The smell of a new car is almost worth the purchase price alone. The opposite is unfortunately also true – nobody wants to spend time in a vehicle where the seats are in tatters, the sagging headliner touches your scalp and the steering-wheel leather is cracked. But you can have all those items repaired for less than you might think.
The idea for this article developed when I started investigating how to have the interior of my 1973 Volkswagen Beetle 1600 revamped. Although the bodywork was mint condition, the same could not be said about the driver and passenger seats, as well as a rear section of roofliner that was peeling away. Dinesh from Dinesh Auto Trimmers in Cape Town promised to restore the cabin to its original lustre while explaining the craft of auto trimming.
Generally, a car’s driver seat takes the most punishment and damage can range from scuffed side bolsters to complete failure of the internal structure. However, the most common problem is a sagging squab.
An auto trimmer should remove the seat and take it apart to assess the extent of the damage. If the seat structure is intact, a partial or full seat covering is all that’s needed. Occasionally, the spring mechanism needs to be refurbished and the foam reinforced. There is no point in having a seat that looks good but does not support the driver. The best way to evaluate a repaired seat is to “have a seat”, says Dinesh.
The main cause of roofliner damage is water ingress at the front windscreen seal. This tends to loosen the adhesive, which results in sagging. It happens most often with a cardboard-type liner where the material and foam are glued to a thin cardboard backing plate. Obviously, the cause needs to be addressed first. In older cars such as the Beetle, a bow roofliner is used where metal bows that span the width of the roof are responsible for keeping the shape of the unit.
To repair a cardboard-type headliner, the auto trimmer removes the whole unit, including the covering material and foam. If reusable, the cardboard is cleaned and recovered with foam and the replacement material. Special glue is employed to ensure it can withstand elevated in-cabin temperatures.
Door panels and dash
Again, the driver’s door panel takes the most beating. Perspiration on an elbow tends to wear away the material on the rest. In all cases, the door panel is removed before the armrest is rebuilt. Discoloured material are either dyed (when intact) or replaced to exact specification.
In some cases, the factory-applied rubber-like coating on the plastic armrest wears off and leaves a shiny appearance. To fix this, the rubber coating is completely removed before a similar spray-on product replaces it to return the original, unblemished look. This process is also applied to a cracked dash after all the flaws have been fixed using a plastic repair process.
Damage can range from a cracked covering, in which case the wheel will have to be reupholstered, to a separation of the foam material from the wheel structure. There is no permanent way to fix the latter. Recovering is a labour-intensive job because the steering wheel (and airbag) needs to be removed, but it’s worth it because a skilled auto-trim technician will be able to match the factory-specification stitch pattern and colour.
Most modern cars employ a single carpet for the entire cabin that’s called a one-mould piece. An auto trimmer replaces the single piece with four individual sections that are moulded to each footwell to ensure a perfect fit. The seams are hidden from view.
Thanks to Dinesh Auto Trimmers for giving us info and allowing us to take photos.
Contact Dinesh on 082 873 2707 or email [email protected]