DisclaimerYou will be messing with the electronics of your vehicle. Tread carefully. You take full responsibility for any damage you may do to your truck. I am more than willing to offer advice, share my experiences and help in any way I can, but if something goes wrong and your Frontier spontaneously explodes...that's on you.
Alright, let's get on with it. First off, let me say...yes, I am aware that 90% of this information has already been posted, however when I was searching for the information to do a complete overhaul, I had to bounce between half a dozen threads to figure everything out, so I thought I would write an all-in-one thread that was a little more detailed than some of the other posts. I also notice that some of those posts are a bit old and needed a little updating, and as I stated, I would've liked to have seen a little more detail in the write-up, so I thought I would extend the courtesy for anyone looking to do this mod for themselves. That being said, I am writing this tutorial as if a complete novice was wanting to tackle the project, so some of this information may seem over-explained to some of you, but hopefully there is some information in here for everyone. Even if you only take bits and pieces from this tutorial, hopefully it can point you in the right direction.
- Don't be NERVOUS
You will be doing a lot of soldering during this mod, and while mastering the skill takes a lot of practice (and I am by no means an expert) it's a pretty easy skill to pick up. Take your time and you'll do fine.
- A CLEAN tip is a happy tip
Most [decent] soldering irons come with a sponge, use it. Don't soak the sponge, but dampen it and keep it rinsed and handy. If you keep the tip shiny while working, the heat transfers much better and the job goes a lot smoother. When you see the oxidization (darkening of the tip) wipe it clean.
- BAD heat
LEDs don't care much for intense heat, when possible, get in and get out as quickly as you can. If you are struggling with a particular LED, take a step back, maybe work on another light and come back to it, if you apply too much heat you'll lose the bulb. If you have an adjustable soldering iron, don't max it out, only use enough heat to get the job done smoothly. Also, yes, the iron is hot. It's seems like a "well duh" kind of thing, but when you have a flashlight in your mouth, the iron in one hand, tweezers in the other and a magnifying glass inches from your eyes, occasionally you space out on just how hot it is. (I wouldn't be speaking from experience. Not at all...not even 4 times.)
- That's a FINE job!
If at all possible, use a fine tip. You can get away with a larger tip, but it'll make your job much easier if you can get a hold of a smaller tip.
- LESS is more
Don't glob the solder, it's not about how much you get on there, only the point of contact between the solder and the metal really matters, anything over that is excess.
- The CIRCUIT BOARD, not the LED
Don't apply the solder to the LED, instead, heat up the board where you want the LED to go, apply a small amount of solder, then bring the LED over, melting the solder just long enough to drop the LED onto it.
- LED CHEATERS
LEDs always have a way of tipping you off on which side is which. On the circuit board you will typically see the symbol below [Fig 1]. I usually think to myself "the arrow points to the negative (cathode) side" for LED orientation purposes. All three LED types you will be soldering also have tell-tale signs for which contact is the negative one. The 1206 is usually marked on the negative side [Fig 2], the PLCC-2 has a notch cut off of it [Fig 3] and if you look at the 3mm LED, the shorter [typically] of the two leads is negative...and if you look closely at the bulb the negative side has the larger pin as well as a flat side on the bulb itself [Fig 4].
- Screw Drivers
Required for dismantling various vehicle panels and components. You will need a selection of slotted, phillips and torx drivers. Torx drivers will only be required if you plan on modding the HVAC controls and/or factory stereo.
- Soldering iron
Any will do, but if you are purchasing one and have a couple extra bucks, I recommend an adjustable one.
These LEDs are tiny. If you really try to apply them with your fingers, I will shake my head in a disappointed fashion in your general direction. If at all possible, get one like what is pictured below [Fig 5] that automatically clamps, trust me, it makes things so much easier.
This is going to get repetitive and tedious, stick with it, I assure you that it's worth it. Take your time, don't rush anything and you'll greatly lower the risk of damaging any of your parts.
You'll need to post lots of pictures of your awesome work.
- Magnifying Lens
Again, you are working with some very small parts, and occasionally a closer look at things really helps, especially if you can get one that also holds what you're working on [Fig 6].
This makes testing so much easier. On your multimeter [Fig 7] set it to the symbol shown above [Fig 1] and touch the black wire to the negative side of the LED and the red to the positive. If the LED is good, it should at least faintly light up. Note: It will not light up as brightly during testing as it will in your vehicle, do not panic if it seems like it's a weak light. I recommend testing each LED before soldering it in, and then testing it again after you finish soldering it in. This will save you a lot of headache later on.
- SMD 1206 LEDs
The smallest LEDs we will be working with on this project. Color is up to you, I went with Superbright Blue. You will need 15-17 for the gauges (2wd vs 4wd), 24* for the HVAC, 24* for the factory stereo and 20* or so for the miscellaneous switches on the center console, door locks (except the drivers door) and other dials around the vehicle. I bought a strip of 100 LEDs, and finished with 7 spare...with only about a half-dozen casualties.
*Numbers are approximate, it's late, I'm tired, and even going back through pictures I can't be 100% certain on how many I did.
- PLCC-2 3528 LEDs
Again, color is up to you and I only used two of these LEDs, they are part of the heated seat switches. If you do not have these switches or do not wish to alter them, you can skip these. Since I only needed a couple I scrounged some from an LED strip I had laying around, but you could easily grab a small pack online.
- 3mm LEDs
The only location these were used is in the driver's door switch cluster. Five LEDs are needed in total. Color is your choice. I bought a big pack, only because I know I will use these on various other projects.
- Superflux 4-Chip LEDs
You'll only need two of these, but if you purchase some, I highly recommend getting pre-wired ones as it will make things much easier. These get installed for the shifter and the illuminated key ring.
- Polarizing Film
You only need this for any LCD screens you wish to reverse (change the screen from an illuminated background with dark lettering/numbers to a dark background with illuminated lettering/numbers). I wanted a sheet that would be large enough to do all three screens (4x4 screen, odometer and stereo) so I bought one large sheet, if you only want to do a small area or don't mind piecing together the sheets, something much smaller would work just fine.
Depending on how extensive you go...this could change. For a complete overhaul you should be able to get set up for (at most) $50-$60, and on a 2wd basic overhaul (switches, dash and center) you could easily pull this off for around $25. If you need to purchase additional tools (soldering iron, multimeter etc) that will change accordingly.
This could change based on your skill level and confidence, but I would say that this project could easily be done in two days for even a novice. If you are a little more familiar with everything and have all day to tinker, you could get it done in one.
I only give this an intermediate level due to some of the tediousness of the project. Once you get into the groove of things you'll be amazed at how quickly you blast through parts of the project, but there are the occasional hurdles that may trip you up.
Now, without any further delay, let's tear into things!