Dash cluster LED conversion and FEM bypass 2002

Frankie the Fink

Well-Known Member
Well, I found out my instrument cluster had been "hot wired" to make the lights burn full bright anytime the key was on - apparently to get around the typical FEM failure where the dash lights (and shifter light) go dark.
So I had to open up my instrument cluster to "unfornicate" the Bubba fix and remove a jumper and repair two cut wires and while I was in there changed ALL bulbs to LEDs - all 7 white gauge lamps and the 18 warning/status lights. Since the dash wiring was back to stock the lights wouldn't light as the FEM PWM output signal failed... Here is a link on Amazon to purchase.

I wired a reversing relay off the middle DS tail light socket wire behind the trunk panel to send 12V to the front of the car when the wire's voltage goes low (e.g. lights on)...that wire acts as a trigger to an LED aftermarket dimmer switch I put in the lower right side push-pin hole in the steering column cover (very unobtrusive). This arrangement makes sure the cluster lights only operate when the parking lights or headlights are on...

The dimmer switch has one wire that goes to ground and the dimmer PWM signal is wired behind the center stack to the high side of the shifter console indicator light (now also an LED); this is a BLACK wire in a 2002 and the ground is a WHITE wire (go figure). That shifter light wire "back feeds" the instrument cluster gauges on the same line that the FEM would normally use.

If I ever get the FEM fixed (prob not) all I have to do is unplug the trigger wire at the added dimmer switch and everything is back to stock function (except the LEDs). These are 60,000 hour LEDS so I doubt I'll ever pull the cluster again.

This video is the result and I dim and raise the light brightness towards the end. And I don't have to worry about that PITA FEM -- ever. My smartphone camera made the warning lights appear glaring for some reason; they really aren't bad, just brighter.

Dimmer link- https://amzn.to/38IveUh (new model for 2020)
Bulbs Link- https://amzn.to/2p4WdrZ

Please read post 42 before performing this procedure.



Modified_Cluster_1_Marked.jpg LED_bulbs.PNG LED_Dimmer.PNG IMG_1993.jpg
 
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biddle

Forum Moderator
Staff member
Well, I found out my instrument cluster had been "hot wired" to make the lights burn full bright anytime the key was on - apparently to get around the typical FEM failure where the dash lights (and shifter light) go dark.
So I had to open up my instrument cluster to "unfornicate" the Bubba fix and remove a jumper and repair two cut wires and while I was in there changed ALL bulbs to LEDs - all 7 white gauge lamps and the 18 warning/status lights. Since the dash wiring was back to stock the lights wouldn't light as the FEM PWM output signal failed... Here is a link on Amazon to purchase.
I added a link to Amazon to the lights, can you confirm is correct? I appreciate the screenshot, but a link is more user-friendly. https://amzn.to/2p4WdrZ

Excellent post! Thank you.
 

Frankie the Fink

Well-Known Member
Indeed those are the LEDs I used; just for the record there is some misinformation in that ad; the LEDs are NOT "polarity insensitive"; they absolutely have a "-" and "+" terminal and are even marked accordingly on the LED's surface. It was time consuming to find which side of each cluster bulb socket is the negative side; but they are marked with a red dot in each case in the first attachment, and, the convention is to get the same color bulb as the lens it sits behind; e.g. a turn signal dash light should have a green bulb; that is laid out in the second attachment. The LEDs shown in the Amazon link come in every color needed.

Cluster_LEDs_marked.jpg ICM_Face_Bulb_Colors.jpg
 
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Frankie the Fink

Well-Known Member
I spent a lot of time in the Ford schematics and checking voltages with my meters and I at first thought this would be a simple task of tapping voltages off the dash dimmer or headlight switch to power the instrument lights. But no, these devices use low voltages (like 5V) that often vary and are just signals to the instrument cluster and FEM, not even close to running lighting or even powering a relay.

If someone's dash lights are out due to the FEM and they just need an emergency fix to drive at night for some reason they can come off a switched power source (like the radio power) through a 5 amp fuse to the console shifter indicator light "hot" wire (black on a 2002) which will "back feed" the instrument lights and they will have the lights on full time at full brightness any time the ignition is on but the bulb life will be diminished. This bypasses the FEM, headlight switch and dimmer switch.
 

Gus Gutz

Well-Known Member
When my FEM went bad, my dash lights never went out. I would have the wipers cycle once at random times. My driver side window would not drop occasionally. They oil light would come on randomly and the steering would remain in freeway mode. A couple of times the radio would not shut off and I could not raise the top. What got me was driving to work in the dark and the headlights would just shut off. That's when I knew it was time to replace the FEM.

I did all the research. Looked at the website that rips you off for 1600 just for the part, I contacted that place in Michigan, but ended up at my local Ford dealer. They replaced the FEM and even gave me the old one. I have not had any of these issues since.
 

Frankie the Fink

Well-Known Member
That's a catastrophic failure of nearly all the FEM functions; the more typical one is the dash lights as I've read on two TBird retro forums. I don't know why this particular failure is so prevalent; just a weak area I guess.

I have lined up a supposedly good, 2002 FEM and am still negotiating on price. If it works out I may swap it in, until then I'm perfectly satisfied with the above workaround with the aftermarket dimmer switch. In reality, its a "set once and forget" thing for me; I seldom play with dimmer settings...
 

Frankie the Fink

Well-Known Member
Well I managed to snag a good 2002 FEM from a low mileage wreck and installed it this morning; it cured my "no dash lights" problem....so my relay and aftermarket dimmer switch will serve as a backup if there are future issues; I'll just leave it turned off. The FEM plays nicely with the instrument cluster LEDS too. I may relent and send the original FEM off to get it fixed and have a good backup.
 
Frank, Did you have to reprogram the used FEM for your vehicle?

I am currently in a dilemma with options as to how to proceed...

So, here is my updated situation. I went into my vehicle a few weeks ago and, for the first time, it was demonstrating issues that are all on the FEM fail list (front lights going on and off intermittently, power steering going in and out, driver window not moving on lock, etc.). I went back to the garage later that day to try the vehicle again, and it experienced the same issues including during an around the block test drive).

So, I started researching FEM info including via this site. Ford dealerships here in Vegas area were useless, but I did manage to track down and purchased a used FEM of the right type for my vehicle on ebay (seller confirmed it was in working condition when removed from the source vehicle). This was weeks after I had the issue with the Thunderbird and I had not turned on the vehicle since the day where I tested it twice. My plan was to switch the FEM in the vehicle with the one I got on eBAY.

However, I went into the vehicle and turned it on and...everything was working fine. I have since used the vehicle a few times this week and it has continued to perform without any of the issues that I experienced just a few weeks ago on the fated day.

So, for now I am continuing to use the vehicle with the original FEM in place. Wondering if I should send the used FEM part I bought to one of the refurb places, but not sure if this makes sense if the used one I purchase was confirmed to be working. Do they refurb the board parts even if the board has no known issues?

Also, hesitant to replace the original one with the purchased one when the vehicle is now working fine. Would be great to have a back-up that has been refurbished, but only if the refurb places actually refurb via replacing all key components so that board is back to status of having many years of life again.

What would you folks recommend?
 

Frankie the Fink

Well-Known Member
I did not have to reprogram the used FEM; really how much different and how many different options were there between 2002 cars when sold ? I checked headlights, windows, wipers, lighting, power steering and everything works like new... Now, if you have an '03 bird and swap in an '05 module the part numbers are the same but I can't say about the programming.

I wouldn't send in your new (used) one for repair if you were told it worked fine. I think the main guy that does this work only fixes what is broke, tests other functions and then sends them back out, not a true "refurb" IMO - I can't imagine he makes the modules "like new" for the $208 he charges...

deox.jpg If your original now works I'd run with it as is and if you have any more trouble I'd pop the connectors off (there are 6) and clean them out with a good dose of DeOxIt electronics spray (check Amazon), both the FEM and harness side and reattach the plugs and then go from there. THEN if you have more troubles swap in the new (used) spare.

I feel your pain, as an avionics technician, I can tell you that intermittent problems are the WORST.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
 
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