1999 Subaru Legacy Speedometer Repair
Mark: Hi it's Mark Bossert, producer of the Pawlik Automotive videos and podcasts and we're here with Mr. Bernie Pawlik talking cars, how are you this morning Bernie?
Bernie: Doing very well, Mark.
Mark: So, we've had a little break we're eager to get back into it and today we're talking about a 1999 Subaru Legacy that had a speedometer problem, what was going on with this vehicle?
Bernie: So this vehicle, the speedometer would operate intermittently and mostly these days the intermittency was it wasn't working. The speedometer wouldn't read anything, and the odometer at the same time, wasn't functioning. So the owner didn't really know how fast he was going.
Mark: Which can be pretty important, so how does the speedometer work in this car?
Bernie: So this vehicle has an electronic speedometer, this is getting to be a pretty old car now, 1999 but the previous generation of vehicles used to always use a speedometer cable, there was a cable that ran from, there was a gear in the transmission, or actually on Volkswagens they actually went from the front wheel, up to the speedometer there was a cable and it was a mechanically driven device. On this vehicle, and for pretty well anything from this generation even into the 90’s, they are all electronic speedometers, there's an electronic sensor, usually on the transaxle or transmission or in the differential, it'll send a signal to a computer and that'll be interpreted and the speedometer will operate. So that's how this one works, so it's an electronic speedometer.
Mark: And how did you diagnose this concern?
Bernie: Well, so a couple things. So the speedometer that the components are involved are of course the speedometer itself, there's usually a power train computer, could be a body control computer, sometimes there's even an instrument cluster computer, and then the speed sensor itself. Now, of course there's tests and procedures we do, which we did, one thing we kind of ruled out right away is the speed sensor being bad because the transmission itself was shifting fine, and if the speed sensor was bad the transmission would have made funny shifts, because it relies on that critical piece of information. Also, the fact that there was no check engine light or any sort of transmission warning light indicated as well that that speed sensor signal was probably good. So, there's a tree of diagnosis that we followed, we eventually removed the speedometer, tested the signal right to the speedometer and verified that signal was in fact good and the problem itself was inside the speedometer.
Mark: So knowing the speedometer is the problem, how did you fix it?
Bernie: So, for a lot of cars, newer vehicles, the speedometer, the electronics are very complicated there very integrated. But this being an older vehicle, we're actually able to take the speedometer apart and examine the circuit board and what we actually found was a soldered joint on the circuit board on one of the main wires, was basically a dried up soldered joint, they just, over time they get hot and they dry up and the connection's bad. So we're actually able to take the circuit board apart, resolder the dried up joint and it worked perfectly. And I'll just get in some pictures, right here so you can see what was going on.
Here we have our Subaru 1999, still in pretty decent shape for an almost 20 year old vehicle. And the speedometer itself, pretty basic dash, obviously we're not going anywhere at this point, no speed. This is the back, so this is the instrument cluster removed so if you've never seen one this is what the back side of an instrument cluster looks like. You can see there's a wiring connector, one goes here, there's another one here, another one there, and on this one, actually there's from the speedometer right there as well, so it actually had four connectors. So, throughout all these pieces, these items here are bulbs, usually the larger ones are illumination bulbs, dash lights that turn on in the dark, and these are for the various turn signals, switches, and warning lights and things like that. A lot of newer dashes these will be integrated LEDs and you won't see all these circuit issues, but the good news about this vehicle is that it actually has these, so we're actually able to do repairs. But the speedometer is actually located behind here, you can see a little SP minus, ignition, these are like, making a long story short, the speedometer's located behind this, so we actually read to remove this circuit board and take the dash further apart, and what we found in the end, this is the actual, there's a separate circuit board for the speedometer, and this is the bad soldered joint, here. Now, unfortunately the picture doesn't entirely do it justice but can see it's a little greyer than some of these other shiny, nice shiny joints, this one looks kind of grey but it was fine. This was the bad joint and often we need to look at them with a magnifying glass so we can see that the joint's bad. So, we were able to resolder that particular joint and the speedometer worked fantastic afterwards.
Mark: So, given that there's things are getting smaller and smaller and much more integrated and stuff, how often are you able to do this sort of repair on some of the newer vehicles?
Bernie: Less and less frequently, it used to be in the 80's where there was a lot of Japanese vehicles where the engine computer would malfunction, we were able to find a bad soldered joint, but yeah, it's getting to be less and less common, you look at your smartphone and you go the whole power of a desktop computer inside this tiny little device and that's the way electronics have been going and that's the way they are in cars, too. Sometimes, to me it's on a, sometimes you do it, sometimes whenever you can we do it and we'll just look at it and see if we're able to repair that because it certainly saves the customer an awful lot of money. And it's less wasteful, you don't have to chuck a whole part away and get another one.
Mark: So this car is getting on, almost 20 years old, is it still worth spending money on?
Bernie: Well, it's kind of getting to the point where probably not a lot, and we've serviced this car since it was almost new, it's been pretty reliable and the owners have kept it up in good shape, there's a few major items that it needs and among them are head gaskets, I mean there not leaking enormously, but there's a slight coolant seep coming out. I kind of advised the owner, I don't think you should spend the money on it, cause its just, the amount of money it would cost to fix that, there was a few other items, you could buy yourself another nice, used Subaru that's quite a few years newer. And put your money into something better, so, good car, but it's near the end of its life.
Mark: So there you go, if you're looking for quality repairs for your Subaru in Vancouver, the guys to see are Pawlik Automotive, you can reach them at 604-327-7112 to book your appointment. You have to book ahead, their busy, check out our website, pawlikautomotive.com, or our YouTube channel, under Pawlik Auto Repair, hundreds of videos on there, or thank you for listening to the podcast. Thanks Bernie.
Bernie: Thanks, Mark, and thanks for watching and listening.