Mechanically Speaking: Taking things apart can often be the hardest task

Sometimes the most difficult part of diagnosing a broken car is getting into the place where you need to perform testing.

Sometimes the most difficult part of diagnosing a broken car is getting into the place where you need to perform testing. When diagnosing an electrical problem, for instance, a problem in the wiring between two places has to be eliminated.

Sometimes this is easier said then done. There are a lot of components on a vehicle that were put into place early in the assembly process (of the vehicle) without much consideration that they would ever be removed or accessed.

There is one area of the vehicle that routinely presents difficulty to your mechanic. The dashboard or instrument panel.

This is the part of your vehicle that sweeps across in front of the driver and passenger.

Generally the driver’s side contains the instrument cluster (gauges and lights) and the other side has a glove compartment in it.

The middle area is usually a stack of common controls accessible to both driver and passenger, an example being the heating and air conditioning system controls.

This dashboard area really sets the tone for the beauty of the interior of an automobile but it also houses an incredible amount of parts of all varieties. They are both mechanical and electrical.  Believe me that area is jammed packed.

This dashboard comprises a heating ventilation and air conditioning system that is 10 times more sophisticated than your home unit.  There is ducting with motors and flaps in it that can direct hot, cold or warm air to your feet, face, or windshield and anywhere in between.  Many systems now will heat or cool the passenger differently than the driver.

Now this area is also the domain of multiple air bags, usually a TV screen, many switches and dials.

This whole area is presented with no sharp edges, visible screws or simple latches and catches. Behind this immense sculpted structure is a whole lot of wiring.

Inevitably there will be one or more fuse panels and relay panels behind it. If you are lucky the fuses are readily accessible. In many cases contortionist skills as well as 20-20 vision are necessary to access and identify those fuses.

In your vehicle’s lifetime it is very likely that somewhere along the line your mechanic will tangle with the dashboard. Fixing or replacing an instrument cluster (the part with the speedometer in it) or radio or hvac control head are just a few common repairs that will require messing with the dashboard.

Before digging in, it is wise to look up the procedure in a repair manual. In many cases the secrets of disassembly will be revealed. In others though the guy who wrote the book never saw the car.

Deciding how hard to pry or pull is a delicate subject no manual ever makes clear. Most of those clips were designed for assembly. They are happy where they are and will be unhappy when removed. Not often will your mechanic have the “heads up” on what is going to happily come apart verses what is going to break no matter what approach is taken.

Fortunately the 21st century has brought us Youtube. The guy who made the movie did see the car.

Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC. E-mail:

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