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I took on a major challenge this weekend and the project was successful. I completely replaced the cracked dashboard in my 91 Spirit with a nice dashboard from a 94 Spirit that I saw in the boneyard last weekend.

My car is in pretty good shape, but the Florida sun had cracked the dashboard and it looked really ugly, so I knew I had to do something about it. About a year ago, I made an attempt to remove a dashboard from a similar vehicle in the boneyard, but ran out of time and patience. This is a major undertaking and not a project for the faint of heart.

It all started last weekend when I was in the yard looking for parts for my recently purchased G. Voyager. I saw this Spirit that looked identical to mine. It was a car from the north that had recently been added to the yard. The interior was immaculate, and even though it was a 94, the dash looked identical to my 91. I decided I had to give it a try and when I came back this Saturday, a few things had been removed, but the dash was untouched. I arrived at opening time for the yard (9:00 AM) and went to work. By 11:00 AM I had it out, along with a new heater control unit and new visors. The headliner had already been salvaged. Total cost for everything was $60, and the yard made me cut the VIN number off before I could buy it.

Changing out these dashboards involves a lot of work and here is a summary from my memory of what had to come off: Dash pad (grille), glove box, upper left dash trim, center trim, dash cluster, headlight switch (and associated trim), defrost switch, traveller, radio, ash tray, lower left panel, fuse block, turn signal flasher, relay block, parking brake lever, hood release handle, heater control unit, cigar lighter, trim around steering column, lower pillar trim on right and left, some HVAC tubes and the duct work that goes under the steering column, lower left side steel brace (under lower left trim), carpeted trim around air bag computer (center hump). Also, the steering column need to be lowered to the seat (battery disconnected, of course). It seems that a couple hundred screws are involved in removing everything. The major support bolts are at the windshield under the defrost grille, the left and right kick panels, the steering column nuts, and two nuts at the center hump at the airbag computer area.

I had to get the VIN swapped from my dash to the new one, replace some rotted foam at the heater/AC box outlet, and then I began the massive task of putting the new dash in. This was the biggest part of the job. There are a gazillion electrical plugs, plus HVAC tubing, heater control cable, etc. that have to be placed in the correct position before the dash can be bolted in. It took several hours to get everything in-place, but I managed to get the dash in nicely and about 1/4 of the things hooked up before darkness hit. I finished the rest by Sunday early afternoon and got the old parts back to the boneyard for my $3 core credit


[Editor's note: the VIN swap is highly illegal unless performed by a licensed mechanic, who must fill out an affidavit and get special dispensation. This is not something you can legally do yourself, and the penalties are very harsh.]

All I can say is that it looks real nice, ...but what a job


So far, the only problem I have discovered is that my nice looking replacement heater control panel has two bulbs burned out in it, and I know that those are a bear to change. I am very satisfied at the outcome, but I am tempted to say "don't try this at home folks"


My wife happened to come of the house when I had the everything out and I saw her face turn a pale white, and then she shook her head and said "only YOU would do something like that". She does like seeing the car, now that it is done, with a nice looking interior.

Sorry for the long story, but I thought a few of you might want to know what's involved in changing a cracked dashboard
 

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Mopar starship captain
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That's great! I've never had more out than the insturment cluster and the radio out of mine. Some things are worth the effort it takes to do them, sounds like your project was one of them. :)
 

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I was watching this show where these guys were making a demolition derby car. Their method of removing the dash was to kick the windshield out and have the biggest guy there jump up and down on the dashboard until it fell off.
 

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Mopar starship captain
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Keith1984 said:
I was watching this show where these guys were making a demolition derby car. Their method of removing the dash was to kick the windshield out and have the biggest guy there jump up and down on the dashboard until it fell off.
Ouch! :eek:
 

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CAT parts wrangler
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Excellent writeup, John. This echoes the experience I had with removing the dash in my car, too...would be a good item for the FAQ, especially in regards to heater core replacement.
 

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John Wood...consider yourself so very fortunate that you have that warm Florida weather to putz around in :) !!! I miss that Bradenton weather and the Gulf Beaches on Anna Maria Island sooooo so much right now! Here in KCMO, I just came in from de-icing my 1991 Shadow and 1989 Lebaron ragtops (recently had the heater control valve sticking on the Lebaron). It had at least 3/8ths inch of ice on it. I also replaced that pesky leaking fuel line between the fuel pump and fuel filter. I am still thawing out. How I would trade a dash replacement in balmy Florida anytime for any menial task up here in the "State of Misery...I mean Missouri" during this time of year. Also, I'm still part Bucs fan and was disappointed in their season but I'm a Chiefs fan, born and raised so....G O C H I E F S!!! :p
 

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Discussion Starter #7
I know what you mean HoleShot. I lived in Indianapolis for 12 years and remember those sub-zero days. You just prayed that your car did not break down in the winter. Oh..... I remember those rusted brake lines and fuel lines, and every other bolt that snapped off when you went to remove something.

My last northern vehicle was a 74 Blazer. With 57,000 miles on it the brake line ruptured (rusted) while my wife was driving and she plowed right through a red light. Thank God there was no traffic coming in any direction. You would slam the door and 5 pounds of rust fell off in the driveway. That was the end of my GM buying forever and it has been Chrysler vehicles since then. It also was when I moved to Florida. I think they crushed the old Blazer and then complained that it wasn't even worth the cost of recycling it :lol: (it had a good 350 engine, though!)

Yes, I picked a good weekend for the dash replacement project. Forget doing something like that in the Summer here. I would of had to dry out the seats and carpet of a gallon of sweat :lol:

The only real problem here is the traffic. The tourists own the roads and make it miserable to drive in this ridiculously crowded county. But.... I do feel fortunate....thanks. :)
 

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Congrats John!

I'm happy that my old dashboard is still in good shape for it's age. It's a little faded with age, of course, being blue, but other than a little warpage, it's still fine and no cracks.

The warpage must just be from old age, and the exposure to heat and humidty over the years. The whole dash is fine, but towards the back, where the defrost vents go on the driver's side, it's a little warped around the edges, causing the defrost vent to pop out on the driver's side sometimes. Really not bad at all.

I've always thought the design of the Spirit / Acclaim Dashes would make them a nightmare to replace and according to your weekend undertaking, it was. Glad your project was a success though. Nothing beats the satisfied feeling you get when viewing the rewards of a hard day's work.
 

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John Wood,

A great project and very well described, with artfully contrived details of the behavior of the genially miffed spouse, and entertaining understatement about the inadvisability of attempting this project unless you have a certain level of capability and the time available.

You have the makings of as interesting a set of tales as Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers of Car Talk, or if mockery isn't your line, Norm Abram of This Old House. You really ought to start photographically documenting your projects (certainly stills and why not video?) and making up a portfolio.

These are projects where you are truly creating value out of discarded parts, and people might respond to this. You might be able to market this to a local newspaper or the local public TV station. You just have to think up an engaging name. How about "Junk Yard John"? Monster Garage without the huge shop, outrageous tatoos, and wild facial hair. The show could start off on Friday afternoon with your wife reminding you that you agreed to do X on Sunday and requesting that you not get involved in anything that will interfere. The tension will be, "Can he get it done in time?" Bring in other characters--a physicist brother-in-law who's practical skills are limited to holding parts together while glue dries, whatever. . .

I think that lots of people dream about doing these things, and will do some of them, and would enjoy vicariously participating in projects that are beyond them.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
:lol: :lol:

Thanks for the words folks. I know this is crazy to do on a car this old, but it seems like if it has been done on an EEK car I have done it. Now you can tell me to go get a life. :lol:

Seriously, I do like to tinker with these things.

As a little side story, I happened to overhear some quiet conversation from some of the bone yard employees. After I finished paying for the dash and other parts, and I was struggling to get out the door, I heard one guy say to another, "no way that will happen". At the time, I didn't think they were talking about me.

Since these yards are required to charge a core fee (so junk parts are not disposed of improperly), I had to bring the old dash back. When I walked in with the old dash, there was more conversation and I got a few looks and raised eyebrows. Apparently there was some betting going on about this dashboard job and I think some money exchanged hands. I heard things like "yeah man", and "I don't believe it", and "ah crap", etc. I would have liked to have heard what the deal was, but I was tired and wanted my $3, and was darn ready to relax with a few beers :lol: Maybe it was my imagination, but I have never seen anybody else walking out with a dashboard.

I meant to tell them that they charge too much for these. Come on, $50!!!. Heck that is probably what they paid the owner for the car!!! A transaxle only costs $39.95, but then again, you don't know what you are getting. :blink:
 

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Sometimes they're nuts with pricing. THe junkyard I go to is usually reasonable...$15 for a bench seat for a Toyota, $40 for a good gas tank, $10 for a good egr valve with transducer and so on. I wanted a distributor for a Ford 302, and the guy wanted $40 for it, because it was getting rare. Got one at another yard for $5.

A lot of people can't afford to drive a new car (I could afford to buy it, but not drive it) so info and places like this help out a lot.
 

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The Contrarian
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Boy am I glad I did this on a K-car, ten screws and the dash pad came right off, new one slid on.
 
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John Wood,

You are right to almost tack on a "Don't try this at home." Warning to people. I have never replaced a dashboard, but I have had to rip one out of my old '87 Shadow, and then put it back in during the course of replacing a clogged heater core... and it was indeed a tough task.

By far the most difficult part was getting everything correctly aligned all at once before reattaching the dashboard to the car. My father had helped me do this at the time... an extra set of hands always helps.

As for the wife giving the "Only you would..." look... So true... So true... :)
 

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How do you remember which type of screws go where, and where they all go?
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Almost all the devices that connect to the dash use the same screws. For the unique screws or bolts, I just lay them out next to the item I removed. If I think I'll have a problem, I just lay the screws on some 2 inch masking tape (sticky side) and label them. I didn't have too much of an issue with the screws, but I did mess up a little on the order of getting the pieces back. This caused me to backtrack a few times. For example, I put the glove box back in bafore putting the center trim that surrounds the ash tray/cup holder. That was wrong, because the edge of that trim goes under the edge of the glove box hinge. Things like that eat up time and cause a little frustration, but if you are patient, all will eventually work out.

I really feel it is like any project with a lot of parts. The first time is the worst, but it gets easier each time the task is repeated. In retrospect, I would do it again and could probably complete it in 3/4 the amount of time it took me.

I also have a real advantage in that I have a spare car. That takes all the time pressure off. :)
 

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You know, that's a really good idea. I wish I'd thought of it when I took half the dash out of my lebaron coupe out to replace the A/C mode door and evaporator. I should've had a roll of masking tape around my wrist, and simply taped down each screw as I took it out, right next to the hole it came out of.

Instead I had 1 screw left over, and an annoying jingling noise that may or may not be related...
 

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jstew314 said:
You have the makings of as interesting a set of tales as Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers of Car Talk, or if mockery isn't your line, Norm Abram of This Old House. You really ought to start photographically documenting your projects (certainly stills and why not video?) and making up a portfolio.

These are projects where you are truly creating value out of discarded parts, and people might respond to this. You might be able to market this to a local newspaper or the local public TV station. You just have to think up an engaging name. How about "Junk Yard John"?
I have an even better title with the Norm Abrams theme in mind. How about "This Old Car"? Although a few years ago the programme would have been in my case called "This Old Fury" :lol:

For example: "Today on This Old Car, we're going to tackle K-Car dashboard replacement...." Or "Today on This Old Car, we're going to finally cure that leaking head gasket problem..." "Today on This Old Car, we're going to show you the proper way to mix Bondo..."

Lots of entertaining and informative possibilities. It'd be This Old House meets the old TNN show Shadetree Mechanic. I'd not only watch it, but I'd tape it too! :D
 
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Marc said:
A lot of people can't afford to drive a new car (I could afford to buy it, but not drive it)
Yes. I can afford the new car - but the insurance payments I would make for full coverage on my new dream car - .... well... that's a different story entirely.
 

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I too am glad that my dash is in good sape. however, i think i am going to be removing mine in the spring. my heater has never worked properly. blows real hard but doesnt heat up. I will definatly keep this topic in mind when I start this project.
 

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Discussion Starter #20
If you feel no air flow coming out of the vents, it may be just a vacuum leak, preventing the doors from opening to the correct position. Check to see if air is coming out the defrost vents below the windshield. If you have air blowing, but it is not warm, you may have a restricted heater core.
 
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