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Premium Member
161 Posts
Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)


I am NOT an electrical engineer! While I know electronics fairly well, and I know how to read schematics, my math on this stuff isn't always perfect. From what I can tell, the current board (which works in unison with the HVAC), has plenty of power to run the super bright LEDs WITHOUT changing any power module or resistors. The current board uses super bright PLCC-4 in combination with PLCC-2 LEDs. From everything that I have found and read the PLCC-4 LEDs use more power than the PLCC-2, which would call for an increase in power of all. In addition, the LEDs that typically use the most power are blue and white - half of the board already uses white LEDs, thus creating a perfect platform to work off of. I have measured, remeasured, and tested this process very thoroughly. Everything indicates that more than enough power is available for a simple swap.

Please DO NOT post here, or message me about the differences between wattage (power), voltage (volts), or amperage (resistance). I already know these things. In this write up, I am speaking in GENERAL terms, so everyone can understand.

COMPLETE THIS DIY AT YOUR OWN RISK! I take NO responsibility for things you mess up, the differences in circuit boards, or any other misfortune that may happen.

As long as you have the tools needed, a slightly steady hand (I don't have surgeon hands, but I can keep them steady), and a base understanding of how to solder, then this write up will give you the knowledge on HOW to complete this modification.

If you know nothing about soldering, this DIY is NOT recommended for you. Please advise someone about soldering, or maybe even hire someone to do it for you.


NOTE: This write up is for the standard cluster - NOT the Supervision Cluster. Some cars have a slightly different HVAC unit than mine - mine is the base model. However, I am fairly certain that the lights on the HVAC are the same, and that the lights for the clock in the more upgraded model can be changed as well. If someone would like to test that and let me know, I will post it here.

Before you begin, you will, obviously, need to remove the gauges and HVAC unit. This will require you removing all of the trim around those pieces, so check out this write up for help on that:

What you'll need:
- Two flat head screw drivers (this is highly recommended over pliers)
- One Phillips head screw driver
- One torex head screwdriver (I believe T8 - can someone confirm for me, please?)
- Some form of pliers (I perfer blunt needle nose)
- Razor blade or X-acto knife
- White model (like a model car or airplane) paint, with paint brush or q-tip
- Tweezers (highly recommended)
- Soldering iron and solder
- Desolder wick or vacuum pump (vacuum pump is recommended)
- PLCC-2 LEDs -
- PLCC-4 LEDs - Common Anode -

NOTE: Amount and color of LEDs vary based on the changes you want. Please review this DIY to make a good informed decision
- Nail polish (paint) remover
- Clear glue
- Translucent Colored Film (or a Color Gel)

I had a sheet of blue, but I can't remember where I got it. I think you can get this stuff from any hobby shop, or maybe a print shop. You can also Google "transparent colored film" or "translucent color film, sticky back". You can also search for "lighting color gels".

Let's Begin


Step 1:
Remove the cover from the gauges - the front and back are pretty easy and self explanatory. You should not need any tools to remove this, but a flat head screw driver may help to pry the tabs up. Just be careful.

Step 2:
Once you get the covers off, you will need to remove the center info piece (the object that gives info like odometer, miles to go until empty, etc...). Here you will need the torex head screwdriver.

With the torex screws removed, lift the small black tab holding the ribbon in place, and remove the ribbon from it's holder.
Behind the ribbon, you will find a small black prong holding the center piece in place. Use your needle nose pliers (or anything that fits in here) to squeeze the prongs together.
Center_rem(1).JPG Center_rem(2).JPG

Once you squeeze the prongs together, you should just be able to pull the center piece off of the board.

Step 3:
Next, you'll prep the front face for needle removal. Really, all we are gonna do is mark the placement of the needles.

Make sure that the needles are in their resting position - either lift the gauges up in a normal position (like they are placed in your car), and allow the needles to rest, or slightly move the needle manually. Be careful to not push the needle too hard - the needles should spin pretty easy unless they are at the resting point (you'll feel it if it's gone too far).

Mark the placement with some tape, or a slight tick mark on the face plate itself (out of view when placed in the car, of course). I did the later, but I have done it with tape as well, just so you get the idea.

Step 4:
Now it's time to remove the needles. I HIGHLY recommend using two flat head objects (screwdrivers, butter knives, anything that will give leverage and is flat) to do this. I DO NOT recommend pliers, as you want to get an even lift on the needle base, without bending the pin or the motor it's attached to.

Simply place the flat objects under the needle (one flat object on each side, directly across from each other), and apply pry the needle upward. Remember to apply leverage equally on each side. Don't worry, you will have to give it a little pressure, and the needle should just pop off.
Needle_rem(1).JPG Needle_rem(2).JPG

NOTE: You may not want anyone (including yourself) directly above the gauge during this process. When I say pop off, I mean it...
Step 5a (Needle Change Only):
At this time, it may be best to go ahead and work on the needles. The only reason to do this now, rather than at the end, is because you will need to let the needles dry before placing them back on the board. If you want to keep red needles, you can skip this step.

If you look at the back of the needles, you will see 4 pin type objects. With your x-acto knife, or razor blade, you will need to cut these off. Once the pins are sufficiently cut, you will be able to remove the needle from the housing. This may take a while, but be patient and it'll come. Next, you will need to remove backing - follow the picture on how to do this.

IMPORTANT NOTE: When removing the backing, you'll notice that the needles tip is housed INSIDE the backing. Therefore, the needle WILL bend. Just be gentle and you'll be fine.

You may notice that my needles have no red on them. This is because I took the pictures after painting them.
Remove the paint on the back of the needle with either nail polish remover, or your razor blade (don't cut or "fillet" the paint off, but rather etch it off by dragging the razor blade's vertical edge along the needle's horizontal surface). Once all the paint is removed, allow to dry (if using nail polish remover), then paint on a thin coat of just white using your paint brush or q-tip.

Step 5b (Needle Change Only):
After the paint is dry, repeat step 5a in reverse and place the needles back together. Once the needles are back together, cover the 4 pin objects with some of your clear glue. I used rubber cement, but that's only because I had it. Super glue, or any other clear, extra hold, glue will suffice.

IMPORTANT NOTE: After you glue the needles, really allow them to dry. Most clear glues give off fumes that accentuate oils on a surface. If you have touched your face plate and left a good finger print or oil smudge on the face plate, the glue may make it very visible. I suggest minimizing the touching of the face plate, allowing the glue to properly dry, and / or cleaning the face plate thoroughly before placing the needles back on the board.
Step 6:
Remove the face plate and you'll see that you can't quite remove the circuit board yet because it's being held in place by the transmission indicator. To remove the indicator, you'll need to remove the brace. Turn the board over and you'll see two pieces that need to be turned. Grab your pliers and twist them so they line up with the holes behind them. Then push the brace through the board.

With this brace removed, the indicator should be easy to remove. Behind the indicator is a clear diffuser... you probably don't want to lose that.
drive_ind(1).JPG drive_ind(2).JPG

Premium Member
161 Posts
Discussion Starter #2 (Edited)
Step 7:
Ah! Glorious (and tiny) LEDs! Notice the difference between the PLCC4 and PLCC2 (PLCC4 has four prongs, PLCC2 has two... easy enough). Also, notice that one corner of each LED has a small triangle cut out. This shows you which way the LED should be placed on the board.

IMPORTANT NOTE: You will want to take note of this triangle PRIOR to removing it from the board. On the HVAC, each PLCC2 LED position is marked on the board (this may help with that: ... the triangle corner is on the negative [cathode] side, and the triangle on the LED symbol points toward the negative terminal).

Removing the LED before noting the position has the potential of creating a huge headache for you during testing.

NOTE: If your LEDs don't look exactly like the close up of the LEDs or like the ones on the board, don't worry. As long as you got the right kind (PLCC2 / PLCC4 common anode), you're fine.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The picture above shows what kind of LEDs are where.
- Yellow squares are PLCC2.
- Red squares are PLCC4.
- Red sqaures shaded with grey are white PLCC4. This is especially important because it means that no matter what color you want, these are not required to be changed. Instead, use a film on the back side of the face plate. This also allows for greater control of exactly WHAT to change. For example, I wanted to leave the numbers white, but have the lines blue.
Go ahead and start removing the LEDs that you want to change, and replacing them with the colors you want. You can remove and replace one at a time, or do them all at once. Just remember to take note of the original position! Removal of the LEDs does take a little finesse, and the exact method is all based on user preference. You can desolder with a wick or wires braid, or you can even use a vacuum pump to remove the solder. I use neither - instead, I simply heat up one side and kind of lift the heated side with the iron (with a slight flick). You can also lift the heated side with tweezers. Totally up to you.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The PLCC4 common anode LEDs have 1 positive and 3 negative connection. It IS possible to make the LED work without connecting ALL negative connections. However, this can cause some serious issues, and make some LEDs not light up due to a series connection. So, just make sure that all contacts make solid connections.

Step 8 (Needle Change Only):

This step is a little hard to explain, but I'm going to do my best without confusing anyone.

Around each needle pin, you will see PLCC4 LEDs. The tachometer and speedometer have four, where the temp and fuel only have two. You will notice that the speedometer LEDs have greater spacing between them than any other pin. This helps with the color change.

Look at the back of the needle - you will see a clear spot through the backing. This allows the needle to light up in the color of the LED which the clear spot is hovering over. So, if you are going 5 MPH, and the LED at that location is blue, the needle will be blue. If you are going 80 MPH and the LED is red, the needle will be red. You get the picture. The problem with the tach, fuel, and temp needles is that they are so close together that the colors blend rather than distinguishing between colors. To get these needles to change color, the LED MUST be elevated off the board somehow, or there must be some kind of divider placed between the two differentiating LEDs. Maybe you use metal picks, or some sturdy metal wire. Maybe you even use solder "legs". However you do it, just make sure that the contacts don't touch each other.

To be safe, I suggest sticking to solid colors on all needles except the speedometer (FYI - I tried to do green for full, and red for empty... I got orange. So I changed it all to green for my "go-go" juice :rolleyes:).

NOTE: If you do not want to change the color of your needles, do not change these LEDs!
Step 9:
Testing time! Go back out to your car, plug in the board, turn on the car and see what happens. If all went well, the lights should light up. Don't worry about the needles or anything else just yet.

NOTE: Some of the lights, such as the low fuel indicator, do not turn on unless they are required. For these to light up, you will need to be in that state (low fuel). You can induce the change (low tire, run low on fuel, etc...) to test the light, or you can let it go and be confident in your work.
I believe that all of the important engine lights illuminate for a second and then go out.
Step 10:
It's time to move onto the face plate.

On the back of the face plate, cover the areas you want to change color with the translucent film. Test by placing the face plate up to a light.
Blue_marks.JPG Blue_marks_test.JPG

Step 11:
With everything tested, it's time to start putting the gauges back together. Put the board back in the housing, place the transmission indicator back in place (don't forget the white diffuser), then place the indicator brace back in. Be sure to twist the backs of the brace back in place.

Now... the needles...
CRITICAL NOTE: Placing the needles back on incorrectly can damage your board. It's absolutely critical that you have some kind of support on the back of the motor and pin as to not damage the magnets inside the motor.

NOTE: Make sure that your needles are dry before placing them back on the board. Read step 5b for notes as to why.
Needle_rep(1).JPG Needle_rep(2).JPG

As you can see, I placed my motors on a table for the backing before placing the needle back on.

When you place the needle on, you want to place it on the pin well "above" the location that you want the needle to rest. For example, when placing the fuel needle back on, I set it at full... well "above" the resting place of empty. After you get the needle on the board, you can move it to the location.

NOTE: Moving the needle past the point of it's original resting place may require you to remove the needle and try again. Only the tachometer will safely allow your to continue to rotate around the pin to try and get the needle position correct without removing the needle.
Step 12:
I recommend one more test after the needles are on, just to make sure they all still work. If they don't work, (maybe the don't light up, or the needles act "jumpy"), take it apart, attempt to fix the problem and then test again. After testing is complete, finish putting everything back together.



Premium Member
161 Posts
Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)

Just a couple side notes:
- While this mod is for my particular model, the premise and practices are the same for all models. If you don't have the same model as mine, please help me out by taking pics and adding / removing / suggesting new steps for the mod.

- After the gauges, the HVAC is pretty straight forward. During the portion you will need a vacuum pump or desolder wick in order to change the lights in the clock and AC knob.

- The HVAC and seat belt notification unit are in the same location. If you change out the lights in the HVAC, I recommend changing the lights in the seat belt notifier as well. The HVAC uses PLCC2 LEDs (I think it's only PLCC2 LEDs, but I've slept since I did this mod, so it might have a couple PLCC4 LEDs), whereas the seat belt unit uses PLCC4 LEDs.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are doing the gauges and the HVAC at the same time (which is the recommended process), the HVAC will NOT light up if the gauges are not in place. The gauges (albeit not complete), need to be plugged in! If they are not, the lights on the HVAC will not illuminate.
Step 1:
Remove the units and take them apart. They are pretty simple to dismantle, but you may want to use something like a screw driver to help pry the tabs up.

Step 2:
Once you have the HVAC apart, you will notice that the knobs are connected to the board. The air flow control is only held in place with a few screws - two in front which hold on the back piece, and two under the back piece that hold on the front piece.

Step 3:
Now that the air flow knob is removed, let's remove the AC knob. This one is kind of a PITA because it's held in place with soldering points. You will need to remove the solder and push the metal pins through the board. This isn't the easiest of things to do, but your patience will payoff. Get your desoldering wick or vacuum pump out (I recommend the vacuum pump), and remove that solder.

Step 4:
With the knobs removed, it's time to remove the clock. This is similar to the AC knob, so keep the desolder wick or vacuum pump handy.

NOTE: You will notice that the clock is held in place with a metal bracket. This metal bracket is held in place by solder points on the back of the board. You can remove this piece, but I found it rather tedious and ended up just bending the piece out of the way. This, in turn, meant I couldn't remove the plastic housing behind the clock, which made for a difficult solder job, but not impossible. You can remove the bracket with a little more time, but it's not needed.
Remove or bend the metal bracket, then remove the solder on the back of the clock.

NOTE: The clock is similar to the drive indicator on the gauges, and has a small white diffuser behind it. Be sure to not lose this.
Step 5:
Swap out those LEDs!

NOTE: The AC knob section is a little weird because of the shift in color from hot to cold. I recommend only changing the indicator (lit when AC is on), because changing the LEDs INSIDE the knob may make the color shift look off - If you look my picture, you'll see that cold is blue, but hot is almost purple. This is because I put blue LEDs in the knob, and we all know that blue mixed with red makes purple.
The air flow and AC knob indicators (the red dot on the knob) should also be left alone because the red dot is a red plastic piece. Placing any other color beside red or white behind this indicator may make the indicator look off.
Step 6:
Test the units. If all the lights work as needed, put the units back together and you're good to go.

2,643 Posts
Nice work. I can't believe how much easier this is to do on these compared to some of the other cars I have seen this done on. If we still had an Optima... I'd be doing this.

02/2015 ROTM
770 Posts
Now THIS is a **** good mod! Glad to see some people finally doing some "custom" work vs another thread of "just installed my roof spoiler":rolleyes:. Thank you for taking the extended amount of time to give us such a detailed DIY. Following this for sure for the HVAC!!!

Premium Member
161 Posts
Discussion Starter #12
Now THIS is a **** good mod! Glad to see some people finally doing some "custom" work vs another thread of "just installed my roof spoiler":rolleyes:. Thank you for taking the extended amount of time to give us such a detailed DIY. Following this for sure for the HVAC!!!
It is definitely my pleasure to be sharing this stuff with all of you!

I have added the HVAC section. If you do this, please let us know how it goes!

2011 Kia Optima
23 Posts
Have you had any luck trying to replace the Red LCD color? I would like to switch it out to white. I'm not sure how they designed the lights there.

Premium Member
161 Posts
Discussion Starter #15
Have you had any luck trying to replace the Red LCD color? I would like to switch it out to white. I'm not sure how they designed the lights there.
Are you referring to the center piece? The piece that says "KIA" when you start the car, and says "Goodbye" when you shut off the car? If so, no. I think the newer cars (later than 2013) have a white LED piece. If you can get a hold of one of those, you can easily swap it.

Premium Member
161 Posts
Discussion Starter #17
Yes that's what I was referring to. are the parts interchangeable to a 2011?
I think they are... most things on Kia's are. But I am not 100% positive. I really don't see why they wouldn't be. I think the only way to know for sure is to try the swap.
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