Truck goes crazy when key is out of the ignition, Instrument cluster goes on and off, beeps, ...but I don't think it's the actual instrument cluster.

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Evox

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The problem started again this morning. I'm at wit's end. I have the new Motorcraft key cylinder arriving tomorrow. When I change it out, I will take another look at the ignition switch and reexamine the plug and the wires attached to the ignition switch.

I feel like I've checked every possible ground wire. I've checked continuity and every plug I can find. I've cleaned everything. This is a southeastern truck, so corrosion isn't a problem. I did find a smashed wire leading to part of the EVAP system, but I don't see how this could be the problem. I checked all the wires leading from the driver's door to the body and can find no worn or broken wires. I haven't cut away the insulation for the harness leading to the fuse box in the engine compartment, and I guess there could be something broken there. But I don't see how the insulation looks good.

Maybe this is it for the old girl.
 

Evox

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The problem is back. But is REALLY intermittent. Lasted almost two days without acting up. Oh, and it's been parked the whole time, so...


The only thing I can be absolutely sure it's not.
-battery-good
-alternator-good
-ignition switch-new (now I'm just throwing parts at it)
-ignition switch plug-inspected, checked, and good, put a new seal on the ignition switch plug, connected to switch, and torqued to spec.
-ignition key cylinder-replaced new (more throwing parts at it)
-headlight/driving/parking/dimmer switch-replaced new (still more parts being thrown at it)

I've gone through every fuse/relay/diode; all test good, no short found. I've checked plugs for corrosion, used electrical cleaner everywhere.

When the instrument cluster is going nuts, and by nuts I mean it beeps, the odometer flashes XXXXXXXXXX then goes to faint dots and dashes ...,.........., sometimes the message center flashes "Check gauges," sometimes "Low Fuel." If the radio is left on when the truck was turned off, it joins in on the fun and comes on for a few moments, as do the cabin lights if the dimmer switch isn't turned all the way off. I can hear various relays clicking open and closed...then everything goes off and settles down.

Except the faint dots and dashes .............. on the odometer. But sometimes those go off as well. Sometimes it stays off for minutes at a time; sometimes, it cycles through over and over again. Sometimes it just beeps and does the XXXXXXX on the odometer; sometimes, the "Check Gauges" or "Low fuel" message stays on. Sometimes, it doesn't. Sometimes all of this goes off for long periods of time, only to start over again.

Checking for parasitic draw using my multimeter, nothing comes up a couple of hundred milliamps.

I think it's time to burn this truck up or part it out. I'm frustrated and sick of this crap. I'm going to pull the dash cluster and look for cold breaks under a magnifying glass, but this is power being BRIDGED to somewhere, not broken. And again, when the truck is running, everything operates as normal. No electrical problems, no system problems, and no codes being thrown.

Does the instrument cluster circuit board have switches or maybe diodes on it that are malfunctioning?

I checked for broken or frayed wires in the harness from the body to door and could find none. BUT my driver's lock switch is dead. I don't think that's the problem because when I pull the fuse for the door locks, the cluster still goes nuts. But I remember reading something about the driver door switch causing weird problems. The search function on the website doesn't seem to be working, or I can't get it to come up with anything.

Can anyone point me in the right direction?

Edit to add: This afternoon, I took out the ignition key cylinder again. made sure I cleaned all the contacts, and so far, no problem. The way this has gone, I'm not hopeful that somehow I fixed it. The cylinder seemed clean. Also, this is a southeastern car, so corrosion isn't a big problem.--so maybe it was the ignition switch or lock cylinder. I used the Motorcraft lock cylinder kit on the lock cylinder so I wouldn't have to re-key it. It's a fairly simple procedure, take your time, and you should have no problem.
 
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Todd Z

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you could have a relay with a failing spring, something getting wet, or something else. As far as a joint disconnecting, relays work in funny ways, Normally open or closed. Could be a relay loosing a Call signal and closing or opening... Time to disconnect stuff at night and see what helps, then work your way back.
 

Evox

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You're right; it could be the cluster. ...again. Manifesting the weirdest cluster problem I've ever read about.

One where the truck's electronics and gauges are absolutely 100% flawless when driving or when the truck is running.

One that ONLY manifests itself sometimes when the truck is off by actually energizing things. If it's the relays, more than one is faulty because I've switched them around. There are only two different relay types in this truck.

I wish there were some way I could narrow it down to the cluster or PCM. I know it's not the battery or alternator. Both check out fine. The battery holds 12.65 volts and never goes below 10.5 volts when cranking the truck. So is normal. So the battery has both voltage and cold cranking amps. The alternator starts charging around 14.1% when the truck is started and declines from there. So the alternator diode is working fine.
 

Todd Z

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Just unplug the PCM over night..... or the fuse for it.... Same for cluster....
 

Evox

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I'm now guessing it's not the PCM; it's the cluster. I caught it this afternoon, and while it did its thing, I got through every relay and fuse in F1 and F2.

Fuse 2-25 (Cluster, 4x4 module) stops everything - which cuts all power to the gauges and message center. I guess it could be 2-26, 2-27, or one of the other fuses feeding the cluster, but pulling those didn't stop anything. Only Fuse 2-25 worked.


So it's probably the instrument cluster or a short-to-ground along G300's path. But G300's mounting point looks pristine. The ground wire and the wire bundle all look good and fresh, and G300 grounds a lot of stuff, so it'd be really unusual only to cause a fault in Fuse 2-25 without it just being some bizarre circuit board problem. So, I'm not hopeful this a simple ground.

More than likely, it yet another bizarre manifestation of the instrument cluster failure. This really is a pain, and one I don't understand since this one actually only energizes after ignition is off. In comparison, driving no faults, no flaky gauges, nothing. Only when off does this one come to life. I've scoured the internet to find another example of cold breaks or faulty instrument clusters causing this kind of error and can find none. Most manifest while driving.

Fuse 2-25 is one of several fuses to the cluster and looking at the wiring diagram. It could be a lot of stuff because Fuse 2-25 is one of the few on my RWD Sport Trac that goes directly to the cluster (no 4x4 module to worry about). So I'm guessing it's the cluster again. Maybe I'll get lucky, take the cluster out, and find a cold break I can resolder something obvious. It's just that this makes absolutely no sense to me unless it's not a cold break, and instead, it's a bad diode, switch, or microprocessor on the board. ...that's way above my pay grade.

It could be F2-25's wire leading to the cluster plugs. But after tearing apart my wiring, I don't think that's likely. The max draw during its glitching is 1.4 amps, so not enough to blow Fuse 2-25, which is 7.5 amps. It's also a strong indication that it's not the PCM, which I think draws 3 amps on start.

The wires just on a causal look all look good. I guess there might be an outside chance that one of the relays in the Auxilary Relay box is faulting in a closed position. But it's not in F1 or F2; all those fuses and relays check out. I don't think Fuse 2-25 powers any of the relays in the auxiliary relay box, but I'd need to do more homework to rule one way or another. There is an outside chance it could be one of the auxiliary relays. Or, perhaps one of the fusible links...but I don't think so.


PS: Everything I just wrote may sound like I have a handle on this. I don't. I'm open to suggestions and ideas. Thanks.
 
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Evox

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Check my math.

-pulling the PCM relay and fuse does not eliminate the draw or malfunction.

-I verified today that G300 (ground wire behind drivers kick plate) is as good as it looks.

To make sure F2-25 is THE only problem, I reinstalled the fuse and noted a 650 milliamp battery draw at the battery (I don't know how I missed this before). A spike followed this, and then a constant 1.5 amp draw as various relays clicked closed (energized). For short periods of time, even higher (I know I saw 5 or 6 amps momentarily during a malfunction event) but only for a fraction of a second. Those spikes were hard to determine because they were very short in duration and transient.

-leaving in F2-25, I then individually pulled out F2-26, F2-27, F2-28, F2-29, all fuses going to the cluster; nothing changed the draw, spike, or malfunction.

Next, I wanted to try to find out which relays where were involved. So I systematically pulled relays one by one to see if I could eliminate the amp spike; none of them did that, I could still hear a relay clicking somewhere. But it doesn't appear to be in F1 (fusebox in the engine compartment). It sounds like it's on the driver's side, but my ears aren't good enough for me to be sure.

So I think I can be fairly confident that the trigger is F2-25 which goes to the cluster, 4x4 module. And since my truck is a RWD, that leaves F2-25 to the cluster.

So, in my opinion, this is the instrument cluster, and because of the draw unlike my last cluster problem, and most cluster problems, this one does very much look like a short of some kind.

Does my math check out? IS there something else I should look at or eliminate?
 
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Evox

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I'm still open to possibilities.

The fact that the cluster performs 100% while the engine is on makes me reluctant to conclude this is just another instrument cluster failure. I've experienced the typical cold brakes, and this isn't it.

Something is energizing the cluster when the truck is off. So I've torn through the electrical schematics, and because I'm such an amateur, I'm having trouble finding other possible causes. I'm completely open to any suggestions.
 

Evox

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Pulling the PCM fuse didn't do anything. The only fuse that stops the problem is F2-25. F2 is the fuse box inside the driver's side door. Fuse 25 is always on and runs to the instrument cluster. The truck will run with F2-25 pulled out, and checking the battery, the alternator will charge the battery despite the instrument cluster off. But you lose the instrument cluster and radio. I haven't driven it with this fuse pulled because while driving, there are no problems. It's only when the truck is off that the instrument cluster comes alive.

If the instrument cluster repair folks energize the clusters to test them, I doubt they'd find a problem. I'm out of ideas.

I guess I'll have to find a mechanic that is good at electrical systems to diagnose this problem before I throw another instrument cluster or PCM at it.
 

Evox

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Today in frustration, I jiggled the ignition key without the key in the ignition. It seemed to affect the glitch behavior. The more I jiggled the locked ignition cylinder, the more the odometer flashed, the more it beeped.

1. I replaced the ignition switch
2. I replaced the ignition lock cylinder

So, maybe the ignition actuators are the problem? Maybe there is something worn or broken in the steering column? Ideas?
 

Evox

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SoOOOoo nothing?
 

Tombstones81

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maybe?

Just doing a quick search while sitting here in the morning after reading up on this again.
as I dont recall you mentioning the instrument voltage regulator
 

Evox

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Where is the instrument cluster voltage regulator on an ST?

I removed the cluster to have a look to see if there was anything obvious and found nothing. In the process, I also disconnected the light/dimmer switch. Disconnected the PCM, took apart the ignition switch, and removed the ignition lock cylinder. When I reconnected the cluster and reconnected the battery, the instrument cluster did its glitch after a few minutes.

It's almost like something has to heat up to get it glitching. But once it starts, it continues until the fuse F1-25 is removed, the battery is disconnected, or the truck is started. Once running, everything operates normally. All the gauges work.

I checked every plug and wire I could find. I also checked all the relays in the auxiliary relay box above and to the right of the gas peddle.

So what I know so far.

>it's not a relay or fuse
>it's not the PCM
>it's not the ignition switch
>it's not the ignition lock cylinder or the ignition actuator arms.
>it's not the headlight switch

The only thing I'm really left with at this point is the instrument cluster. But again, the cluster works great when the truck is running; this instrument cluster problem only occurs when the truck is off. If I don't manually shut off the radio, it will come on and go off. If I don't turn the dimmer switch all the way down to the interior light-off position, then they'll come on and off.

This is not your typical instrument cluster failure. Or at least it's not manifesting itself like your typical instrument cluster failure.
 
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Tombstones81

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I think at this point it would be easier to just find an 04/05 set of working gauges to swap with yours to see if they do the same thing.
Just to test to eliminate the possibility of it truly being the gauges being faulty.

Maybe look on Facebook Marketplace & see if anyone nearby is parting out an 04/05 ST & toss them a few bucks just to stop by & test their gauges in your truck real quick.
if any salvage yards have one in stock you could ask to test.
any U Pull It junk yards that have any as those are the cheapest to get. ($25 here)
or if anyone on here has a spare set to loan for testing purposes.

cant think of anything else atm as my kids are going nuts first thing in the morning.

Where are you located at?
If you were close to me, I would easily drive mine over for you to test, or pop em out & ride over on a motorcycle.
Im in North east Pennsylvania.
 

Evox

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I really appreciate the response and offer. But, unfortunately, we're around 800 miles apart. I'm in central Georgia.

That's a great idea about testing it with a good cluster. I might try to find one locally to be sure. But I'm pretty sure at this point that it's something in the cluster that is the problem. I actually reached out to a guy who fixes circuit boards and instrument clusters yesterday.

His name is Jeff, and he has a YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/user/jeffescortlx/videos. He seems to be very competent at what he does. He has some ideas about what might be going on but is booked for 2 weeks. I'm going to the beach in a couple of weeks, so maybe it'll work out.

Whatever I find out, I'll finish off this thread for "posterity," maybe it will help someone down the road in some way. I hate it when I come across dead-end threads with no resolution.

Thanks again for taking the time to respond and for the offer. I really appreciate it.


PS: If I were a young man who wanted to go into automotive repair, I'd go into electronics and programming. I think that's the future of cars. It's amazing how hard it is to find someone who is really competent in that area. Compared to the cars and trucks today, the '04 ST is simple.
 
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Tombstones81

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Np
Well, if it was the cluster all along & it gets fixed, let us know.

& if you need another repair option.

& DO NOT upgrade the bulbs to LEDs.
I sent mine to them & had the bulbs upgraded... little did I know its common knowledge on here that they will fail (flash or stop working entirely)
 

Evox

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Well, if it was the cluster all along & it gets fixed, let us know.

& if you need another repair option.

& DO NOT upgrade the bulbs to LEDs.
I sent mine to them & had the bulbs upgraded... little did I know its common knowledge on here that they will fail (flash or stop working entirely)

Yes, I've read that they actually solder the LEDs onto the board, so when one blows, you have to desolder them; it's not just changing a bulb in the socket. While all DIYers can screw a bulb into a socket, not all DIYers are comfortable desoldering and soldering onto a circuit board. Besides, I don't mind the stock lights, and I've heard people say that the LEDs aren't really that much of an improvement.

I might give circuit board medics a shot. But honestly, I want to talk to whoever is working on the cluster first. Most of these cluster failures are simple things like desoldering and resoldering cold joints, replacing stepper motors, etc., which requires some skill, but not a lot. (...as lame as I am when it comes to electronics, I can replace a stepper motor in an instrument cluster)

But if there is a miniaturized component on the board that's blown or grounding, I want to know the person knows what they're doing and doesn't just write it off as unrepairable because it's not an easy resoldering repair. And as I said, I've scoured the internet looking for ONE other example of this kind of instrument cluster repair, and I can't find ANY. Almost all involve colder solder joints (which hey, maybe this one is that) or worn-out gauge stepper motors.

Thanks again for the reply, and I will post the final results of this month-long problem.
 

Evox

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I reached out to Circut Board Medics describing my problem, and my fear is confirmed.

Thanks for contacting us. While our repair may fix the issues you are having with your cluster, there would be no way for us to test this issue to verify that our repair had fixed the issue. Because of this, the issue you are having would not be covered under warranty. You can find more info on what we can guarantee to fix here - 2004 - 2005 Ford Explorer Sport Trac Instrument Cluster Repair

Please let me know if there is anything else that I can do to help you.

--

Thank you,
Jeff H.

...they'll plug in my cluster to their simulator, which can ONLY simulate ignition, and they'll find nothing wrong with it. Because this particular instrument cluster problem ONLY manifests when the ignition is off. It's not the typical cold solder break or worn stepper motor problem.

Circuit Board Medics pretty much clean up boards, resolder cold joints and replace light bulbs and stepper motors. But other than that, they really don't spend that much time going through the board and test everything.
 
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Tombstones81

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Well, if you end up needing to straight up replace it.

Parts search.
04 or 05 (i searched 05)
Ford Explorer
Speedometer (instrument cluster didnt give results)

& its this one at the bottom of the results.
(cluster), (4 Dr), exc. Sport Trac; MPH, message center

$50 + shipping too I assume.

but I would call to verify its an 04/05 cluster first.
As I bought one from ebay when mine was acting up & they sent me an early Gen1 & not an 04/05 one.
Denaples didnt have any in stock at the time.

Just in case you need or choose to replace it.
 

Evox

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I can now confirm without a shadow of a doubt that the instrument cluster itself was actually shorting. I replaced it with a salvaged cluster today, and the parasitic draw is gone, as is the ignition off malfunctions.

I now have an instrument cluster that works fine when the truck is on but will glitch out with the truck off. So I can't really sell it. I will send it to Jeff that I mentioned above and see if he can restore it. Then I'll probably offer one of them for sale to try to recoup some of my cost.
 
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