Honda Accord HVAC Knobs — Mechanical

I have a retired chunk of Honda Accord interior, a control panel that integrated CD player and HVAC buttons and knobs into a single panel. Once dug into it, though, I discovered that the CD player electronics were actually quite independent of HVAC electronics even though they lived on the same circuit board. I was motivated to figure out the CD player portion because I wanted to play with segmented LCD, but there were no such attractions on the HVAC side. I will remove those HVAC knobs and play with them separately. I wanted to know more about how they worked: mechanically these knobs looked nearly identical to the infinite-rotation quadrature encoder used for audio control. But they have limited travel and their nature requires knowledge of their absolute position, which seems more appropriate for a potentiometer.

First to be removed was the fan speed selector, where I got my first hint at how these are different from visually similar audio knob: they have six electrical contacts instead of three. As soon as I noticed this I went back to the audio knob and saw it had provision for six contacts as well but three on one side were cut. Back to the fan speed knob: I had to desolder those six electrical contacts plus 4 more soldered mechanical mount points.

Once I pulled the knob off, I see a backlight bulb on a pedestal. This bulb would have illuminated the fan speed icons as well as a small piece of translucent plastic visually indicating current fan speed setting.

Looking over the knob, I found no further fasteners. As an experiment I tried pulling, and just a light pull was enough to overcome plastic snaps in this assembly. The rightmost portion in this picture is what actually rotates, attached to a ring on the encoder. The center portion with fan speed icon remains static, mounted to the encoder itself on the left.

After the fan speed knob was removed, I proceeded to do the same for the temperature control knob. Aside from their differences in printed graphics, these two knobs have slightly different range of motion and number of detents. The fan speed knob sweeps approximately 120 degrees, and has 13 total detents: “off” and 12 speeds. The temperature knob sweeps through 270 degrees, and has 15 total detents: 7 levels of cold, 7 levels of warm, plus a neutral position.

In one corner of the encoder body, I saw this logo but no further identifiers. A few searches found the Wikipedia page for Alps Electric, and their current incarnation’s corporate web site Alps Alpine. Digging into their products catalog, the device I have in my hand resembles items in their Ring Encoder product category, but I did not find an exact match. This is either a discontinued product or a Honda exclusive item. I can’t tell in the absence of further identifiers on the device. Perhaps there’s a number inside if I wanted to take it apart further, but I’m more interested in pulling out my multimeter to probe their electrical behavior.

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