Dash Repair – How to Fix a Cracked Padded Dash

Weather change is here and the cracked padded dashes are rolling in. With every weather change I get the phone calls. “My dash is cracked and what can be done to fix it.”

Due to the exposer to old mother nature, these materials become dried out and crack over time leaving you with a crack in your dash. Left unattended this small crack can and will get larger.

There are measures that can be taken to prevent the dash from getting cracked in the first place. Now I know your dash is already cracked and your wanting to know how to fix it, but this will prevent further cracks and keep your car cooler and looking nicer, and well…. for further reference.

One way to prevent this is to use a sunshade. This will not only protect your automotive dash from the sun but also keep your vehicle cooler keeping the plastic pieces cooler and less likely to warp and then crack.

Another way to prevent the materials from drying on your dash is to condition them with a good vinyl conditioner-protectant. Now I know I’ve always said to not put the slimy stuff on your interior pieces and parts … But if your vehicle is exposed to the sun on a constant basis, then I would recommend you use a vinyl conditioner. Now I’m not going to say that any old vinyl conditioner will work, because it won’t. Tire shine is not vinyl conditioner! This is probably one of the biggest mistakes made, and I do a lot of repair because of it. Tire shine contains solvents, which as you know from previous articles, it doesn’t mix well with the water based dyes being used on today’s cars. What it does is lifts the dye from the surface, causing it to peel. So no tire shine…What I recommend to my customers is a product made from a leather conditioning producer that I feel from some of the research I’ve done is safe and should work very well, it’s made by Lexol and it’s called Vinylex. Designed by the guys that really know their stuff when it comes to interior conditioning and protecting.

The last and final tip to keeping your automotive interior, including your dash, looking it’s best and lasting longer is window tint. Now in some states you need to be careful with the tinting laws to make sure you don’t get it too dark, plus you need to think of your safety too. I have tint on our family Tahoe and I kinda wish I would have gone a little lighter, at night it’s really hard to see, my Tahoe stays nice and cool, but it’s a pain in the butt at night. I have to roll the window down sometimes just to see. So keep it light and you will be impressed with the results, plus it looks cool.

Now on with the fix for that crack in your dash.

Depending on where the crack is and how big it is will depend on how to fix it and how expensive the repair will be. If the crack is bigger then 2″-3″ and curled up on the edges, the repair will probably not look that great. There is a limit to the size of crack that can be repaired, too big and it probably won’t hold and will look like crap. If the crack is too big, replace the dash pad, don’t try to fix it. Another thing is location, if the crack is up close to the windshield then it’s almost impossible to do a repair without removing the windshield, which can be costly. So with that said you be the judge.

The first thing I do before I start any repair is to mix my color, this insures that at least the color will be right.

Next I inspect the crack in the dash, if the edges are curled up then you will need to trim that off with a razor blade or Xacto knife. The goal here is to get the area as level as you can. Now when doing so cut at a 45 degree angle and don’t bring the ends to a point, what I mean by this is trim all the way around the crack rounding off the ends of the crack, this will insure that the crack will stop and not crack further after your repair.

Of course your next step is prepping the repair area, use your prep solution with a scotch brite pad and clean the area thoroughly. You might need to clean the entire dash depending on where and how large the crack is.

Now it’s time to determine what fix you going to use.

If the crack is smaller then an 1/2″ I usually grab the super glue and do a super glue repair. I do this by spreading the glue in the crack then sanding it smooth with a 240 grit sandpaper, texture with your water based spray grain, then dye.

But there are times when your vinyl repair compound will need to be used, after all this is vinyl. The low cure usually works best because high heat tends to warp the repair area. This is where your patience comes in when doing your repairs. Thin layers of compound work best, curing and dying between coats until the area is level and smooth. You can texture while layering your compound with your grain pads. One little trick I use to help level the repair when using a grain pad is a little rubber squeegee about 3″x5″, it’s what body shops use to squeegee the water off the painted surface when they wet sand. This little thing works great, when you use your hand to imprint your grain into your repair, your hand kinda molds around the area and doesn’t leave a level area but with the rubber squeegee it gives you a little more backing when you go to imprint. Now graining your repair can be tricky, the low cure compound doesn’t grain that well, but if all else fails make sure the repair is level, this is your best hide. If that is achieved then texture with your spray grain.

One last trick up my sleeve is the use of a great product from Urethane Supply Co. This is a two part epoxy like substance that is specifically designed for padded dashes and the name says it all, Padded Dash Filler.

This stuff is the bomb, when it comes to dash repair. Mixes like Bondo and is even applied like bondo, but its flexible. It’s just what the doctor ordered when it comes to dash repair. If the crack is larger then 1″ this is the stuff to use.

Now this product will require you to trim the area and then sand around the area about 1″ to 2″ out with a heavier grit sandpaper like a 180 grit, this gives it something to bite too. Trim down into the foam a little to, so that you make like a little groove for the compound to lay in.

Mix your compound on a small piece of tile, I like using small tile pieces, they clean up easily and are easier to hold when mixing and applying. Now when you get the product they send you the red catalyst, try the blue, it seems to set up a little quicker. The blue you can get at any automotive parts shop. But the red works just as good just takes it a little longer, time is money in my business.

Apply your compound liberally over the repair area, don’t worry about getting your first coat really smooth, all you need is to get it covered, you’ll be sanding it smooth later. Let it set up for a while, depending on the weather will depend on how long this stuff takes. You can speed it up a little with a heat gun but don’t melt it just give it a little boost.

Once hardened start sanding, I usually start with a 180 grit to knock off the big chunks then progressively move my way up to a finer grit like 240 and then to 400.

One coat won’t be sufficient, I promise, this is another layer thing. Sanding between coats. Each coat you apply you will need to make smoother. Again what your trying to achieve is a smooth level repair.

After all is smooth and level, grain with a spray grain then dye.

As far as texture goes, I use two types of spray grain. One is a water based spray grain and the other is Sems Texture Coat. In fact the Sems Texture Coat almost matches the some of the Pontiac dashes to a tee. Now the Sems Texture coat is a solvent based, but I haven’t had a problem with it peeling up against the water based dyes on the dash, so kudos to Sems.

One other trick I have found with the the Sems Texture Coat is after sprayed if you let it flash out a little but not dry completely, you can take your grain pad and imprint your grain into the texture coat, pretty cool huh.

Dash repair is an art and a craft, just like all automotive interior repairs. If the steps are followed right and patience is used in your repairs you success will be good.

Hope this helps in your dash repair adventure. One thing to always keep in mind is to keep your repair as level as possible, this is your best hide.

Leather Repair – How to Repair a Worn Leather Steering Wheel

I wrote a post a while back about how to repair a worn leather steering wheel and have gotten a lot of traffic to it but to be honest with you it’s what I call a quick fix, not a good permanent fix like what a person really needs in this business. So today I’m gonna write it a little different and give the right way to repair a worn leather steering wheel.

All the leather in today’s vehicles are being dyed with a water based dye. It’s not only safer for the environment, which we all know is really big right now, but it’s also more flexible and better for the leather itself.

My last post I wrote I gave you a quick fix using a solvent based dye. Now I’m not saying that if you were in a pinch that using a solvent based would be a bad thing, but like I said it’s a quick fix, nothing you would really want to do for a customer that’s expecting a long lasting repair.

The basic’s are the same as far as the use of a drop cloth to avoid over spray getting on the instrument panel, and the prepping is kinda the same too. But what I’m here to do is to show the right way to do this.

So with that said here we go.

After you’ve put your drop cloth behind the steering wheel, wrapping it around so that no over spray will get where you don’t want it to, take a scotch brite pad and my prepping solution and clean the leather steering wheel really good making sure you get the back of the steering wheel too. Nothing bugs me more the to see a steering wheel that has been repaired and all they have done is repaired the front. When you look through the windshield from the outside what do you see, umm the back of the steering wheel, so clean all the way around.

Once you have it clean, it’s time to address the wear that has been done to the leather.

If the leather has frayed then that frayness (not sure if that’s a word but it fits) needs to be sanded down smooth. You do this with a combination of the use of different grits of sandpaper, dry and wet sanding, and the use of leather filling compounds.

What I will do is start with a heavier grit, 240 usually but sometimes even a 120 to get there a little quicker. Wet the paper with my prepping solution and start sanding. The prepping solution will break through the dye that is already there and actually smear around bit, use this to your advantage, it kinda works as a filler and helps to smooth things out quicker. Sand until it becomes dry. Then move up to a finer grit like 400, and do the same. If it’s not as smooth as you want then move up to an even finer grit sandpaper like a 600. At this time you can still use the wet sanding technique or you can dry sand it, this will depend on the amount of damage your dealing with.

Once you have the area fairly smooth, you need to seal the leather with your water based grip base, this will not only help your compounds to stick better but make your repair easier to work with and last a lot longer in the end. I do this by taking my grip base in a small squirt bottle and put a small amount onto a folded wet paper towel then wiping it over the leather steering wheel.

After you have sealed the leather it’s time to break out your leather repair compounds. Now I have found that applying it with your finger is the easiest then trying to use a pallet knife, kinda hard to curve your pallet knife around such a tight curve. Compounds that I use the most on leather steering wheels is the old Leather Crack Filler or I’ll use Viper Products Leather Extreme Fill. Both work really well with applying it with your finger and both stay put really well too. I mostly use the Leather Crack Filler first then if I need to fill smaller imperfections then I’ll use the Leather Extreme Fill. I’ve found that the Leather Crack fill just works the best, it sands out nicely as well as stays put when sanding too.

The biggest thing to remember in repairing a worn leather steering wheel is to get it as smooth as possible, the less amount of leather repair compounds you use the better. It’s just less to go wrong later and you have a better chance of the dyes sticking in the end.

One other tip I can give you is on the Chrysler leather steering wheels and it’s on these only I have found this. Not really sure why they do this but they do. The dye actually balls up and makes the steering wheel look really rough. You can sand this if you want but I have found a better way of dealing with this without wearing your arm out trying to sand the dye down smooth. Take a terry cloth towel and some lacquer thinner and rub the dye off with the lacquer thinner soaked towel. This will take it right down to the leather and make it nice and smooth. Sometimes you will have to sand a bit after wards to get the raw leather smooth but you will surprised at the time and energy this will save you. Once your done you can fill and seal the raw leather then dye to match.

After all the imperfections are sanded, filled and smooth, you will need to prep the leather for dye. I will wipe the leather steering wheel down with my prepping solution careful not to rub the filler out then apply another coat of grip base. This ensures the dye will stick and not come off later down the road.

Now it’s time to apply your water based dye to match.

You can do this a couple of ways, either wipe it on or spray it on with either a paint gun or a preval. I almost always spray my dyes, it just seems to look better in the end and less dye is wasted, but that is totally up to you. I have found it’s easier to also run the vehicle while your dying the leather steering wheel because you can position the wheel where you need it and your not trying to dye with your gun upside down. Remember the back of the leather steering wheel too 🙂

Some people after dying will stop and call it good, which is OK because the dyes I use are ready to spray and really don’t need anything else. But I like to topcoat all my dyes with a clear water based topcoat, to me it just gives more of a barrier to wear and makes the repair last longer. I use a low gloss topcoat applied with a spray gun just like the dye.

Now I still don’t stop there either…This is a little trick I came up with kinda on my own. I found that some of the leather steering wheels after being repaired and dyed just felt dry and didn’t look natural. What I do is apply a water based leather conditioner and then I apply a leather wax or chap wax. What this does is not only restore the oils lost in the repair process but make the leather steering wheel look and feel factory. The wax also protects the leather from water and lotions that may get on there later. It just makes the leather look and feel new again!

Products that I use in all my repairs are from one of I think is the best on the market, Viper Products. I have used a lot of different products in the past and have found Viper has a higher performance dye and compounds then any other I’ve used before. So go check them out, I really think you will be impressed!

Well I hope this helps more then my last post on how to repair a leather steering wheel. Just remember to take your time when doing any repair and use a water based dye on the leather, not only is it safer for you and everybody else but I promise you it will look better in the end and last a lot longer which is what you wanted in the first place.