If you have cracks in your dashboard, it’s not only annoying, but it clearly shows that your car is “getting on in years” or has already passed its prime. An attractive and flawless dashboard gives the overall impression that your car has been taken care of and well-maintained.
Where do the cracks come from?
Since your car dash is located directly below the windscreen it is constantly exposed to the sun causing the chlorine in the PVC of the vinyl to gradually evaporate. The coating then becomes hard, brittle, and can no longer expand or contract in relation to the temperature. The first cracks will then appear in places where the tension is higher. If you don’t take care of these right away, the cracks will work their way across your dashboard. The foam underneath will absorb moisture from the air and begin to swell. This causes the typical crack that can often be found in older vehicles. A completely cracked dash is hardly salvageable without removal and putting in a good three-days of work. Therefore, you should take action at the slightest sign of damage, otherwise it will become time-consuming and costly.
Tackle the small cracks and holes
An entire industry has developed around the topic of “spot repair” which offers the right repair kit for practically every minor damage in or on your vehicle – the dashboard is no exception.
Although it may sound counter-intuitive, the first step in repairing the crack is to enlarge it. The gap must be made big enough so that the filler can be applied in the proper thickness.
First cut off the “swollen” edge of the crack with a sharp knife. Then make a wedge-shaped cut creating a base for filling the damaged area. Make sure this is thoroughly clean and wiped with rubbing alcohol creating a grease-free surface to which the repair compounds can properly adhere. Next the area has to be heated-up. Professionals usually use a soldering iron with a specially made hot plate at the tip. If you have a repair kit, go ahead and use the mini heat iron which will be included with the other items.
The next step is to fill the spot with the compound, creating the perfect foundation for a successful repair. Now you have to sand it down, creating a hollow area of about 2 mm deep and 5 mm wide. Make sure the spot is completely clean and apply the plastic filler with the hardener and the colour that matches your dash. Both components have to be mixed together in the ratio prescribed in the instructions and spread over the area you are repairing. Press the texture paper onto the spot before the filler has a chance to harden. This transfers the matching texture into the area, making it practically invisible. A lot can be achieved in the interior of a car with this small measure. Whether armrests or the side of the doors – wherever vinyl-covered foam is used, these can be repaired well with these simple tricks.
The nitty-gritty – complete restoration
What if the entire dashboard is already in a dismal condition? In this case only a correspondingly tough measure will help. It must be removed completely and this can sometimes be a lot of work. If you really want to set about this task, you should remove the seats, the steering wheel, the gear stick, and possibly the doors as well. Don’t forget to consider the passenger airbag if your car is equipped with one. Make sure you have the repair instructions so that you won’t make any mistakes during removal.
Once the dashboard has been removed, a spot repair usually isn’t enough. The sanding, widening, and filling is done the same way as in the case of small repairs. However the “spot repair” is over at the latest when the filling compound has been sanded down. Now the entire dashboard has to be repainted in several layers. For this, you can buy very interesting textured lacquers that perfectly imitate the vinyl texture.
Why not just re-cover it?
It is practically impossible to re-cover it due to the manufacturing process of these components. They are covered on a vacuum moulding table with the appropriately-shaped mould. If these means are not at one’s disposal, the hobby mechanic needs to seek alternatives.
Enjoy your “new” car
Perhaps no one but you will notice the revamped dashboard at first glance since it will blend it perfectly with the well-kept state of the interior. If small things like the gear knob, steering wheel cover, and floor are also renewed, even an older car can feel brand-new.