Instrument Cluster Problems: Is It The Alternator?

If your instrument cluster quits working or starts acting crazy, it's hard to determine the status of your vehicle. You won't know how much fuel you have, the health of your engine, or even how fast you're going. You're literally in the dark without any information about your car's status.

Occasionally the issue isn't your dashboard but a problem with your electrical system, like a weak or bad alternator. We'll cover that topic in this article, including:

  • What is an alternator?
  • Symptoms of a weak or bad alternator
  • How to replace a weak or bad alternator

We'll also provide some options for fixing or replacing your instrument cluster, if the alternator is not the issue.

What Is An Alternator?


The alternator is one of the key parts of your vehicle's charging system. It supplies power to charge the car's battery and runs the electrical systems. The alternator is basically a generator run off your car's serpentine belt but creates AC or alternating current electricity, which is converted to direct current (DC) to charge the battery.

Symptoms Of A Bad Alternator

Dim headlights

A malfunctioning dashboard is only one sign of a bad alternator. Other symptoms include:

  • A drained or discharged battery
  • Weak or dim headlights
  • Problems with the car stereo or other electronic components
  • The vehicle starter cranks slowly, and it is hard to start
  • The charging system warning light is illuminated on your dashboard. This warning light usually looks like a battery.

If your vehicle has one or more of these problems, it's a good idea to test your charging system, including the battery. If you replace your alternator or battery and your instrument panel is still acting crazy, then you have another issue. It's possible your instrument cluster needs to be reset, which can be done using the guide in this link.

How To Replace A Bad Alternator

Replace alternator

Replacing a bad alternator is a fairly straightforward process. The hard part is finding the alternator on your vehicle. Depending on if your car is front-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, or rear-wheel drive, the alternator may be located at the front of the engine, behind the radiator, or on the side if your car has a transverse engine layout.

Once you've located the alternator, perform the following steps:

  1. Disconnect the negative ground on the battery.
  2. Disconnect the wiring from the alternator.
  3. Loosen the bolts on the alternator bracket. Typically the alternator is mounted on a bracket with three or four bolts.
  4. Slip the accessory or serpentine belt off the alternator pulley.
  5. Remove the bolts from the alternator bracket and remove the alternator from the car.

To install a new alternator, repeat the above steps in reverse order. You may need help tightening the bolts on the bracket to ensure the accessory/serpentine belt is sufficiently tight.

What If The Alternator Is Not The Problem?

Cluster repari

If you've ruled out the alternator and your instrument panel still doesn't work, you can either replace it or have it repaired. With either option, ISS Automotive will reprogram the instrument cluster with the correct VIN and mileage info from your car.

ISS Automotive has over 70 years of experience distributing and remanufacturing automotive electronic and mechatronic components. We offer a limited lifetime warranty on all remanufactured and repaired electronic products and provide a fast turnaround with free shipping on orders over $99.

Contact us or give us a call at 800-548-1195 if you have questions or would like to know more about our services.