needle Nose Pliers
    -70% Isopropyl Alcohol
    -Stoner Invisible Glass Cleaner
    -400 Grit Sandpaper
    -Air Compressor or a can of Compressed Air
    -Small Microfiber Towel (New or Like-New, no parts rags)
    -Large Microfiber Towel (New or Like-New, no parts rags)

    This is probably what your starting with, if not worse.

    Disassembling the Cluster
    Start by removing the 5 outlined torx head screws.

    Separate the cluster halves.

    Locate the three gauge face locks and turn 180 degrees to free the gauge face/motor assembly. A strong pair of needle nose pliers work excellent.

    Store the top lens safely to the side and the opening faced down (to prevent dust from falling into it)

    Preparation of Gauge Needle Removal
    There are two needle stop pins that need to be removed. Use a microfiber towel and strong Combination Pliers to pull it out. It removes straight out. Use the towel to protect the pin from damage by the pliers

    With the two pins removed, it is time to start making hidden marks of the needle sweep range (left to right). EACH gauge should be marked for ease of assembly (Fuel, MPH, Tacho, Temp).

    Marking the far left resting position of the needle in a hidden spot

    Marking the far right stop position of the needle in a hidden spot. This requires moving the needle by hand and gently holding at full stop while you mark.

    Removal of Needles

    E36 Cluster Dark Spot Fix - Removing Gauge Needles - YouTube
    This video best explains the removal process. The idea is to push the needle around past the motor stops while pulling up as you rotate. It doesn't require much effort as you can see. Remove all four gauge needles carefully.
    *Please do not use fork methods to remove needles... this can ruin the gauge face.

    Removal of Gauge Face and Cleaning

    E36 Cluster Dark Spot Fix - Removing Gauge Face - YouTube
    With the needles and stop pins removed, proceed to removing the gauge face. Start by lifting one corner and gently pulling back until the face is removed from the gauge light frame.
    *Please note; severely sun damaged clusters may flake the gauge face paint off during this process. It is rare, but don't even bother if your gauge face paints are falling off!

    E36 Cluster Dark Spot Fix - Removing Gauge Face Glue - YouTube
    With the gauge face completely removed, it is time to remove the original glue used by VDO. As shown in the video, original VDO glue is permanently gummy and can be pushed around into a ball and removed. It takes time, clean hands, and patience. This is the best method of removal however daunting that it looks

    When you're finished removing as much as the glue with your fingers are possible (should be 99% of it), use the 70% Isopropyl Alcohol to further clean the backside of the gauge face. You should have a spotless, as new, backside.

    Once clean, you are done with the gauge back side, clean the front side with Invisible Glass and a clean microfiber. Set gauge overlay aside in a safe place, we are done with it now.

    Gauge Light Frame Cleaning and Root Fix

    This next part is where we are actually fixing the problem with E36 clusters. The issue is the glue, it simply gives up holding and will go through stages of holding/letting go based on temperatures. This fix deletes the glue entirely. The reason this is superior to replacing the glue is;
    a) The proper always tacky glue, I can't find and we know it's unreliable.
    b) Permanent glue solutions don't always work. If they don't work or if they require service later, removing the gauge face RIPS the backside color off! Your gauge face is now ruined. (this is why my guides always emphasized remountable glue).
    c) Lastly, what we're going to do will make the illumination brighter and more consistent than glue can provide. Plus you can always remove the gauge face anytime you want for whatever reason with NO DAMAGE.

    Remove the gauge motors from the light frame. There are 8 total screws and 4 total motors to remove. You can do this earlier in the process before gauge face removal or after gauge face removal.

    With the light frame completely stripped, use the Isopropyl Alcohol to clean the gauge light frame of all glue left behind.

    Once clean, it's time to start sanding the gauge light frame face with the 400 Grit sandpaper. What we are doing is frosting the surface and diffusing the light. The better you sand and the smoother frosting looks, the better your light output and consistency will be. ONLY SAND THE FACE, do not sand down in any recessed areas, just the gauge face flats!

    *Tip: Start with dry sanding and then move to wet sanding. The final finish will look much more consistent. You can also bump up to 600 or 800 Grit sandpaper to really perfect the frosting.

    When sanding is satisfactory, wash the frame with soap and hot water. You may need to use an old toothbrush to remove sanding material build up from the crevices. Dry with a large microfiber towel and use compressed air to aide in crevice drying


    When the gauge light frame is completely dry, you can reattach the gauge motors.
    -Reattach the gauge face overlay to the frame and clean the face with a microfiber and light Invisible glass. No fingerprints and minimal dust is the goal.

    Reattach gauge needles. The needle should be gently pushed down the motor shaft with only a slight gap to show (in pic). Too far down and the needle will drag on the gauge face. Too far up and the needle will not illuminate properly. Align the needles (by pushing it around past the motor stop points) to your marked areas. This takes time! Do not half ass this or your gauges will not reflect actual data. Remember; the marked areas are where the motor stops and needle should gently rest on. If you gently push the needle to far left or far right motor stops and it doesn't line up, adjust and try again!

    *Tip: Clean the needles top and bottom prior to reinstall.

    When you are confident in your needle alignment, reinstall the two stop pins that were removed. Make sure they pushed all the way down.
    Please Note: Needle alignment is fairly easy for MPH and Tach gauges. Fuel usually ends up dead on as well. The temperature gauge might require touch-up work. I have mine aligned to be dead center at drivers perspective when the engine is at full operating temperature. VDO aligns the temp gauge to be dead center if you're looking at it dead center. This means that from drivers perspective, VDO shows "warmer" center than my preferred alignment. Choose whatever suits you, but please make sure ALL needles are accurate. Get back into the cluster and adjust if something is off. I do not condone half-assed work!
    -When the gauge cluster is assembled, clean all surfaces with a clean lint-free microfiber. Wet the towel with Invisble glass if needed. Leave no finger prints or dust behind!

    -Once clean, you can reinstall the gauge cluster into the lens portion of the cluster. Please use your compressed air to clean all dust out of the interior lens half and off the gauge faces/needles. The more attentive you are now, the better it will look all buttoned up. Lock down the gauges with the 3 locking mechanisms.

    -Reattach the front half of the cluster to the back half, and reinstall the 5 screws you removed earlier.

    Completed Results

    This method is a permanent fix and the least damaging to the cluster. I considered my first method a temporary fix, and then later decided it was not worthy enough to have people doing. This is the only and last fix you'll need to do on your cluster. More importantly, I'm proud of this method.

    MSportParts | Braymond141

  • #2
    Great DIY and write-up. Will be tackling this pretty soon as I’ve started getting the dark spots.


    • #3
      Wonderful write-up. Followed this years ago and the cluster is still bright.


      • #4
        What type of adhesive “remount able glue” did you use to reinstall the gauge light frame?


        • #5
          Ciao ,che tipo di adesivo hai usato?