CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Car Radio and dashboard lights

My 2003 Honda Element’s radio has been messed up for several years. The speakers are fine but the radio must be disconnected from the antenna because it is impossible to stay in tune. How difficult is it to lift off the face plates on the dash and try to reconnect the radio. Additionally, the lights on the speedometer appear to be getting ready to burn out. The light behind the defroster dial has been out for a while and now the light behind the heater dial needs a few good taps for at light to appear. Can my husband and I repair these things or should we take it to the dealer or some kind of car radio and dashboard expert. Will it cost a fortune or will it cause further damage if we try to do it ourselves?

Hi Bertha, Not sure what disconnecting the antenna has to do with the radio staying in tune. If you disconnect the antenna, there is no “tune”. You may simply have a bad antenna connection or cable, or the radio itself may be defective.

The other problems you mention all appear to be bulb related. I’m not familiar with the Element, but small, mass-produced cars like this are difficult to work on. Access to the circutry could be as easy as removing the instrument bezel or might involve removing the entire dash. The problem could simply be loose/burned out bulbs, or a more serious circutry issue. You may be able to check out a Motor’s Manual for your car at the local library to get more information.

If the bulbs are OK, this is one of those areas where technicians cringe whenever tasked to find the problem. The usual approach to finding electrical gremlins is lots of time of probing and testing. If the technician is lucky, the culprit will be found within an hour, otherwise it could take many hours to trace circuits. It’s likely you could end up paying for several hours of diagnostics shop time with no guarantee of finding the problem. It could be expensive. I suggest you may first begin by searching your area for service places that advertise under “Automotive Electrical”. At least these places should have more hands-on experience and all the right tools.

You can do things like that yourself but it can be a bit tricky sometimes in figuring out how to remove things properly without damaging things. I suggest you invest in the factory service manuals to help you service things you want to work on. It is a very good investment and can save you money in the long run.