Pao Update: How I Solved One of the Biggest Little Annoyances of My Delightful Car

This is not a story of an especially big or complex repair, but it is one that had a significant impact. It’s the sort of fix that leverages significant technological advances, yet manages to be still adaptable to outdated tech. It’s the kind of update that lets me see how fast I’m going and how much fuel I have at night, which is nice.

I’ve been daily-driving my Pao for about a year now, and while I’m still smitten with the goofy little car, it’s not perfect, of course. I’m not sure I’d ever even want to drive something perfect, but I do want my car to generally work, in a broad sense. The Pao works quite well overall, but one complaint I’ve had since the beginning is that the instrument lighting is just about useless at night, the one time it should be non-useless.


I’m not really sure what Nissan was thinking, but the system used to light the large single multi-purpose gauge on the Pao’s dash is one that would be marginal at best, and terrible at anything other than best. My car was firmly within the terrible camp.

This is how the instruments look at night:

It looks sort of like a solar eclipse, right? Just much, much dimmer. There’s an outer ring of a feeble greenish glow, you can read the odometer pretty well, likely the least useful instrument to have visible when driving, and the speedometer needle, fuel gauge, and temperature gauge are all comfortably cloaked in a shroud of darkness. It’s just about useless.

You can tell where the speedo is, and that’s about it. I’m pretty sick of this, so I decided to do something about it, and, luckily, there’s a pretty easy solution: replace those feeble incandescent bulbs with modern LED lamps.


Getting to these bulbs seemed like it would be easy, thanks to the Pao’s lack of shame for fasteners, but it was actually a bit deceptive.


There’s three screws holding the instrument cluster in—two on the bottom, and one central one on the top, which felt like it was put in by the Hulk. I thought the unit would flop right out after removing the screws, but it wasn’t playing ball.

No matter how I pulled or angled or finagled the thing wouldn’t budge. The electrical connectors seemed to have slack, so it wasn’t them. I realized it was the speedometer cable, but I couldn’t get my hand in there to disconnect it or loosen it or whatever.


Then I remembered that things like cables have two ends!

Opening the hood, I felt around for the speedometer cable, and found that it was held in place by this little clip:


I popped it out of the clip (the pic shows it out) and then when I went back inside the car, the death-grip on the speedo was released, and I had enough slack too get the damn thing out.


I left the electrical connectors in place, since 29-year old fussy plastic connectors are not the sort of thing I really want to pester or molest. Let them just stay there, unbroken, if possible.

I did unclip the speedo cable itself, and was able to flop the unit down to expose the printed circuit board on the rear, along with the bulb sockets:


Jackpot! It’s actually pretty easy to change bulbs in this thing, thanks to those Toshiba V-2 twisty bulb holder things, the brown twist-knob looking deals on there.

The bulb is not a Toshiba V-2; that’s just the bulb holder. The bulbs are mounted in these, and they can be removed with a push pin, something I learned from this helpful little video:

That’s a fine movie, right? Problem, solution, resolution, and a lovely denouement as the old bulb is carried off by Mr. Hand. They should make that into a musical. I see Nathan Lane as Yellow Push Pin and maybe Lady Gaga as Toshiba V-2 Socket. New Bulb could be Cardi B? I’m just spitballing here.


Selecting a new LED bulb was mildly tricky, as the bulb I had in there was unmarked, and I couldn’t find specifics online. I eyeballed it, and it seemed to match a 168 or 194 bulb, and those do have modern LED replacements.


There were a few, some described as “Super Bright,” but I settled on a Sylvania 2825 LED, mostly because it seemed to be the closest physical size to the original bulb.

That’s especially important here because the bulb will be going into a little hole in the speedometer sized for the original lamp, and I don’t think there was much provision left for future, larger lamps.


One thing to be aware of with LED replacements is that, unlike most incandescents, the LEDs do care about polarity: there’s a positive terminal and a negative terminal, and they have to be the right way. If you put it in and it doesn’t work, pop it out and, as has been screamed in many a sci-fi movie as a spaceship explodes around someone, “reverse the polarity.”

So, I installed both new LEDs, reconnected the speedo cable, packed everything back together, and then chugged some NyQuil so I could just black out until the sun set and darkness would allow me to see if my experiment was a success.


Let’s see:


Hot damn! That’s much better! I mean, because of the weird design, it’s still not great, but to me it’s like night and day, or at least night and twilight but with a full moon. I can see the speedo needle, and my fuel and temp gauges! It’s like being in a spaceship now!

I suppose I can try the slightly larger super-bright ones and see if that helps even more, or if I’m just going to end up with a blinding ring around my speedo. I’m pretty happy with this, though. Here, look at the difference:


Hooray for LEDs! And, even more, hooray for LEDs crammed into legacy light bulb form factors!

Sure, this was a pretty minor update, but it’s one that actually significantly improves life with the car, and that’s the best you can hope for, right? Also, this is precisely the kind of thing that works on nearly any old car with less-than-ideal dash lighting, which is most of them.


I encourage any of you sick of guessing if you’re out of gas at night to try this simple LED dash light upgrade. I bet you’ll be a little bit happier.

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About the author

Jason Torchinsky

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus • Not-so-running: 1973 Reliant Scimitar, 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!)