Thursday, November 15, 2012

A zillion wires

It's not quite a zillion wires, but by the time we're through well over 300 connections will be made. An old Searay dash panel is coming out, and it's being replaced with a shiny new one. The ravages of time, and sunlight had faded the old panel. The plastic had embrittled and cracked in several places. All in all it had acquire an unsavory appearance.

I've done a number of these projects through the years, and have developed a simple technique. You will need some simple tools including a writing apparatus, tape, tie wraps, needle nose pliers, and a small screwdriver to help wedge connectors off the posts if they are recalcitrant.
But most  important of all you will need to augment your shaky memory and creaky eyes with a good one, and for that a digital camera is a must. This is what I use from day to day, and it's also my poor mans boroscope.

In this case, it was possible to buy a new dash panel. It was very close, but it was not exactly the same panel. Small design changes through the years can cause some problems with fit, and in this case there were some minor ones we will talk about later.

If you can buy a replacement panel, by all means buy it, even if it appears to be expensive at first blush. The effort to create from scratch a panel that looks factory made is possible, but it will require considerable expense and effort. Curved, 27 switch cut outs, and back light nomenclature. Buy it.
The panel is unscrewed, and pulled out a whopping five or six inches. Not a whole lot of room, but enough. The first task is to remove the back lighting. These somewhat flexible strips are 12 volt powered, and when they get the juice applied, they glow a light blue color. Don't ask me how they work, because I don't have a clue. They are taped onto the back of the dash panel.

The set up is a bit wonky. They have solder contacts on the back. Small pieces of tape were applied over the contacts. Then they used aluminum tape to hold the strips into place. They usually come off easily. I think someone thought the aluminum tape would last a long time, and it does. But the glue on the tape, not so much. They all get peeled off and cleaned up. I will use a good quality plastic tape to reapply them.

Now is the time to start the big ugly of switch removal. "This won't be bad," thinks the Installer.  The battery switches are now shut off, and I'm going to start with the easiest part of the job.

There are three toggle switches, and the dimmer. Just twist the small hex nut off, and they will pull right through the dash. Huh? They won't move? Oops, there is some galvanic corrosion going on here. What to do now?

I've just started, and Murphy has already snickered at me. There are three choices. Spray some penetrant on the spot welded nuts, and wait. In a rage get bigger tools, make the nuts come off, and then buy new switches to replace the ones I just effed up. or...

I look up and see the nippers. I eyeball one of the toggle switches, and make a cut into the panel underneath it. Whoa, cool, the panel snapped in half, and the toggle switch pulled out from the side. Okay, good, now the next one. No luck, this time but in a couple of minutes the nippers carved the next one out, and in a few more minutes the last one fell to the carbon steel blades. The panel is now in three pieces. A little spray on the bad nuts, and work resumes.

So this is what we will end up with. No panel, and all of the switches properly attached. It looks messy, but every switch is labeled, to eliminate any confusion about where it goes. 

The process is simple. Disconnect a switch, remove it from the old panel and then immediately reconnect it.

Using your digital memory system, take a picture of both sides of the switch. Make sure if wires have a color stripe, you can clearly see it. Pull the wires off, and then using the photo's to help put them back where they belong.

We just reverse the process with the new panel, again taking pictures of each switch. You don't want to screw up the wiring. There will be no labels on the wires, and no wiring diagrams to follow, so take good clear pictures. I'm happy if just basic wire colors are properly used. If something goes awry, you may have to get the part number off the switch to get a wiring diagram that will at least let you know what the switch is trying to do.

All's well that ends well. Now for some of the nuance. When you disconnect wires from the switch, do it carefully. If they won't immediately pull off, don't force it. If you get too aggressive, it is possible to pull the connecting blade right out of the switch. If it is stuck, take your small screw driver, and from the bottom gently pry it up.

Despite soaking the bad toggle nuts for a couple of days, they wouldn't come off, and I had to buy two new ones. Along the way, one of the three wiper switches was found to be bad, and a new one was ordered.

Remember when I said in the beginning, the new panel was't exactly the same? The new panel's switches were a quarter of an inch lower, and the panel had to be lifted to let the switches clear the lower padded bolster thingy. The upper bolster covered the shift upward.

Could a handy boat owner do this? The answer is yes. Just follow the rules.

1. Sobriety helps, a lot.
2. Take lots of good pictures, film is cheap.
3. Turn off the battery switches.
4. Label, label, label.
5. When reason fails, don't let force prevail.
6. If you're not sure about being able to do it, don't.

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