How to Restore Faded Car Trim

Written by dakota wright
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How to Restore Faded Car Trim
Complete your vintage restoration by restoring fadded trim. (George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Successful, vintage restorations depend upon the ability to restore faded car trim. Decades of abuse and muck build-up on trim mouldings leave them discoloured, unsightly and often irreparable. Reviving faded trim is labour-intensive, but the reward is value added to your vintage classic and a truly detailed restoration. After all, the little details are the ones that car enthusiasts earn bragging rights over.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Screwdriver
  • Container with lid
  • Vinyl cleanser
  • Sandpaper
  • Tack cloths
  • Vinyl dye
  • Vinyl protectant

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  1. 1

    Decide on the type of restoration you are going for. Full-scale jobs, where every vinyl surface -- kick plates, console. dashboard, pedals, etc -- will be re-dyed allow you to choose any colour of vinyl dye you like. Matching jobs require that you have a custom dye colour mixed at a paint and body shop. Custom dyes may need to be applied with a paint sprayer, while traditional colours come in a spray can.

  2. 2

    Remove the vinyl trim and moulding from the vehicle. It is rare that these parts can be restored while still inside, without damage to other portions of the interior. Save trim caps and screws in a separate container with a lid. Document the removal with pictures, so that you can ensure that each piece is reinstalled correctly.

  3. 3

    Examine each piece for defects. Trim with large cracks or holes should be discarded in favour of a similarly coloured piece. Small cracks, scratches and discolouration will be fixed during restoration.

  4. 4

    Clean each trim piece thoroughly with a full-strength, vinyl cleaner. Scrub brushes with plastic bristles will remove unidentifiable gunk. Resist the temptation to use household cleansers, as they can cause further damage. Scrub cracks and crevices with a toothbrush to remove grime.

  5. 5

    Rinse the trim with large amounts of cool water. Hot water can heat the trim and cause it to warp or loose its original shape. Sand the pieces with fine grit sand paper to buff out scratches and scuff marks. Don't use grinding wheels, as this will cause burn-through marks where the natural texture is removed. Rinse the trim again and dry each piece with a microfiber cloth.

  6. 6

    Apply a bead of super glue to small cracks. Prop the trim in a place where it won't be disturbed, so that the glue can set. Super glue will dry clear and vinyl dye will bond to it. Reinforce the back side of the trim with adhesive tape.

  7. 7

    Paint trim pieces lightly and evenly with the vinyl dye colour of your choice. Overlap stopping points with long, side-swept strokes for even coverage. Let the trim dry. Dye screw caps with the same amount of coverage. Wipe all pieces with a tack cloth to prevent dust from setting between the layers of paint. Coat the trim a second time. The trim will change colour with each consecutive coat of vinyl dye. To dye darker trim a lighter colour, start with two coats of white dye first and then the colour coats of your choice. Allow the painted trim to dry for 24 hours.

  8. 8

    Put a small amount of vinyl protectant on a lint-free rag and wipe down each trim piece. Let the vinyl protectant set up for the required length of time. Wipe down the surface of the trim a second time to buff out the finish and remove excess product. Reinstall trim in the reverse order it was taken out.

Tips and warnings

  • Elevating trim will make it easier to flawlessly dye each piece.
  • Some vinyl dye has a glossy appearance from the addition of polymers.
  • Vinyl dye seeps into what its applied to and will not come off unintentionally dyed surfaces.
  • Vinyl dye should only be painted outdoors to prevent inhalation of noxious fumes.

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