Near New Interior - A Step-by-Step Guide to Restoration of Worn Car Seats
By Brian Marks
Perhaps you’ve been here before: A customer spotted a ”find” at a used-car lot. For him, it’s the perfect pre-owned vehicle that fits his needs and matches his budget. He loves everything — except the interior. So, he turns to you for advice.
The interior of the car has seen better days. There are nicks and scratches inside and faded seats. Here’s the thing: There are ways to make the interior of the car look and feel the way your customer wants it without having to reupholster everything and invest a fortune in the inside of the vehicle.
From leather car seats to vinyl or plastic door panels, armrests, and steering wheels — much of it can be re-dyed and restored to look much closer to new.
Here’s an inside look at how it works. As an example, we’ll use a 25-year-old BMW with tired, beige leather seats and transform the interior into a crisp, cinnamon-colored space that looks and feels almost new.
Step 1: Remove All the Parts of the Car that Require a Color Change
This may seem fairly obvious, but the first order of business is to take out everything that you will be restoring. Depending on how robust the restoration is, you will remove the front seats, the back seats, center console, door panels, steering wheel, and dashboard.
At this point, the car on the inside may look a bit like some kind of Dr. Frankenstein experiment. The key here is knowing your car and having a feel for its unique interior before taking anything out. Remember, you have to put it all back once everything is restored.
Step 2: A Serious Cleaning and Prep
First, use an all-purpose cleaner to scrub each part to remove surface dirt or contaminants. A power drill with a nylon brush can be helpful — it helps scuff up the area before adding dyeto change the seat colors. (Do not use this method if you aren’t dyeing).
Next, go through all the parts again, ensuring everything is clean. From there, apply a leather etch followed by a leather prep formula to the leather parts. That will help with dye adhesion.
Step 3: Fix Holes and Cuts in the Items You’re Restoring
Repairing parts of the interior that have gashes or tears is critical at this stage. Use special professional repair products for vinyl or leather here. For example, certain products along with a grain mold, when applied correctly, will give you the right texture. You may need to go over it again to ensure holes are filled.
Make sure you repair major gashes or blemishes before you begin with dyeing anything.
Step 4: Seatbelt Restoration
Here’s a tip to make the seatbelts look shiny and new: Scrub the plastic clean using the same all-purpose cleaner. Then, heat it up. A Steinel HL 1910e with a direct nose cone can help with precise heating. From there, sand the tight spots and repeat these steps again using a heat gun. It’s a very effective technique, but be careful not to overheat. If you try this technique, be sure to heat slowly.
Step 5: Start to Dye the Seats
Once you assemble your dye materials, you will need to apply four to six coats to using an airbrush ensures precision in tight areas.mask the old seat color. When I do this, I have my dye in a bottle with a mesh screen to remove any solids. Securing the jar to an airbrush and dyeing is one way to ensure precision in tight areas such as where seams and cushions come together.
Next, put the dye into a larger spray gun and repeat the spraying, much in the same way you would complete a concours paint job.
The art of interior dyeing is not unlike painting an exterior. Keep your arm at a 90-degree angle, at a constant distance from the surface, and apply the dye with a 50 percent overlap.
We use white or gray dye as a transition to reduce the number of layers. The fewer layers you can get away with the better, as it looks more natural and, in turn, reduces the cost of the interior restoration.
Center console detail.
Step 7: After You Dye, Dry
This is a pretty straightforward process. I use hairdryers to dry the seats. Also, as you’re doing this, open up the seams and creases to see if any spots were missed or need further color work. This type of attention to detail is what makes the end result look so good.
Step 8: Inspect for Missed Spots
Once everything is fully dried, inspect it again for any missed spots. This is best done by someone who hasn’t been layering the dye, as multiple eyes are always best. I typically have another team member who hasn’t been working on the job give me a second opinion. If you have been the one doing the color work, your eyes play tricks on your brain and it can be difficult to catch lightly missed areas.
Step 9: Last Step: Top Coat
The last step in the dyeing process is putting on the top coat. In this step, you’re deciding between whether you want the parts to have a shiny or more muted look. To strike the desired balance, mix any ratio of matte and gloss with an activator and reducer to achieve the intended sheen. Dry thoroughly afterward and be sure not to let the parts touch each other for several hours or days after finishing up.
cleaning and preparation are 80 percent of the work.So there you have it. Following these steps will help in your next interior restoration, making your seats look almost new. The key is to take it slowly if you have never done this before. Follow a process and know what you’re doing before you put any new dye on the car seats. Cleaning and preparation are 80 percent of the work, so be sure to complete those steps beyond question before attempting the actual color and top-coat work.
Brian Marks is the owner of Fibrenew North Raleigh Wake Forest, a completely mobile concept to repair, restore, and renew damaged leather, plastic, vinyl, fabric, and upholstery. Fibrenew saves customers time and money by offering an alternative to replacement. On-site service is super-convenient and far more economical than having to buy new. As an added benefit, Fibrenew is an eco-friendly business, helping prevent thousands of items from ending up in landfills each year. For more information, visit fibrenew.com/nrwf.