Fact: The factory has no responsibility to keep parts in stock for your 10-year or older Corvette.
Fact: Early C4 ('84-'88 models) Corvette instrument panels are hard to repair, if they can even be repaired.
Fact: Advanced Electronics Remanufacturing (AER) is the holy grail of instrument-panel-repair artisans and, best of all, GM likes these guys.
The Corvette instrument panel is a thing of beauty. The first of the electronic instrumental panels, the colorful '84-'88, was replaced by the more conventional analog "needle" gauge and center display package in '89, then with the truly inspired C5 system for the new '97s. Regardless, all of the instrument panels have their "personality problems" that serve to irritate their drivers. After all, what part of your car do you see most when driving? It makes sense that it couldn't be perfect.
The standard LCD Corvette instrument panel is a nightmare for many owners. Dark or non-operative, the instrument panel that was so pretty when new is often a major problem. For those not suffering with totally dark instrument panels, there are often intermittent lighting failures such as the dash winking out to blackness on railroad crossings. But, contrary to rumor (and we've heard plenty), there is a fix.
Carefully remove the instrument panel by removing the surrounding panels. There are four screws holding it in place to the dashboard framework as well as a large plug system on the right side of the unit. Unplug the unit, then remove the screws and carefully lift the instrument panel out of the dashboard. Remove the screws carefully. The color display panel, which is made of glass, is one of the most breakable parts of the dashboard. For those versed in the careful art of television repair, tapping or banging on the glass will not fix your problem. For those more aggressive in this kind of repair technique, the glass panels sell for about $150 each, so be ready for a heavier bill if you can't wait to send the unit to the folks at AER. Estimated cost for most repairs is under $500.
These instrument panels are far more reliable than the earlier units and significantly less complex internally. For the most part, the biggest problem with these clusters is missing segments (light squares) within the center electronic display. The most common display problem is not an error of the instrument panel, but rather customer viewing error. Basically, the analog (needle) gauges are not set up on a linear fashion. In other words, the halfway point for the needle is not the halfway point for the reading (numbers). Case in point: The temperature gauge may have a top reading of 260 degrees F, but the halfway point is not 130 degrees. Likewise, the temp gauge may move all the way up to the three-quarter mark before the electric cooling fans kick in and drop the needle back to the halfway point. This misread is a common misperception with these clusters and a common reason they are sent in and sent back with no repair completed.
These instrument panels also unbolt in a similar fashion to the first-era units; however, the wiring loom attachment is in the back of the instrument panel. Be careful with all connectors-don't ever pry at the panel to remove one, as it will surely break and cause further repairs.
'97 And Newer Corvettes
According to the experts, these dashboards have a variety of problems, but nothing that an owner should consistently look for. These units unscrew (four mounting points) like the previous clusters discussed, with the electronic plug positioned in the back as well. The most common complaint with these units is that the Head-Up Display (HUD) and speedometer seem to be off a few mph. Fact is, the HUD is an exact number and the needle gauge is a pointer with a factory-allowed 2-3-mph degree of error. For this there is no repair. In the factory's eyes, it isn't broken.
Shipping, Warranty & Other Info
AER does all of the GM repairs in the western U.S., and can repair your system if you take the time to send your instrument panel to the company. Wrap it up carefully and insure it for $1,000 or more. Replacing an early instrument panel can cost more than $2,000, as cores are hard to come by and AER won't sent you one of theirs unless you send them one of yours.
All of these units require that you send them a core or that you repair your instrument panel. On C5 units where the odometer is electronic, they must reset the mileage based on the unit you provide. AER prides itself on 24-hour turnaround on repairs so once it's in their hands, you should have it back quickly.
You can save hundreds of dollars by doing this yourself. When calling about the service, give them the part number on the sticker located on the top of the instrument panel. Don't worry if you can't find one, as they have a tendency to become brittle and break off. If you don't have the information, AER can still help when the unit arrives. When you send in your instrument panel, include a complete description of when the unit fails or other problems you've encountered (for example, AER had one customer send in a unit that failed only after the trip odometer hits 649 miles-if you don't tell them they may not test for your problem). AER will repair the problem you list and check the unit for other problems as well. When you receive the unit back, it will be under a warranty from AER for one full year.
But Wait, There's More
AER also fixes pesky climate-control systems and that chronic C4 problem: touchy Bose speaker amplifiers. For those with early Corvette instrumental panels, they have contacts to help there as well. Full service, to be certain.