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Dashboard lights going berserk...even when car is off

2005 Ford Focus:

About 10 months ago noticed my battery light was faintly visible with car off and key out of ignition. It was faint and erratically pulsing, it also did this when car was running. This issue would last a week or so, then go away for a while…then come back.

Then it spread to include the ABS light too, and eventually became permanent. But six weeks ago, after driving from CA to WI, it went away…for a few weeks, but came back.

A few days ago I went to my car, and it spread to include the checkfuel cap, oil, and door ajar lights. Also a loud beep occurs at erratic intervals. The lights all flash and pulse individually. Most are faint, but the oil light and door ajar light seem full strength. When I turn the key to second position, all the lights light up full strength and solid, like they’re supposed to (for the testing phase). Then once car is on, they go back to flickering faintly…but the loud beep goes away. I’m concerned about the beeping running down the battery with car off-so I pulled out fuse #36, which is for “a/c swith, instrument cluster”. This stops the beeping and flickering, cuz the lights no longer have power to them.

In the beginning, this problem was easy to ignore…but now I’m extremely concerned, and I soon need to drive back out west and have no confidence in this car. The car runs just fine…but…?! I had the battery tested at a Pepboys and they say it’s fine. For what it’s worth, the battery voltage is 12.3 volts, and while running it’s a steady 14.35 volts.

So, all I need from you guys is a quick, specific, and cheap solution to my problem 8’).

Any ideas? Thanks

I couldn’t find a way to edit my post…but should add that:

After running the car a while, and turning it off-the beeping and most of the flickering is gone…but comes back after sitting a while.

Sounds like something electrical is wet.
crossing random circuits.

Fuse boxes are suspect and these days they’re comprised of sandwiched circuit boards.
When wet they’re difficult to dry down in there and need disassembled to dry.
If able to get dry after all this time, alkaline residue will continue to cross circuits.

( the major problem with attempting to dry out flooded cars. Modules and other electrical boxes must be dissasembled to dry …and clean within. )

Worn wire harnesses will do this too if chaffed enough to expose several different circuits, they could touch at random times.
For that , an inch by inch inspection is required.

I wonder if it’s as simple as a bad ignition switch ?

I had the exact same problem with a Volvo, and it was due to a bad ground connection somewhere in the dashboard.

?@dik We have 2005 Ford Focuses in our fleet. One of them had the EXACT same problem you’re experiencing. Unfortunately, the battery would eventually go dead, because those warning lights were causing a draw.
The fix was replacing the instrument cluster.


The problem might be with the transmission range switch. Or as it’s called in the business the PRNDL (prindle) switch.

The prindle switch comunicates with the body control module. The body control module controls all the interior lighting and other functions inside the interior. When the entertainment system starts acting goofy, then you’ll know the problem is with the prindle switch.


When the troubles happens again and the car is parked try disconnecting the plug on the alternator and see if that clears the trouble. I wonder if power is backfeeding through that and to the cluster.

Wow, I really appreciate all the prompt responses.

It’s like there are two " levels" to this problem. Right now I’m back to level one, just the battery light and abs light are faintly flickering away and the remote entry works fine. Level two has 5 or 6 lights flickering, a loud erratic beeping, and the remote entry system doesn’t work.

My guess is that tomorrow morning it’ll be back to level two. But then after driving the car, it’ll go back to level one.

I don’t know much about cars, but it seems like a big “hint” that after running the car a while most of the problem goes away. Then after sitting a while it starts going berserk. It also seems that the longer the car is run, the longer it takes to start going berserk again once shut off…hmmm?

Cougar has a good suggestion. This sounds to me like it could be an alternator problem. It may be one of the alternator diodes in on the fritz. Did this happen soon after giving someone a jump start, or getting a jump start?

I’m assuming the brake warning light on too. If so, this could be a brake problem. You need to eliminate that as a possibility first. On some cars the alternator (battery) light will come on with a brake problem. Does the brake warning light come on when you turn the key to “On”, but before you start the engine? And does it completely turn off after you start the engine and disengage the parking brake? If so, then it is unlikely a brake-related problem.

With most automotive electrical systems the power to the cluster is turned OFF with the ignition switch. So if things are happening while the ignition is turned off power has to find another pathway to cause the things you stated to happen. One of the ways that can happen is through the alternator circuit. Disconnect the plug on the back side of it and see if the trouble clears. Even if it does go away the trouble may be within the cluster and not the alternator.

If disconnecting the alternator doesn’t help point to the trouble then I suggest you start pulling fuses one at a time to help locate the source of the power.


As far as the brake light, it has not been one of the problem lights and it does light up when turning the key…then go out when car is started.

However, the abs light is one of the lights that stays faintly lit with car on or off. The owners manual says it should come on for a few seconds once the car is started…it does not light up like it’s supposed to. The other problematic lights do light up properly during the ‘test’ phase.

Cougar-unfortunately the alternator is buried deep inside…and I can’t get to the connecter.

Ken G - I’ve never heard of fuse boxes having sandwiched circuit boards. Is this something on high end cars, or all new cars? I guess I learn something every day!

@di%20k … there’s a possibility that the problem is with the ABS system rather than the alternator. You might wonder why the battery light comes on – which makes you think the alternator is kapuut – when the ABS system is actually the problem. It’s a fail-safe system, in case the ABS dashboard light bulb goes out. The designers of the car figure if you see the battery light come on, you’ll head for the repair shop asap. And the repair shop will figure out that the problem is really with the ABS, but the ABS dash board light bulb has burned out.

Problem solved?

After searching the internet, it seems this isn’t all too uncommon with the focus. I took out the instrument cluster, opened it up, and cleaned the circuit board with wd-40. The board still has many very bad looking solder connections, but the issue is totally gone. It’s been a week since I did this.

Congrats on the solution di k. It seems car designers haven’t quite solved the thermal expansion problem for in-car circuit boards. It’s a tough problem because of the temperature extremes found inside of cars. And Iexpect it gets worse with larger circuit boards, like are found in newer cars w/more complicated electronics. Office desktop computers don’t experience this problem much because — well how much temperature variation is there in an office? from 50 degrees to 90 degrees max? Most offices are even less than that.

The inside of a car easily goes from -20 degrees in the winter to 120 degrees in the summer. The metal traces and the components soldered on the circuit board don’t expand and contract quite the same as the circuit board material does, which can stress the solder joints of crack the metal traces. I’ve heard mechanics say they have to pull the circuit card and resolder every single solder joint on the circuit board. It can take several hours to do this, so the customer I expect isn’t very happy when presented w/the bill. But it’s less expensive than buying a new one. FYI, there are commercial places that will repair these kinds of problems too. You can google “automobile module repair” to find them.

@dik congratulations!

Yet some of you guys still think the Focus is a wonderful vehicle.

No offense to you, @dik

I heard or read somewhere recently that the new Focus has something like 142 electro-mechanical actuators. I hope I’m attributing that correctly. I think it was the Focus. Anyway, whichever car it was, even if the actuator failure rate was 1% per year, per car, by the law of averages, you’d expect to have one or two actuators failing every year. Reliability becomes a tough problem the more gadgets that are designed into cars.

I’m hsaving similar difficulty however no warning lights are on just when the key is out of ignition the backlight on the dashboard and caution lights stay on

It could be an internal cluster problem as noted above. First disconnect and reconnect the cluster several times to clean the connector, oxidation on instrument cluster connectors can cause a poor voltage supply or ground to the cluster and cause the processor to misbehave.

I am also having a similar issue. there are no lights at all on my dash when my engine is running, but when i turn my keys off and even remove them the ABS light is on faintly. my ignition barrel feels a bit sticky too. it is a 2001 ford transit minibus 2.4tddi with 474000 miles on the clock.

i had a few issues with it. back in october it failed to start, it would crank but did not start. luckily i had another transit van. i use the van to tow the bus and it started in second gear by releasing the clutch at around 10 mph. drove it back home fine. got home. turned it off and tried starting it again. just cranking. it was late so i gone to bed.

next day, i removed the good battery from the van and fitted it in the bus. go to start it. nothing at all. no dash lights or anything. on the 2001 transit in the UK the battery is under the drivers seat and the jump points are under the bonnet (hood) we tried frantically to get them back on again which we did briefly and managed to bump start it. but then filled the tank to the brim and then not starting and no dash lights again.

a back street mechanic tried joining up 2 jump cables together to connect to the live on the battery to the live jump point under the hood. it given the dash lights again but will only start on a bump start. turned out to be a break in the live feed for the problem with no ignition lights.

however, we changed the starter motor and removed the jump cables and the dash lights were fine and started off the key as normal.

then 6/7 weeks later i been out working in the bus all day. i park up and turned the engine off and all the dash lights were on bright and a continuous beep which would disappear when i turn on the ignition with my keys. it still started. so i decided to disconnect the battery while i was parked up for couple hours. came back to go home. connected the battery up. lights were back on with the keys in. wouldnt start not even a crank. rang for help. it got late and got a lift home with the plan that i would use my other transit to drive back down with a friend and tow the bus back home. but must have been a bad day as the van wouldnt start neither. ended up using public buses to go and try my bus again. dash lights were still on but the bus unlocked. luckily i had a solar panel and connected that up to the battery the night before. tried starting. no luck, so we decided to push it as far as we can up the slope in the car park where it was and try a bump start. didnt get enough speed so didnt start. decided to give up, tried with the key one more and it had started up with the key. needless to say i drove home as quick as i could.

got home that night. the dash lights were still on but faint. i pressed the foot brake gently and the ignition lights gone out when no keys in. released the brake. turned the key and it started up still. i repeated this 3/4 times and it was fine and the ignition lights have gone out as normal when i turned off the ignition. next day it was fine until i had tried jump starting my other transit. the other transit failed to start and made a clicking sound. i turned off the engine while the cables were still connected. gone to start the bus again after giving up on the van. it struggled to start after i removed the cables but still started. gone to go out in it again later and then no crank at all and the ignition lights came on and off as they should.

few days later i got an auto electrician out. he diagnosed the starter motor was bad again as not spinning. he fitted a second hand on and it worked fine but, last night after i been working all day. i got home turned off the engine and noticed the ABS light was on faintly. if i press the brake it goes out and comes back and flicker slightly when brake peddle is released. if i turn the ignition in certain position to turn it off, the lights goes out. i also noticed too that sometimes after i removed the keys and the ABS light is on faint, the engine temperature gauge goes up to normal temperature but goes down when brake is pressed.

i been out today and tried the bus. the light was still on, still doing the same and it still started. i also still have my solar panel connected to my battery. a bit of luck i wouldnt be left stranded with 14 passengers miles from home until i can get it sorted.