Copyright 2016 - Checker Car Club of America, Inc.
Note: This applies specifically to the later 2 gauge dash that uses the #194 bulbs.
If you have a newer car or truck, you quickly get used to the much brighter LED dash lights. Then you wonder why the Checker gauges are hard to see.
Above: 81 dash with standard 194 bulbs
Below: Same dash with LED bulbs; these are bright enough to be easily seen in full sunlight.
The good news is you can easily fix it; the bad news is LED bulbs are expensive ... about $8 - $13
each. In total, the dash has 10 bulbs, but you only really need to replace 5 of them: 1 illumination per cluster (2 total), 2 turn signal, and 1 high beam. I used the $13 Sylvania Zevo 194 6000K super bright white LED. It is also labeled 168/2825. Be sure you check the label for white because they also come in colors and you can’t tell by just looking. Sylvania also has their cool white LED 194 bulb for $8. They are available in most auto parts stores.
If you have never had your dash apart, it isn’t too bad of a job. Be SURE to disconnect the battery first or you can fry the printed circuit on the back of the gauge clusters if the headlight switch contacts the dash (says the person who had to solder a couple of traces back together).
Start by disconnecting the negative battery cable at the battery. Then place the car in low, and if
you have a tilt wheel, lower it all the way. Remove the 3 knobs on the heater controls by just pulling them off; check to be sure the metal retainer clips stayed inside the plastic knobs.
Remove the 6 Phillips screws holding the dash insert. Reach up under the dash and unscrew the speedometer cable (this is usually the worst part of the job). If you have an 81 / 82 with the
fiber lighting “thread”, locate the bulb assembly and disconnect the housing from the bulb.
Remove the insert by prying out at one corner with a plastic removal trim tool. Likely it will hang up at the top on the dash pad, so just run a trim tool along the top to free it. It will only pull out a little way because the heater fan, wiper, etc. switches are still connected. Take a digital photo with your phone, then unplug them for better access. You can change the bulbs without completely removing the dash insert.
Below is what the back of the dash looks like (old spare one shown). The round holes are where the bulbs go in GM style twist in plastic holders.
Below is a standard 194 bulb and the plastic twist in holder.
Just twist the holder out of the dash, plug the old bulb out, and plug in the new LED bulb. It doesn’t matter how you plug the plug in the holder, but it does matter when you twist it into the dash. Unfortunately, LED bulbs care about plus and minus, so you have a 50/50 chance of correctly installing it.
Once you have changed the bulbs you want to change, put the insert back in the dash, secure it
with a couple of screws (so you have a ground), hook the battery up, and test. Note which bulbs do not light up. DISCONNECT the battery, remove the insert, remove each bulb holder that did not light, rotate 180 degrees, and insert. Since it should all be correct this time, hook up the other wires like heater fan and wiper, insert, and secure. Reconnect battery and test again. If
all is correct, install the other screws, push on the heater knobs, and reconnect the speedometer cable.
Update: November 2016
After the article above appeared, I received this email:
Enjoyed you article on the LED conversion, and am going to convert. One question: my gauges
have much dust on the inside of the glass, so even the poor incandescent bulbs light it up and make it difficult to read. Can the gauges be opened to clean the glass?
I didn't know so I went out to the garage and disassembled a spare gauge panel. Yes. Each gauge assembly is held in the panel by two 3/8's nuts and star lock washers. Once you have it out, you will notice the chrome trim ring has been crimped onto the round housing. I used a flat screwdriver to pry out the crimps. It then came apart easily. Then I just popped the glass and trim ring back on and did not crimp it, but it seems secure after the nuts were tightened down.
Photos depict a 1982 LPG dash panel