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If your car, truck, or van is older than about 10 years old, chances are the headliner is at least beginning to sag in spots. Worst case scenario is it looks like my ’84 Charger. The original headliner material was almost completely gone before I ever took possession of the car. All that was left was the ugly peg board stuff.
I decided to revamp the interior and the headliner was part of the plan. I needed to remove most of the trim to get the headliner in and out, so I decided to re-dye the plastic trim at the same time. Look for details in a separate article. Headliner material is sold at most fabric shops by the yard. Each roll is 54” wide, so a yard of material is 36” X 54”. The Charger required 1.5 yards. You’ll need some sort of contact cement. I used Elmer’s Contact Adhesive. There is regular headliner glue, but the Elmer’s has worked well for me in the past and is easier to find than specialty products.
To begin, all of the trim that overlaps the headliner must be removed. In the case of the Charger, this includes the sun visors, dome light, sunroof trim, sunroof crank handle, seatbelt retractor covers, top side, front, and rear trim, the A pillar trim had to be unscrewed and laid back, and the ENTIRE REAR QUARTER TRIM had to be removed! That last one is a major ordeal. To get everything out, I even had to pull the rear seats. If a piece of trim doesn’t want to come out, keep looking for hidden screws. A missed screw is a surefire way to break things. The seatbelts had to be unbolted at the floor so they could pass through the hole in the headliner.
With the headliner removed, brush off all of the old dried and rotted foam backing. This dry powdery crap will prevent the new headliner from adhering properly. I used compressed air to get the dust residue off after brushing. Next lay the headliner backing on a flat sturdy surface, preferably outside. The glue will stink up the house and make everything in the room tacky. Lay the material on top of the backing and get it centered. Lay it the way it will be glued with the colored side up.
Fold the material in half away from you and spray about a 4” to 6” strip from left to right on both the board and cloth. Roll the material towards you, pressing it in place as you go. Spray another band and roll again. Repeat this process until you reach the end, then go to the other side, fold the material back, and repeat. After you have it glued in place, work the material to get any wrinkles and bubbles out. Get it as smooth and even as you can.
Use a pair of scissors to trim the excess from the outer edges. If you have a hole for the sunroof, trim that as well. Smaller holes like the ones for the sun visors are easier to trim with an Exacto knife. After all of the excess has been trimmed and you have all of the holes cleared, it’s time to reinstall.
This is easier to do with two people, but is possible to do with just one. Decide on one or two pieces that can be bolted in place to hold the headliner up. I chose a sun visor and the sunroof crank handle. Get these pieces and screws ready and handy awhile. While maneuvering the new headliner into place, the seat belts and dome light needed to be fed back through. After it was where it was supposed to be, I put the sunroof crank handle on. Next I installed the driver’s side sun visor. At this point it stayed in place without any help.
Just keep installing trim pieces and securing them in place. Eventually you run out of parts and can assume that the installation is finished. The sunroof trim required a putty knife to keep from pinching the headliner material. I just pushed the material up with the putty knife and pushed the trim over the knife and headliner.
Once the trim is back in place, you’re finished. Guess what? You just added a couple hundred dollars value to your car and it only cost you about $25. Good job!
Also see our standard headliner-repair page.
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