10 Tips For A Perfect Classic Car Dashboard Restoration

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Bringing new life to a classic car requires work, including what to do with the dashboard. What are ten tips for a perfect classic car dashboard restoration?

As you already know, the dash is one of the most important aspects of a classic car’s interior restoration. It is the first thing many judges look at, and it can make or break a win in any serious car competition. Because it is so crucial to the aesthetic of an older car, how do you restore a faded dash to almost like new? Are there home remedies you can use? What about a dashboard that is cracked from age? Can those conditions be salvaged? Do you have to go out and buy a completely new dash or hire someone to fix it?

Here are some tips to help restore a dashboard. First, assess the condition of the dash to find what needs to be done. Second, repair if needed and clean the dash. Finally, you can bring the dash to life with oils or waxes through regular maintenance.

The last thing you want to do is use some chemical that eats away at the dashboard or leaves a streaky residue behind. With the number of classic car parts dwindling by the day, the chances of finding a perfect dashboard with everything intact might be remote and may not be worth the trouble. And while you could send the car out to have some professional do the work, you would rather not incur that expense (we get it). So what should you do if you want to restore your dusty classic car dashboard?

Here are a few tips we have learned on the way. The process involves a basic before, during, and after approach.

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What Are Ten Tips for a Perfect Classic Car Dashboard Restoration?

Here are some basic ideas for the perfect restoration of a dashboard that needs serious attention.

Assess the Condition of the Dashboard

A close visual inspection can go a long way to helping you determine how big a project you have on your hands. If there are no separations, or cracks (where you can see the foam pad underneath), you may be able to get by with basic cleaning and sealing. Unfortunately, many older cars have been so exposed to the elements for so long that the dashboard cracks and splits so that the foam pad becomes exposed. As you inspect, be careful not to put any weight on your dashboard. Some dashboards have become brittle and are just a few pounds of pressure from developing more serious issues.

Repairing an Obvious Crack in the Dash

The first thing a restorer does is inspect the imperfections in the dashboard. Because most dashboards are either vinyl or a rigid plastic laminated to a foam pad, significant cracks will require a more intense process to repair. You will need flexible epoxy and some sandpaper to perform the task. One of the best is SEM Dual Max Multi-Plastic Repair Material. The epoxy is small enough to work on plastic bumpers, dashboards, and sands very efficiently.

Once the area is cleared of excess debris, you can apply the epoxy into the crack and level off with an old credit card. Use a microfiber towel to immediately wipe up any excess epoxy that might get pushed onto the good part of the dashboard. Wait for an hour at least to let the epoxy cure before beginning to sand with 220-grit sandpaper. You may need to keep applying another round of epoxy and sanding until the crack is filled and leveled with the rest of the dashboard. Polish the area with 500-grit sandpaper.

You need to texturize the crack area so it can receive paint. Spray-on texture can be found at most auto parts stores. Once applied, it should be allowed to flash dry. Carefully polish with 500-grit sandpaper and repeat the process until you're ready to apply paint.

Cleaning a Faded Dashboard

There are lots of different ways to restore a faded dashboard. From cleansers you can purchase at your local auto parts stores to homemade remedies to everything in between, the options are about as varied as the number of automobiles on the road. Of course, one option is to send the car and dashboard out to a professional restorer if paying someone else to do the job isn’t an issue. But if you happen to be on a budget, keep reading for some helpful tips.

Use a Vaccum With a Brush Attachment First

Using a vacuum on the entire dash to suck up any dust, dirt, or debris is a great place to start. This initial action can eliminate dirt particles that could get pushed around on the dashboard or gunk up a wiping cloth.

Wipe down the Dashboard Thoroughly with Soap and Water

Before applying any kind of remedy, use a dampened microfiber cloth to wipe any dust or dirt, or grime away from the surface of the dashboard. A thorough cleaning will help you see any scratches, ink, or other grime areas that might need further attention. A separate microfiber cloth with a tiny bit of rubbing alcohol can remove ink, magic marker stains, or even sticky places where the sun may have begun to melt the plastic. You don’t want to rub so hard that it ruins the surface but apply just enough to soften and clean.

Use A Microfiber Cloth - Leave the Paper Towel in the Kitchen

While many people reach for the roll of paper towels when wiping down their dashboard, I prefer a good microfiber towel. The primary advantage of a microfiber towel is that its fibers are small enough to be very absorbent without leaving the bits of residue that an ordinary paper towel might not absorb. Also, because the hairs on a microfiber towel are about 200 times thinner than human hair, these fibers can reach into the crevices and trap dust particles. A recent study found that microfiber towels were 98% effective at removing germs, and paper towels caught a lot less. Also, I hate going through a roll or two of paper towels that I know are better served cleaning the kitchen. (If my classic is worth enough for me to invest money in, then it is worth the luxury of being polished with a microfiber cloth - just saying).

Purchase a Cleanser/Restorer at the Store

You can use many cleansers and polishes from the store on your dashboard. CarGuys Super Cleaner and Meguiars Ultimate Interior Cleaner have chemical compounds to bring faded dashboards to life and are some of the most highly rated. Be sure to test the cleaner on an inconspicuous area of the dash to ensure that it achieves the effect you desire.

Invest in a Spray Bottle and Some Qtips

Putting your cleaning solution into a simple spray bottle is a good idea. There is a reason that professional detailers have their chemical compounds in spray bottles. The liquid can be applied more efficiently, and the coverage is better than just putting some gel on a cloth. Qtips are cheap and can be used to reach areas that a cloth may not be able to penetrate, like vents.

Clean the Plastic on Instrumental Panels

Most instrument panels covering the speedometer or odometer have clear plastic that must be wiped down and cleaned. Wipe the plastic down with a damp cloth, and then use a little window cleaner (non-alcohol) if needed to reveal any scratches or scrapes that might be visible. If you need a plastic cleaner on a microfiber cloth, wiping in small circular motions can help restore the clarity. A soft toothbrush or dampened Qtip can reach the crevices and corners of hard-to-reach areas. One of the best plastic cleaners is Meguiars Mirror Glaze Clear Plastic Cleaner.

Use Circular Motions Rather than Back and Forth

The secret to not scratching the clear plastic on an instrument panel is to be gentle and systematic in your approach. Circular motions work best because the microfiber cloth repeats the motion rather than a brisk back and forth wiping. If your panel has multiple round plastic readouts, do one entirely before moving to another.

Use a Home-made Solution to Clean Your Dashboard

If you don’t have the money for a cleaner, you probably have some items that could work in your kitchen cabinet. A simple solution of white vinegar, baby oil, and a bit of dish soap with some warm water can provide a shine to an otherwise faded dashboard.

Combine Baking Soda and a bit of Oil To Remove Odors

Many classic cars have foul odors because they have been shut up in storage for years. While a good detail can eliminate the mold or other nasty bacterias that tend to thrive in an uncirculated environment, sometimes the odor lingers. A simple baking soda solution is an excellent way of cleaning your dashboard and eliminating foul smells. Combine the baking soda into a shaker (like a spice shaker and sprinkle it liberally over the dash. (Cloth seats absorb odors, so I do both the dash and the seats). Vacuum it up and apply a solution of cleaner with a microfiber cloth.

Use Some Lemon Juice and Olive Oil

Some detailers make their own lemon juice and olive oil solution to create a cleanser. The acid in the lemon provides enough caustic agent to attack grime, while the olive oil acts as a lubricant and protectant for the dashboard.

Use Toothpaste as a Stain Remover

An essential white enamel toothpaste (not flavored pastes, please) can be a fantastic stain remover. The toothpaste has enough cleansing agents in it to work on stains. I prefer to use a soft brush, wash the toothpaste, and then wipe it down with a damp microfiber cloth.

Maintaining Your Dashboard is a Simple Routine

Routine maintenance is needed for any kind of classic vehicle. Not only should you drive your car periodically to keep the fluids circulating and the tires from developing dry rot, but you should perform other essential maintenance on the exterior and interior.

Don’t Allow Trash or Dirt to Build Up

This adage is a good rule of thumb for any car, particularly one you have invested money in restoring. Dashboards collect dust just like any surface. If you ignore the situation long enough, it just does more work in the future and could further damage the dashboard's delicate nature.

Regularly Maintain the Interior

Your car's interior should be shined at least once every six months after cleaning and restoring it. Be vigilant if you're planning on storing your vehicle. In an extreme climate, you must perform maintenance more often.

Keep The Car Covered

Any exposure to the sun, water, or the elements like UV rays can cause damage to your vehicle. Garage your vehicle in a climate-controlled environment like a garage so that extreme temps don’t cause unnecessary damage.