Not a pretty sight: an instrument panel with cracks, making your car appear “long in the tooth”, in other words: “over the hill”. Yet, this is not necessarily so. A flawless dashboard reinforces the harmonious, neat overall impression that you always want from your car.
A well-maintained car can have hundreds of thousands of miles on the clock and still look good. Therefore: although a cracked dashboard can be a repair challenge, it might turn out to be worth your while.
Why are there cracks in the dashboard?
The dashboard panel is situated right beneath the windscreen and permanently exposed to the glare of the sun, causing the chloride in the PVC of the vinyl trim to gradually evaporate. The paneling becomes brittle, hard and is no longer capable of flexibly expanding or contracting.
On spots where tensions are strongest, i.e. at oblong gaps or other cavities, the first cracks occur. If these are not immediately seen, the cracks are likely to expand over the entire instrument panel.
Also, the underneath foam absorbs the moisture in the air causing it to swell. This is what causes the typical cracks with their billowing edges often seen on dashboards of older cars. A completely cracked dashboard can only be salvaged by complete disassembly.
Avoiding small cracks and holes
A flourishing industry has evolved around the theme “spot repair“, offering a suitable repair kit for practically every minimal damage in and on the car, including dashboard cracks. These sets consist of
– thermoplastic resin
– hot plate
– repair filler in several colours
– structure paper
– sharp knife
It might seem contra-productive, yet the first step of repairing a crack on the instrument panel is widening the hole to make it sufficiently large for applying the repair filler in the appropriate thickness.
- To do so, the billowing edges of the crack are cut off.
- Then, a wedge-shaped cut is made. This is the basis for a step-by-step filling repair of the cracked dashboard.
- The crack must be thoroughly cleaned. Afterward, the entire repair spot should be rubbed with isopropyl alcohol, causing a grease-free surface enabling the thermoplastic resin to adhere. To apply the resin to the crack, it must be heated first.
- Professionals use a soldering iron with a special hot plate at the tip. A hot plate is generally included in the repair kit. It is heated with a soldering iron and pressed onto the resin bar. When the resin completely fills the crack, the basis is laid out for a successful repair.
- Upon filling, the crack is sanded. The filled spot must be approximately 2 – 5 mm in depth.
- Subsequently, the sanded area is thoroughly cleaned again.
- Now, the repair filler is applied. The filler consists of the filling mass in the matching colour and a hardener. Both components are mixed in the prescribed ratio and applied to the repair spot. The filled spot may be smooth.
- Before the filling mass is hardened out, the structured paper is pressed onto it, applying structure to the repair spot and making it practically invisible – exactly what you wish to effect.
This small trick has a great impact on the car interior. No matter if it is the armrests or door paneling, wherever vinyl-clad foam is used, these simple tricks are very effective.
DIY dashboard restoration
What to do when the dashboard is in a desperate state? This calls for a desperate measure: disassembly, which can be quite a lot of work.
One tip: if you really want to take on this task, seats and steering wheel have to be removed.
If possible, even removing the doors is recommended. When disassembling the instrument panel it is important to consider the passenger-seat airbag. If there is one installed in the car, you absolutely need to have the repair manual for this type ready to avoid making mistakes when removing the dashboard.
When the dashboard is removed, it comes down to more than just spot repair. Sanding, widening and filling the crack is done in the same way as the small repair.
Nevertheless, after sanding the filler mass, you are done with spot repair. Now the entire dashboard must be painted professionally and in several layers. The accessory trade offers very adequate structured paint, perfectly imitating the vinyl structure.
Why not re-trim?
Practically, the renewal of the vinyl trimming on a cracked instrument panel is no suitable option due to the production process of these parts. Dashboards are trimmed on a vacuum forming mold with the help of shaping tools.
Without these tools, a DIY’er has to rely on alternatives. Attempting to glue a new cover onto the instrument panel is a recipe for failure.
Making the most of the occasion
Dashboard disassembly is a hell of a job – and therefore an appropriate occasion for executing all useful preventive repair.
- An example of useful preventive repair is the replacement of all lamps with effective and reliable LEDs. This does not only apply to the speedometer. The accessory trade offers lamps for all available fittings.
- And even if it is still in working order, be sure to replace the heat exchanger of the interior heating system when the dashboard is removed. This otherwise completely hidden spare part is bound to fail sooner or later, which can cause considerable damage.
Heat exchangers for your car
now up from £ 7,12
- Leaking moisture can cause electric damage or mold in the interior. When the dashboard is removed, the additional £15 – £30 for a new heat exchanger in the interior heating is a sensible investment.
A new dashboard makes a car beautiful
Hardly anyone will notice a repaired instrument panel at first sight. Nevertheless, it blends in harmonically with the maintained interior. By additionally replacing several minor items such as switches, steering wheel trimming, footwell mats, and pedal rubbers, the old car feels like a new one.
Foto: Dmitry Dven, SARYMSAKOV ANDREY, robophobic, Sylvia Biskupek, chalermphon_tiam, Fusionstudio, thunder50, Nor Gal, Aleksandr Kondratov, kesipun / shutterstock.com