Imperial Home Page -> Repair -> Electrical System ->Dash Lighting -> Digital
Question from Larry:
Can any body tell me why the instrument cluster was changed when my car was converted?
Reply from Dick:
That is part of the conversion process. The interface to the dash electronics is enough different that new dashes were supplied. There should be a label in the glove box and on the drivers "B" post telling the mileage at which the conversion was done. Add this number to the mileage displayed on the new dash to get the correct total, unless there is an asterisk in the odometer display. If there is an asterisk, all bets are off, you have to rely on other data to know the true mileage. Since your dad bought it new, I assume you have the paperwork to demonstrate the true total miles.
Question from William:I have finally cleared the carcass of the '82 Imperial out of my shop and I have set to work on the "refreshing" of the '83. I noticed references to the "dreaded asterisk". I happen to have such a creature (I assume it refers to that little dot between "ODO" and "MI") on my odometer. What exactly does this mean? Does this explain why it is showing 130K miles or 110K Kms (these are not equal, for those who are metric illiterate ;-)
Asterisk -cluster replaced or over 199,999.99.
As was mentioned, the Electronic cluster has a Self-Diagnostic test that you can run.
It is on page 8-112 of my 83 FSM
"This test functions when the battery is connected and the door, time delay, (ignition key lamp) or seat occupant switch inputs (but not the ignition or headlamps) is on and the diagnostic test switch is activated."
The manual mentions removing the lower left bezel, and pushing the red button on the left side of the steering column. I am not sure but I THINK I was able to do this without removing the bezel.
HOWEVER - I had a HECK of a time trying mine out until I discovered that the button on my cluster is BLACK, not RED.
So, locate the switch and be able to get to it. Then, open the door and while the timer is on, hit the button.
It's kinda cool. There will be "Fail" or "Pass" messages and the last step will be all segments lit to show any inoperative ones.
Turn the ignition "On" to resume normal mode.
Further to Dan's observations about disappearing dashes, if the dash disappears when you put the headlights on you have a faulty light switch, which is available, cheap and easy to replace if your a bat. My dash has failed to come on a couple of times but came back on just in time to coincide with the newly formed sweat on my brow. The secret to keeping the EFI cars on the road are an FSM and patience, all faults can be found and fixed given time. Always expect the unexpected.
Question from Rob:
My dash acts strangely. The speedo has almost all the bars lit all the time. The ones for the speed you are actually going are a little brighter. The km/h lights up and flashes in time with the low fuel light. The dash goes on when you pull on the door handle. I don't think it's supposed to do that. Any possible common cause for any/all of these problems. I'm hoping there is a ground problem causing some of it. Also, the idiot lights for volts and seat belt come on when you turn the key to start. The light for temp only comes on when the car is cranking. Which is normal?
I have owned two '81 Imperials. Both of them *did* illumate the dash whenever the door handle was lifted. As for the "idiot lights", - it sounds to me like the operation you describe is normal. The "voltage" light will be illuminated whenever the battery voltage gets below a certain point (forgot what that point is or I would tell you), and the seat belt light will be on for a short time too whenever you turn on the ignition. The temp light should illuminate when the starter is being engaged. This was called a "bulb check" function, - but I think they have gotten away from that in later years.
The operation of the speedometer display that you describe (the way the bars light up) is *not* normal however.
The dash is supposed to light up when you pull the door handle.
The idiot lights are supposed to do what you describe also. This is all described in the owner's manual and the shop manuals, I believe.
The other funnies you report sound like a ground wire has come loose from the dash cluster board - and that could be related to your starting problems also. So get out your Factory Service manual and see how to get at the connections for the cluster board, and make sure they wires are all secure, the connectors are all seated, and the ground wire is in place, and in good condition.
Your mention of the low fuel light brings to mind the discussion of starting problems. DON'T run these cars low on fuel. The liquid fuel is what cools the in-tank fuel pump - habitually running on fumes will cause problems of vapor being pumped through the system, and pump overheating - any of which could be related to your starting problems. Make a habit of always keeping at least 5 gallons in the tank. Low fuel also causes stalling on right turns on some of these cars (mine included).
Question from Ron:
Can someone tell me how to read the digital display that only shows numbers on a 1981 Imperial? Is it showing how many gallons in the tank or how far I can go?
The fuel display will read either gallons or liters remaining by default (depending if you are on US or Metric). By using the control panel, you can change the readout to indicate range, present fuel mileage, or trip (average) fuel mileage. Mine always reverts back to the fuel remaining setting when the key is cycled (when the car is started).
The fuel gauge shows how many gallons / liters left in the tank.
There is a selection on the control center that will display the estimated range based on the the amount of fuel in the tank and the fuel consumption.
Question from TJ:
I am having problems with my digital readouts. For the second time in 2 years they went out. they were working when I turned the car off and not working when I turned the car on again. When this happened before, they just came back on by themselves. Does anyone know what could be causing this?
My car did this and it turned out to be the headlight switch.
I had this problem when I bought my 81 just over two years ago and had to re-wire the entire headlight circuit, $$$. The headlight switch, as my then local Chrysler dealer in New Mexico told me, is no longer available. However, I got a new one from Checker Auto Parts for about $15. They listed the same part number for several different cars so I don't know just how heavy duty it is. The 1979 and up Dodge St.Regis and Chrysler New Yorker I believe uses the same switch. A burned switch seems to be a common problem with this model car. I have seen it on every Dodge Mirada, Chrysler Cordoba and Imperial I have come across in the salvage yards, so for everyone out there that has one of these cars I suggest you keep a spare one handy.
Question from Neil:
After opening the door of my '82 when I am just about to swing my leg into the car the two red (brake, alt) lights come on and go off in a flash. I always thought this was another Chrysler random element but maybe it is because I am not always looking towards the dash or in daylight the lights do not shine brightly enough to gain my attention.
So in summary I am only slightly the wiser that at some point in time my ahead of its time dash shows a flicker of life to let me know it is still interested in being a dash, when it feels like it, sometimes, well i am glad that has cleared that up in my mind :-)
The dash instrument lamps should not come on when the door is opened. There should not be any power to those lamps until the ignition key is turned to "ON" (or "RUN").
I have found that if you are seated in the car and turn the engine off, the transmission gear selector display will remain on as long as there is someone seated in the driver's seat. And of course the speedometer, odometer, clock, fuel gauge and transmission gear selector display will light when you pull on an exterior door handle. All but the transmission display shuts off after a few seconds if the door is opened.
But none of the lower panel warning lights should come on when the door handle is pulled, a door is opened, or someone sits on the driver's seat.
I have puzzled over the action of the "voltage" light on the EFI cars. It does, as Neil says, light briefly when the car is first entered, then go out. All 4 of mine have done this, so I assume it is normal. I will one day take the time to analyze the circuit to see what they are trying to indicate. I do know that it will stay on if the alternator fails - that's all I care about.
Question from Davis:
Is there any way to get rid of the 85 limit on the speedometer for the '81 - '83 digital instrument cluster? I seen to recall reading somewhere about a microswitch on the back of the unit. I looked at both, an ECM (EFI) and non ECM (EFI) instrument cluster, and could not find any microswitch, except for the test switch, which is a momentary switch, located on the bottom of the cluster.
Was there any reason for this speedometer reading limit? Did the US government somehow believe that restricting the speedometer maximum would make people go slower? Geez, you'd think the emissions controls the of the early 80's would have practically done that! Perhaps not with Imperials but definitely lesser cars.
I have seen some of these dashes that read more than 85mph. They have been replacement dashes that came with the retrofit kit. Although not all that came with the kits read over 85, who knows. I have one that reads higher, but in the dozen dashes I have out of cars I don't know now which one it is.
Hi all, well on this topic, I've done a couple of installations that allow you to keep your ashtray, and keeps everything in the instrument cluster. check it out: http://www.lindholm-studio.com/imperial/dash.htm These are 2yr old images, I'm just now getting back around to working on the car again.
Question from Matt:
How are the 81-83 Imperial digital dashes for reliability?
My 81 and 82 have never given me any problems with the digital dashes. And my poor 81 is my daily driver; it sits for days at a time in the airport employee parking lot here in Orlando. In the summertime, I am sure the temp. inside the car must near 180-degrees or so, but still the dash goes on and on. The only odd trouble I had was a one-time transient event: I was driving along and the dash display absolutely froze. The speedometer froze at 45 or so, the odometer stopped counting, the clock was frozen in time. I pulled off the road, turned the car off, let it sit a moment and started her back up to find all back to normal. Hmmm... Never happened again.
My personal experience is that the dash clusters are rock solid. I have never had a failure in any of the display units. I have been driving one or the other of my 4 '81 -82s for 13 years now. The operating switches do get somewhat balky if the cars are not used frequently (I refer to the hidden row of buttons over the radio unit). The discussion about the door ajar warning lights may have confused some people here. Those lights are plain old incandescent light bulbs, in fact they are the same bulbs used for dash illumination and warning lights for many years, our old friend the #194. There is nothing sophisticated or "computerized" about the operation of these bulbs, they just have plain old copper wires going to the operating switches in the doors.
The '81-'83 Imperials are great. In my opinion, they are one of the prettiest cars Chrysler ever made (with the exception of the '55 Imperial). My Imperial is an '83. She has 100k miles on her and runs great. Sure, I have occasional hesitation out of her, but she is 18 years old. I have never had any problems with my digital dash. Works great. I wish all cars had them. My cassette player has never worked since I bought the car in '94. But as long as the radio works I don't care.
My digital dash display died at 43K, and after making several attempts to get it repaired, bought a used one from the "Imperial Wizard" in Denver. It has worked great ever since then. The 83 now has 79K on it. The only other problem I have had is the switches in the door for the illumination system keep getting out of adjustment and then the Interior illumination relay starts clicking.
Follow-up from Dick:
I'd be interested to know what type of failure you experienced on your dash, Leo. Did it go completely blank and stay that way in all fields (implying the power supply for the electroluminescent display failed) or was there some upset in the information display?
Reply from Leo:
My dash display just went out one day and refused to come on. I had the car in the dealer the day before so I had a good idea of the mileage. and had to make a formula to determine the correct mileage. Right now it shows 146K. I still have the old dash display. Is it possible to repair them? It might be a good idea to have a spare as these cars get older.
Follow-up from Dick:
I have no experience with trying to repair them, as I've never seen a failed one before. Since the whole display went out, I'd suspect the power feed to the electroluminescent power supply just got dislodged somehow, and since the car was service just before this, it might easily have happened then, if they were anywhere under the dash for some reason. I'd keep your old one, and if you want to test it, I can give you a 3 step procedure for bench testing it. You might be surprised to learn it is OK after all. You'll need a source of 12 volts and 3 test leads - that's all it takes to test the cluster. (I use a motorcycle battery for this, but a car battery would work as well.)
Question from Jack:
I just located a fuel flow meter with the hopes of restoring some function to my cluster. Does anybody have any definitive info on the differences between the original EFI cluster (like the one I have) and the factory conversion one, if there is a difference?
I know the conversion kit contained a replacement dash cluster, and that the fuel flow meter on the converted cars was a completely different setup from the one on the EFI cars, which of course provides a main input to the fuel management system, thus it had to be rock solid reliable and accurate. The one on the converted cars was a hang-on device installed in the fuel line from the (ugh) mechanical fuel pump to the (ugh) carburetor. The output from the fuel flow meter was routed to something called a "level shifter", and from there to the dash cluster. I know absolutely nothing about this setup except that I've never seen one that works. The reason your backyard converted car shows 99.9 mpg is that the EFI dash is not getting a signal indicating any fuel flow at all, thus it must be truly amazed when it miles traversed! The drive signal it is looking for is a square wave, with a source impedance of about 10,000 Ohm, and a frequency that varies with the fuel consumption. If you want, you could experiment with the fuel flow meter you have obtained to see if you can get it to put out a strong signal, and hook it up to the appropriate wire - be sure to leave the series resistor that is already in the harness, or you could zap something expensive and delicate in the EFI dash cluster.
I just found a complete parts list for the cluster which I think is for the conversion kit, but I'm not positive; I have another parts list and will look for it. But, in the meantime, since you are reading 99.9 mpg on the display, the problem is likely to be nothing more than the failure of the resistor from the flow meter to the cluster - same problem with original EFI cluster. This resistor is encased in a rubber insulator, about 2" long and about 5/16" square, may be colored black. It lies in a harness on the right side, along the rocker cover mounting flange along with all the wires in that area, you may well find it within a group of wires inside a flex jacket. This location is in the longitudinal center of the block and easy to find. Replacing this resistor will restore the proper read-out; regardless of a DO-IT-Yourself or the factory conversion kit which contained a different cluster number. During one factory conversion, we didn't immediately replace the cluster and it worked just right, a it is still working today. As a side story, the original clusters had an inherent problem early on which prompted a replacement with an improved part but carried the same number. It was generally at this time that the famous Asterisk appeared along with paper notice that the mileage shown was not the true number and this all to comply with both federal and many state regulations on "used" car odometer readings. I will hunt for the other list, but also want to say that the conversion kit contained a Fuel Flow Meter which was made in Germany at that time, and I think I have a part number for it also. Please let me know if you want me to keep digging.....
Follow-up from Dick:
Thanks, Bob for shedding some light on this mystery. I have always wondered why they bothered to change out the dash when they did the conversion. Apparently it was not necessary. In Jack's case, I think the most likely situation is that he does not have a fuel flow meter, as his conversion is not the Factory kit (at least I don't think so), thus the old EFI resistor is probably connected to nothing at all. I find so many different part numbers on those clusters that it is apparent there were many, many changes during the production run. I bought a "NOS" dash cluster on Ebay a year or so ago, which turned out to be a used one with some 98,000 miles showing, but still works fine, as far as I have been able to test it on the bench. It has the original part number on it, plus 4 paper MOPAR parts number tags glued over the original stamped part number, each one calling itself the revised part number for the previous one in the stack! Apparently they kept sending out bulletins to the parts man to apply a revised number to the parts in stock. I do note that the parts book names a different part number for the EFI cluster than it uses for the carbureted cars. My parts book is not new enough to show a number for the conversion kit cluster, but knowing that number would add to our store of knowledge about these critters.
Reply from Bob:
The resistor we talk about, ( is a 10k ohm, 1/4 watt), was connected between the terminal connected to the bottom of the Power Module and one of the six leads of the two larger connectors on the right, rear side of the engine - you are right, since the original EFI was gone, there was no replacement connection made and hence the display is the normal, default 99.9 mpg. If, however the car is equipped with a factory conversion and includes the replacement flow meter, then the failed resistor theory. would apply. I have no paperwork on diagnosing the carb equipped cars, especially this item. By this time, the dealers were quite frustrated - then in the true Chrysler tradition, 10 years after production stopped, they redesigned and made available the parts that do work okay and when you think about it all it makes you want to fill out an application to join a terrorist organization......
Question from Jack:
What does the dreaded asterisk signify, other than passing the blessed 100K mark?
The asterisk has nothing to do with 100,000 Mi or any other specific mileage. It comes on if the odometer has been tampered with or replaced for any reason. It is to warn you if the car has different mileage than what is shown. If the odometer change was by a factory authorized dealer, there will be a sticker on the left door jamb or on the inside of the glove box lid telling when and why the odometer was replaced, and the previous reading, and if any, the reading on the unit now installed before it was put in the current car. You see this on all the factory converted cars, since they changed out the whole dash electronic assembly. By the way, the odometer reads to either 199,999 or 299,999 (I forget which) before it rolls over (and you can always figure out if it has rolled over by punching the "metric" button to see if the readings correspond with the first time around or second, or whatever.)
The asterisk means that the mileage currently displayed is not the true mileage - simple. If you bought one of these cars from a dealer, he was usually obligated, by Chrysler, to add a sticker to the car at the door back face and to the documentation, that would indicate the true mileage; usually more than that displayed. Many '81's had the digital display fail early on, in which case Chrysler replaced it under warranty, the innards were improved, and they covered their inability to "reset" the odometer to the original number. There are some people who can revert the mileage to 0, but it cannot be run "backwards" to a lower, or the former amount, and the asterisk may also, in some cases, be removed.....
On Chrysler and Ford w/digital dash a star or asterisk means the odometer has passed 1 complete set of numbers; ie, on 99,999 max mile units its passed 100,000 miles on 999,999 max mile units its passed 1,000,000miles it is also what happens when someone tries to pulse the unit around past 0 to a lower mileage ...BUSTED!
On digital dashes (the only place you'll see it), when I had the dash replaced on a previous 1985 model Chrysler, I was told it means that the dash has been replaced with a "factory rebuilt" (not from Chrysler but one of their authorized repair shops) and that the mileage is not guaranteed. This even though the dealer had serviced the car for 2 years and had all the service records and could easily have estimated the correct mileage. However, this is done by the rebuilder and you don't get your own unit back. It goes in for repair and you get one from the shelf which has the mileage put in it. My current 1984 which has been restored has 124,000 miles on it and has the asterisk because the digital dash has been replaced.
Question from Jeff:
The fuse box on my car was left hanging under the dash for God-knows-how-long and this may have caused the following problem I am having - my dash computer and digital dash are not currently working. When I sit down the dash no longer wakes up as usual but the VOLT light comes on. I checked the voltage at the battery and voltage regulator and everything seems to be OK. I pulled the whole dash apart (I was removing the horn button anyway) and pulled the small 9 pin plug from the back of the dash, this seems to be where it gets its power as the VOLT light goes out when I pull it. I checked what I thought to be the power at the plug and read the same as at the battery on my trusty old Radio Shack analog meter. (just a guess but it appears to be somewhere between 11.6 and 12.2 volts) When I plug this back in to the dash I get a short flash from the LEDs in the panel and then the VOLT light comes right back on. Something related, on the trip back to Michigan I noticed that occasionally the dash would freeze (i.e. I would change speeds and the dash would continue to say 70 Mph) and then just as suddenly unfreeze and work perfectly. Anyone with suggestions??
Reply from Dick:
Now your digital dash sounds like a problem. I checked my own. When I get in the car and sit down the display comes on for about 30 seconds and then shuts off except for the gear selector LED's. My voltage on pin one was low 10.5 volts (this car has been sitting) and the display still works fine. Then I tried it with just the 9 pin plug in (the others out) and the display lit up and stayed lit indefinitely. The only other thing you could check into would be the dimmer on your headlight control. If it's turned right down your display will go dark (usually only at night though because it has a light sensor), and your radio LED will go dark too. If the problem is along these lines then you might be able to fix it.
Question from William:
I have finally cleared the carcass of the 82 Imperial out of my shop and I have set to work on the "refreshing" of the 83. I noticed on the IML website a reference to the "dreaded asterisk". I happen to have such a creature (I assume it refers to that little dot between "ODO" and "MI") on my odometer. What exactly does this mean? Does this explain why it is showing 130K miles or 110K Kms (these are not equal, for those who are metric illiterate ;-) ? I am going to have lots more questions as I enter these uncharted waters of early EFI, but I will start here.
From what I recall reading, that means the dash was replaced. That was the cars other big problem when new. Right behind fuel injection.
The "asterisk" is to let people know when the odometer rolls over 199,999 km or miles (Km's just happens to occur first).
The number "1" at the front will never change to a "2,3,4...hundred thousands" And it should never go out either....
If you take your 130,000 miles, multiply that by 8 and then divide by 5 you will come up with 208,000. This is an estimate for the 110,000 you see on your display.
So the asterisk denotes that the odometer has rolled over 199,000 kilometers, and what you see on your display means the car has 130,000 miles on it, or 210,000 kilometers.
Remember, as I said the odometer will never read the "2" it will read "110,000" but it means "210,000"
The 8/5ths will always be a good estimate. It works on my '81 with approximately 246,000km, 153,000 Miles, and there is no asterisk on my ,81 with 64,000 km, 40,000 miles
The asterisk was required by law to activate if and when the cluster was replaced, This would inform a new buyer that the mileage shown is not the true mileage. Another piece of paper and a sticker were usually furnished to shown the true mileage on the car.
I need to clarify my earlier response to this subject. When these cars were new, Chrysler furnished each selling dealer with one spare cluster. When the original cluster failed, they would replace it with another one, (new from Chrysler), that already had the asterisk showing. The defective one was to be returned to Chrysler along with the proper paperwork, to verify such things as build date, service life, the car it was installed in, etc. In all cases, the replacement had the asterisk built-in and started counting miles at time of installation; hence the paperwork to show mileage at time of replacement. Also, I believe this was a federal rather than a state mandate, to prevent high mileage cars from having lower mileage, when sold. Whether the public was fully aware of this, and what it was trying to tell them is quite a question. But on another note, the cluster can be checked by finding the little wire with the plunger on the end, turn on the ign, push the plunger, and enjoy the diagnostic show. It is fun to watch....
My '81 had a dealer conversion with factory kit in '84 which included a new dash cluster.
My understanding is that later conversions were done without the cluster replacement by means of an adapter wiring harness.
I own an '87 LeBaron convertible, which I bought new. I had to have the gauge cluster replaced under warranty. The odometer on the new replacement cluster, was set at the dealer, with the mileage that had been on the car. So my car has the "correct" mileage - however the replacement cluster also has the asterisk - since obviously, the dealer would have no way of verify the mileage's accuracy.
Question from Gared:
Does anyone know if the '83 Imperial has a computer? I tried to look for a plug in at the base of the steering column to see for myself. If there is a computer, where is the plug in module. I am wondering because I am thinking of either changing my engine to a 360, or I am considering changing my 2 barrel carburetor to a 4 barrel.
Reply from Dick:
The "computer" in a carbureted car, assuming it is a factory authorized conversion, is really two computers. There is one incorporated in the digital dash, which operates all the interior electronics. The engine control computer is hanging off the side of the air cleaner, and is labeled "spark control computer" or something of the sort. If you put a 4 Bbl carburetor on the car, you will need to also change the computer control system and the intake manifold that is associated with that setup. Best bet is to get a complete operating parts car with a 318 or a 360, and swap out the whole shebang together. That way you will know you have an operating system to begin with. In a converted car, the two computers are independent, so you don't have to worry about compatibility, assuming your mpg readout does not work. If it does and you care about it, you'll have to do some thinking about how to keep it hooked up. Probably, if you do not disturb the fuel flow meter and the level shifter (see your FSM), it will continue to work with any engine management setup.
Question from Ed:
I was just browsing through Auto Trader Online, and there is an ad for an 81 that had been stored for six years. The ad claims that the car has 47,000 miles, but that the dash "cancelled" the mileage to zero from sitting for six years. I've never heard of such a thing in these cars. Any other inputs as to what the real cause for this might be?
I remember reading in the Car and Driver review of the new '81 Imperial (it's so great to come from a family of librarians!) that the digital odometer of the Imperial was designed to hold the mileage for five years without battery power. At the time, this concept was presented as a positive feature of the car. So if one had been stored for six years without battery power, ye olde odometer reading will be gone.
I have often wondered about this. From my experience with other electronic items, and I have some, I have to believe that at some point the keep-alive circuit that provides a "permanent" record of the last updated odometer reading will finally run down, but I don't know how long that would take, nor do I know what the result would be. If I were designing it, I would certain make sure it did not simply reset everything to zero and start over - rather I would have it post some kind of a warning that the reading is wrong (similar to the asterisk that indicates the dash has been replaced - same reason), but I would devise some different indication. But who knows what the engineers who designed these cars did. Certainly in the design of the analog circuitry of the EFI system they made some really sophomoric mistakes - I have the feeling there was no credible design review process, but this is all guess work on my part.
The only experience I have had with mileage changing on one of these dashes was when I first bought my brown car. Not long after I brought it home the battery went dead. When I put a new battery in it, I noticed the mileage change from around 92,000 to 88,000. ?????????. I just recently checked all of my extras to be sure what mileage was on each one, and they all seem to be what I remembered them being. They are all now marked.
I was just starting at GM in the early eighties and recall that the digital odometer was kind of a controversial thing. I recall that, on GM cars, the electronic odometer would fail after an extended period of time with no battery power- it was definitely more than a year. The data was stored on a chip called the NVM (non-Volatile Memory) chip. Certain GM electronic odometers actually have a redundant mechanical odometer secreted in the dash- a 1984 Somerset Regal is one. It was done because the confidence level in the technology was not 100%....
Question from Chuck:
Can anyone help us with the controls for the digital dash? How do we set the clock and reset the trip odometer? I'm sure its a straight forward, simple procedure but this graduate mechanical engineer has yet to figure it out.
Reply from Dick:
The controls to set the clock etc are under the upper lip of the dash board, just below the main display control switches in the center of the dash. If the controls have been unused for a while, it is normal for the switches to be somewhat difficult to operate, as they build up an oxide coating on the contacts that must be worn away by use, so plan to push and push, and twist and wiggle, and a little shouting sometimes helps, to get the buttons to work the way they are supposed to, but if you persist, they should start working again.
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