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Fixing Car and Truck Headliners

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Fixing Car and Truck Headliners

Shadow/Sundance and similar cars

by Peter Faggella / edited by Matilda Patterson

Remove all trim around the headliner. In the P-body, there are three screws that remove the metal bracket on the hatch that holds the back of the headliner on.

Remove the Torx bolts that hold on the coat hangers and visors.

The A pillars are held on by one screw that is covered by a circular trim piece that blends into your factory trim color. Pry off the cover with a small flathead and use a phillips head to pull the screw out. From there, grab the end of the A pillar trim and pull it out. Pull it towards the oppositer side of the car. It will snap, and come out.

You do not have to remove the B pillar molding completely. First off you must pop the covers off the seat belt bracket. A flathead screwdriver works well for this purpose. Remove the seat belt bolt with a 13/16 inch spark plug socket. From there, pry put the trim from the top of the headliner, so it rests against the B pillar metal. It will give you enough clearance to pull out the headliner.

The piece between the B pillar molding and the rear of the car is only about a foot long. It will pop right off with a screwdriver.
The piece by the C pillars can be moved by removing the seat belt bracket. Like the B pillar trim, it will not come off completely but it will move out of your way enough to slide out the headliner board.

Open all the doors and trunk/hatchback.

Although this can be done as a one man job, it is helpful to have someone on hand to help slide the headliner board out of the car. Have him/her hold trim pieces out of the way as you slide the headliner cardboard out of the trunk. It will catch on things a couple times, but, twist and pull as needed.

You will have the headliner out of the car. Take it to a warm place to glue it. I've done three headliners, the second time it was about 45° Farenheit and the glue did not adhere. It sags. The other two were done in a warm environment, and they are perfect.

Pull off the headliner material, it will come off easily. Grab a scrub brush, or, sandpaper, and scrape the sticky foam residue off the cardboard. It will still feel a little tacky, don't worry. Just get off ALL of the foam. Once you have done this, simply use a cloth, or a shop vac to remove any remaining foam. This will ensure nothing prevents the adhesive from sticking to the board when applied.

By now, you should have already purchased your headliner material of choice. You can replace the headliner with any material. However, if you are interested in having the foam backed material, this can be purchased at Jo Ann Fabrics.
You will also need a can of 3M adhesive spray.

Now that you have everything ready to re-assemble, spray the headliner board, and place your headliner material. Use a flat object to gently press the material down o the board. NOTE: If you are using the foam backed material, the palm of your hald works well. Do not use your fingertips; this will leave divots.

Leave the board and newly adhered headliner material sit for a little while before attempting to re-install. This allows time tor things to adhere properly. This will also prevent the material from sliding when you're re-installing the board.

Simply reverse the steps for the re-installation process.

A professional weighs in

Tim Walters noted that he replaces headliners professionally and usually only charges about $100. He generally uses two cans of adhesive with a spray gun.

Fixing Headliners: JASFCAR

I replaced the headliner in my 1988 Reliant about a year and a half ago and it's holding up pretty well.

I got a kit for it from Pep Boys (called "Heads-Up" or something like that) for about $35, I believe. If you do it like that make certain that you get the proper kind of adhesive spray (it should be clearly labeled as "heavy-duty" and list it as feasible for automobile headliners on the label). The Heads-Up people make the adhesive spray as does 3M, but be sure to read the entire labels. (The 3M product I feel is better suited for the task.) When I got the kit, I also noticed there was some "temporary fix" materials for the problem you are describing, in that same area of the store where the headliner kits were being sold at.

I followed the directions in my Chilton's manual on how to do it ("Chrysler Front Wheel Drive Cars 4-Cyl 1981-1995 Repair Manual").

The hardest part for me was getting the headliner board out of the car and putting it back in (with the new headliner attached to it). This can be a real pain for a 4-door sedan I discovered.

If you do it yourself, be sure to follow all the directions exactly. Also, be careful with the insulation between the metal roof and the headliner board since it will literally "disintegrate" in your hands if you let it - if you don't support the full dimensions of it with the board. You've also got to be careful not to crack the board when pulling it out or putting it back in the car.

Be sure to also use a generous amount of adhesive spray (i.e., as much as you can get away with).

Concerning the plastic applique that goes around the sides of the headliner, you'll probably be stuck with getting that from a junker if it cracks too bad.

Written later:

My product is: "3M Super Trim Adhesive," (part number 08091).

The back label says:

"A contact adhesive designed for bonding vinyl tops, heavyweight headliners and hood silencer pads where high strength and heat resistance are needed. For lightweight headliners or other lightweight materials including adequately supported flexible vinyls, foams, insulation, and fabrics use 3M General Trim Adhesive (Part No. 08080)."

You've got to be careful I discovered with the spray nozzle tip and handle it gently so it won't crack.

This stuff is definitely better than the HEADS-UP stuff I also used when doing mine about 3 years ago. It's still holding up well but I do notice there are a few small air bubbles developing on the passenger side.

Headliner work is covered in my Chilton's manual, ("Chrysler Front Wheel Drive Cars 4-Cyl 1981-1995 Repair Manual" (8673) 20382). It's in Chapter 10 ("Body and Trim") on page 10-35 to be exact. It isn't covered at all in my Haynes manual.

It's also covered in my '89 FSM at least briefly (the book, "Engine, Chassis, and Body") but would probably be hard to find for most people that don't know where to look. For example, for my car (a K-car) you have to go to Chapter 23 ("Body"), then to "K-Body", then to "Interior Trim", then "Headlining" (on page 102) to find it. It's not referenced at all in the major index at the front of the books.

Now, I've come up with at least an idea. There are no tears in mine yet and it's still in good shape. I saved some clear plastic semi-pliable and flexible packaging materials that did have some drapery material in them. I plan to measure the width of the roof and then cut some long rectangular strips from the plastic to match the roof and then just insert them in there to give more support for the headlining.

You are absolutely right about the dome light experience. I found that out myself the hard way too. As a matter of fact, the books say to disconnect the negative battery terminal and to remove entirely the dome light assembly as 2 of the first steps.

Just be sure if/when you get the spray adhesive you read the entire label beforehand and if you get the 3M product (which I highly recommend) that it has that word "SUPER Trim Adhesive" on it.

It can be done. It just takes plenty of time and patience and having at least a general idea of what's involved in the entire process.

Ean Orsel wrote:

>there's no way to glue what's up there back up without making it look bad

Agreed. My Cousin did this just to get the material up. You could see the glue had soaked through making it look awful. And about a week later, it was flapping in the breeze anyway.

Herbert Neily wrote:

Here's my recent experience. The headliner in my 1989 Acclaim was beginning to fall. I decided that trying to work overhead, in the car, with spray adhesive was not a good idea. So, I removed all of the interior trim and turned the moulded headliner board loose. As soon as I did this, it became apparent that when the car was built, the mounded headliner must have been installed *before* the windshield was glued in place (doh!).

After many contortions and much cursing, I managed to get the board out in one piece with only a couple of cracks.

My friendly local parts guy recommended Permatex No. 765-1216, "All Purpose Spray Adhesive". Somehow, when reading the directions, I missed the sentence, "For headliners, use Permatex Bodyshop Heavy Duty Headliner & Carpet Adhesive, Part No. 27828."

I laid out the molded headliner board, sprayed it, waited for it to get tacky (a must!), smoothed out the cloth headliner (which I rolled onto a broomstick). It looked great. After letting it dry all night inside, I (somehow) managed to get the moulded board back into the car. Reinstalled all the trim.

Parked the car on the side street, congradulating myself for doing such a professional job. Drove the Alfa to work for the next couple of days. Got in the Acclaim the next day and......the damn cloth headliner had *completely* debonded from the board.

Back to the drawing board. Thinking that I would never get the moulded headliner board out again without busting it all to hell, I decided to remove the cloth and cut the board in half transversely at the dome light location. Using a sharp utility knife, I was impressed by how cleanly the board (looks like compressed & glued fiberglass batt insulation) cut. Getting the halves out was a snap.

This time, 3M "General Trim Adhesive-Clear, Part No. 051135-08088" was the weapon of choice (couldn't go back to NAPA just on general principles...). A buddy had reglued his '90 Passat's headliner with this stuff *5 years ago* with great success. This product is specifically for lightweight headliners, but "DO NOT USE THIS PRODUCT TO BOND FABRIC THAT HAS PULLED AWAY FROM ITS FOAM BACKING. THIS PRODUCT IS DESIGNED TO BOND FOAM BACKED HEADLINER TO A BACKER BOARD".

Well, the cloth liner IS foam backed, but in a few places, the foam HAD pulled away from the cloth. I carefully followed the instructions. Cut the cloth to match the joint in the moulded board. Reinstalled the halves in the car, put the trim back in (you get pretty fast at this with practice). The joint in the moulded board was such a good fit, I didn't even bother looking for some kind of trim to cover the joint. SUCCESS........for about two days. Now the cloth is about 75 percent detached again.

By this time, I'm about ready to get out the drill gun and a box of drywall screws :) I have decided that it's time to ditch the chemical bonding approach. My next attempt will be to (again) remove the trim, moulded board, etc. I will then sew the cloth to/through the board on about a 4" X 4" grid (hmmm...reminiscent of tufted hot rod upholstery - I planned it that way all along.)

One final aside: either disconnect the battery or pull the interior light fuse when monkeying with the headliner board - you'll blow the fuse if you don't - I suppose by an unintentional groud of a light receptacle.

One more: Tim Hansen repairs his car headliner

I've done this twice, with stellar results both times, and for only about $30 for everything. What you need to do is go into a decent fabric store (like a Jo-Ann or Northwest, or Hancock or something) and ask for headliner material. It's fabric bonded to foam in a roll, available in most interior colors (black, grey, tan, blue, red...folks w/ green are kinda on their own). Get enough to cover the roof of your car. Second, glue, and this is important, HAS to be 3M brand Foam Adhesive. This stuff is amazing. Comes out of the can very thick. Nothing else works as good as the 3M stuff, which is why a can costs $15. We tried a different brand and it fell down in a week. Both 3M jobs are still as good as when I did 'em, and the redo in the Crown Victoria is going on two, almost three years.

Next, remove all the interior pieces that hold the headliner in place. There should be a cardboard or fiberglass backing to it. Wrestle that out of the car (4-doors are a real pain here...slight bending may be required...) and strip off the old fabric, foam, and adhesive. This gets messy. Real messy. I recommend doing this outside, rubbing with a rag towel. Once you've got it as clean and flat as possible, match the material to the headliner, then fold it over in the middle, spray both cardboard and foam, adhere the first half of the headliner, then repeat w/ the other side.

Now, take a scissors or X-Acto knife and trim the headliner to fit the backing, leaving holes for visors, dome light, etc. Get it back into the car, reinstall the plastic, and you're set. Takes a few hours, depending on how much plastic you've got to remove in the car.

Elliott Brogren's Winter 2004 update

I found your web page on "Fixing Auto Headliners" very interesting and informative. I would like to offer the following account of my experience for possible help to future readers.

My initial plan was to simply reglue the sagging headliner in my 1985 Dodge Caravan. On removal of the headliner unit I found that the foam backing for the headliner fabric had deteriorated to dust and crumbs over most of the area. Removal of the foam that remained on the fiberglass backing board was very difficult, and removal of that that still adhered to the fabric would have ben impossible. I was very glad to find that Jo-Ann stocked headliner fabric with the foam layer already attached, even in a variety of colors.

I was not able to find the 3M spray adhesive mentioned by earlier contributors, and instead found and used 3M 90, "High Strength Adhesive", which worked very well. I believe a key step in my success was a thoroughly sealing of the surface of the fiberglass backing board to provide a firm surface for bonding the headliner material and to prevent the fiberglass from absorbing excessive adhesive.. I used Deft brand "Laquer Sanding Sealer", which dries rapidly and contains a small amount of filler (talc ?) that gives it some body. Aircraft dope, as used on fabric covered airplanes, should serve well for this step also. The first coat of the sealer was absorbed into the fiberglass where it helped strengthen and rigidize the board. Two additional coats yielded an impervious surface for adhesive application.

I recommend that any trimming, cutting of openings, and rolling of edges be done after the headliner material is bonded to the surface of the board and is fully dried. Rolled edges can be bonded with the same 3M spray, contact cement, or Duco cement. Clamping or weighting may be required to hold in place until cured. If clamps are required, sandwich the fold between thin strips of wood, sheet metal, or rigid foam to provide uniform clamping pressure and avoid pinching.

A word of caution regarding the 3M 90 adhesive: Unlike similar 3M products and other contact cements I've used, it exhibits very little cohesive bonding tendency after it has fully dried. The information on the can states a tack time of 1 to 10 minutes, but also recommends optimum bonding in 2 to 5 minutes after application. Therefore, it is necessary to work rapidly in bonding large areas.

Another update / new procedure by Paul D. Mercier, Sr.

We have owned six K-Car derivatives over the years, and all have had "Headliner Droop" in degrees.

They have been repaired with shirt pins, paper clips, wood slatting, steel strapping bands and finally wire screening formed to sandwich the "Chrysler-cloth" to the backer panel. The last was particularly nice in that you could readily dangle things from the screening and became an instant hit with my wife (a knick-knacker) and of course the grand-kids.

But when we recently picked up a nice '86 LeBaron "Woodie-Wagon" with severe droop and tears, it deserved better than screening.Note: We too had difficulties with both the no-brands and 3M Spray Adhesives on a 5th Avenue. Within a year they had all failed.

My wife had picked up a particularly nice piece of upholstery or drapery cloth at a thrift shop for a buck. It depicts birds and trees in a blue on off-white print. I suggested we use it as a headliner material since it was reasonably heavy and stretched a little (but not like the Chrysler Cheesecloth).

Took out the headliner, stripped off the original cloth and tossed it. Scrubbed the headliner backer panel with a wire brush to remove all the "fuzzies" and wiped the surface clean. Bought a quart of DAP Weldwood Contact Adhesive and a 2-1/2" cheapo paint brush at the town hardware store. Followed the instructions and applied a generous amount of adhesive to both headliner and cloth back. Suspended the cloth over the slightly dished backer by lightly wrapping the edges around its perimeter. Took one of the grand-kid's beach-balls, pressed the cloth to the backer at the mid-point and rolled it around to squeegee and adhere the cloth uniformly. Finished it up by palming it with the hand firmly. Wrapped and trimmed the edges around the backer, then stapled it near the edge incrementally. Exacto-knived the light openings (two on wagons), sun visor and screw holes. Trimmed and wrapped, etc. as necessary. Came out perfectly on the first try.

Needless to say this headliner is unique. Give someone a ride and wait until they look up. Where else can you can kick back and look at the birds and trees without benefit of time or place? Would burgundy look nice on the sun visors?

Whether you go for the prints or whatever, there is no more headliner hang here!

Other notes

Jim Gathmann: You can either take it all down and reglue it, or maybe find a way to inject glue in there. I do a lot of wood working, and one thing which works for me for reglueing a section of veneer is to buy a normal medical needle and inject wood glue in there. Maybe something similar may work (check local laws before obtaining medical needles without a perscription!).

Damien Civiello: The only correct solution is to take down the headliner, remove the old fabric and ALL traces of the old foam (some coarse sandpaper or a scotch-bright pad work well) then glue new material down and replace the headliner. Most upholstery shops carry the fabric and glue, just make absolute sure you get rid of all the old foam first. It's not expensive (cost me about $35 for the fabric and glue) and should last another 10 years.

Smooth23: "Took it out of my car, ripped all the material off, and scraped and sanded it. Then I took some black semi-gloss and painted it. Looks great now." (Thanks, "swalve")

Now see a step by step guide (with photos) by Mike Holler.

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