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Sounds like the battery is low on voltage ,if below say 11.2 volts replace battery ,this advice is for later cars with all the fancy electronics but you havent stated make year or model .So i assume its a newer car as it doesnt have a starting handle or arm type semaphores .
The back lights for the gauges don't work ? what other lights are working ? what other lights explain ,headlamps , telltale lights do you know what they are ? these are lights that come on when you first turn the key on ! check engine , abs , brake , etc... they go off after a few seconds ! The dimer control maybe bad or it is off !
Check your fuse box, Should be under your dash, right above where your clutch would be. Read the back of the panel, it will tell you which fuse goes where. check that fuse, or replace it. I cheat and put a higher amp fuse in all my fuse spots.
now this may be a long shot... but i had a similar problem on my cutlass. but it wasnt wiring...... it was from the tube running from the head of my engine...... the smell and smoke were coming from hot oil coming out of the crank case vent tube and then being sucked into the air inlet for the heater/ ac.
since a electrical wire's protective cover is petroleum based as is oil.... they smell very similar
make sure the vehicle isn't over heating. if not the heater core may be stopped up. can check hoses going into and out of heater core. make sure both are hot. if inlet is hot, and outlet is hose is cold, the heater core is stopped