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Unread 02-15-2011, 01:23 PM   #1
csouers
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ZJ Cluster Needle Refinishing

Ever noticed faded gauge needles on your Jeep? We have two ZJs with this problem, so with the induction of our 5.9 into the family, I decided to do something about it.

The supplies:


The supplies I got from hobby lobby:
  • $12 to purchase supplies
  • "International Orange" Acryl paint
  • Flat Clear Coat Acryl
  • Little plastic model brushes (the smaller the better)

The paint mixture is 50/50. Mine was more of a 60 paint/40 clear, but it can vary. My mix wasn't perfect by any means.

Be sure to shake the bottles of paint as well as stir them. Stirring is EXTREMELY important, as the paint likes to clump together.

The setup is easy. The hardest part is getting the paint to look good and keeping everything clean. A small brush will make getting paint to the base of the needle without getting paint on the black. A steady hand and careful eye will make that easy.

The key is to take your time. Let 5-10 minutes go between coats. If not, you can end up pushing the semi-dried paint with the brush and making a raised area.

The procedure:
  1. Remove 4 screws (2 per side) from cluster. This will allow you to remove cluster from Jeep
  2. The cluster connector is fixed on both the dash and the cluster itself. Wiggle and pull the cluster gently and it should pop off without fuss.

Now the picture/writeup portion:

When painting, paint the top side, as well as the sides. the bottom will not be important and would also be uneconomical to paint.

What my cluster looked like after it was out. Notice the heavy fading in the needles?


The next 4 photos show the tabs that need to be pressed in, in order to release the clear plastic cover. These are NOT super tight, so be careful with them and you'll be fine. Those fine opposable thumbs will do the trick here.








Cover off and cluster exposed. BE CAREFUL with the needles. The last thing you want to do is break one of these in anyway. They are extremely easy to turn, so go easy on them



First layer of paint. You will likely need 2-3 coats on the larger needles, but this is all dependent on if you use any clear coat, as well as what color paint you go with. Cut up playing cards work great here. You can safely slide it underneath the base of the needle to hold the needle in place. I did so on the small needles and it worked great.



Dried and looking good. Mine, if you can see in the photos, have little bubbles and streaks, but from 3 feet away, they look MUCH MUCH better.



This is a good time to clean the front cover. It is likely that when you removed the cover, you got finger prints on the inside. In my case, the inside of the cover was covered in a thin layer of dirt. Some liquid dish soap and a sponge will do well here. Just don't use the abrasive side...


Installed and lights on.


If anyone has questions, please post them here. If anybody has picture requests, I can do those as well.

Enjoy your refreshed gauge cluster!

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1998 Bright Platinum ZJ 5.9 Limited - 5.9l, 46RE, NV-242, D30/44a (Trac-Loc) w/3.73s - The DD
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Unread 02-15-2011, 02:23 PM   #2
melk
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Haha, wow

cheers to a DIY project!


Edit: hmm a good time to put in LEDs.....
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Unread 02-15-2011, 04:35 PM   #3
tcar
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Quote:
Originally Posted by melk View Post
Edit: hmm a good time to put in LEDs.....
LED's? Why?
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Unread 02-15-2011, 06:34 PM   #4
MuddSlutt
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nice project for a rainy day
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Unread 02-16-2011, 02:54 AM   #5
Goumoun
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Same issue, thought about doing so as I did on my 60's cars, but I have a doubt. It seems when looking thru the lens that the orange color was applied only on the back side of the needle from factory.

Now that you done it, how does painting the upper side of the needle affects night illumination?
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Unread 02-16-2011, 07:30 AM   #6
csouers
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Goumoun View Post
Same issue, thought about doing so as I did on my 60's cars, but I have a doubt. It seems when looking thru the lens that the orange color was applied only on the back side of the needle from factory.

Now that you done it, how does painting the upper side of the needle affects night illumination?
I was thinking the same thing. The illumination is nowhere near what I'd like. It's simply too dark. If you REALLY wanted to do it right, you'd have to paint the back side of the needle. However, that require complete disassembly and is uneconomical for our purposes.

That being said, it's a huge upgrade in terms of looks. Definitely makes it look MUCH better.

I do not recommend this for a concourse-esque restoration.
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1998 Bright Platinum ZJ 5.9 Limited - 5.9l, 46RE, NV-242, D30/44a (Trac-Loc) w/3.73s - The DD
1999 White XJ Sport - 4.0l, AW4, NP-231, D30/8.25 w/3.55s - The Rig

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Unread 02-17-2011, 12:58 AM   #7
Goumoun
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IMHO to do it correctly implies removing the needles (making sure to be able to install them in the correct position). It also takes to remove completely the faded paint on the back of the 6 needles as painting over makes no sense.

A rainy week-end job including some risks of damage beyond repair.
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Unread 02-17-2011, 01:22 AM   #8
RED-85-Z51
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Yeah I was thinkin the same thing, it looks like light comes in from the center and refracts out the needle, reflecting off the painted backing.

Id tend to think the needles would pop off with gently lifing pressure, question would be, realigning them in the exact same position...
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Unread 02-17-2011, 05:33 AM   #9
Goumoun
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On my Mustang 2008 I had to remove the 6 needles to install a new gauge face. When the ignition is turned to ON, engine cold, all the needles jump to a predefined position. All it takes is to record this position precisely, pre-install the needles with ignition ON, turn it off-on and recheck the needle position before pressing them fully on their shaft.

I just wonder if this work in a similar way on a ZJ however, may be someone who installed an aftermarket gauge face on a ZJ can say?
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Unread 02-17-2011, 09:43 AM   #10
csouers
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I INTENTIONALLY did not remove the needles because of the risk of not getting them realigned properly.

Like I said, I do not recommend this for a full restoration. If I ever get a good spare cluster, I'll experiment with doing it "the right way".

**** like this is too fragile for my taste. Removing the needles, no thanks.
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1998 Bright Platinum ZJ 5.9 Limited - 5.9l, 46RE, NV-242, D30/44a (Trac-Loc) w/3.73s - The DD
1999 White XJ Sport - 4.0l, AW4, NP-231, D30/8.25 w/3.55s - The Rig

My Photography
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Unread 02-17-2011, 10:10 AM   #11
Foundrydude
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I think a better paint choice would be an old, settled out can of paint. The kind where the bottom half is white and the top half is translucent orange. Don't stir before application.

You must have really nice jeeps if they're unbroken long enough that you wanna do projects like this!
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Unread 02-17-2011, 11:05 AM   #12
csouers
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Foundrydude View Post
You must have really nice jeeps if they're unbroken long enough that you wanna do projects like this!
Well, it works the other way around... We have Jeeps that are broken for long enough that we do this stuff.
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1998 Bright Platinum ZJ 5.9 Limited - 5.9l, 46RE, NV-242, D30/44a (Trac-Loc) w/3.73s - The DD
1999 White XJ Sport - 4.0l, AW4, NP-231, D30/8.25 w/3.55s - The Rig

My Photography
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Unread 02-18-2011, 01:21 AM   #13
Goumoun
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Quote:
Originally Posted by csouers View Post
Well, it works the other way around... We have Jeeps that are broken for long enough that we do this stuff.
So true...
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Unread 02-18-2011, 02:27 AM   #14
BlueDevil
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I belive needles aren't surposed to be removed at all. I've read somewhere that once you remove the needle from the speedometer, you can kiss it goodbye.
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Unread 02-18-2011, 03:47 AM   #15
coralman
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I experimented with this months back on a jy speedo head fom a grand. You stand about 50/50 chance of whacking a guage or speed/rpm needle up. The mechanism is very delicate and the force required to seat the needle back on sometimes makes the "rotor" stick in the bearings. To paint just the underside of the needles you could use the playing cards to drag against the needle while having a small amount of paint spread on the card.

I decided the trouble wasn't worth it but they do look good in csouers pics.
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