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Weather change is here and the cracked padded dashes are rolling in. With every weather change I get the phone calls. "My dash is cracked and what can be done to fix it."
Due to the exposer to old mother nature, these materials become dried out and crack over time leaving you with a crack in your dash. Left unattended this small crack can and will get larger.
There are measures that can be taken to prevent the dash from getting cracked in the first place. Now I know your dash is already cracked and your wanting to know how to fix it, but this will prevent further cracks and keep your car cooler and looking nicer, and well.... for further reference.
One way to prevent this is to use a sunshade. This will not only protect your automotive dash from the sun but also keep your vehicle cooler keeping the plastic pieces cooler and less likely to warp and then crack.
Another way to prevent the materials from drying on your dash is to condition them with a good vinyl conditioner-protectant. Now I know I've always said to not put the slimy stuff on your interior pieces and parts ... But if your vehicle is exposed to the sun on a constant basis, then I would recommend you use a vinyl conditioner. Now I'm not going to say that any old vinyl conditioner will work, because it won't. Tire shine is not vinyl conditioner! This is probably one of the biggest mistakes made, and I do a lot of repair because of it. Tire shine contains solvents, which as you know from previous articles, it doesn't mix well with the water based dyes being used on todays cars. What it does is lifts the dye from the surface, causing it to peel. So no tire shine...What I recommend to my customers is a product made from a leather conditioning producer that I feel from some of the research I've done is safe and should work very well, it's made by Lexol and it's called Vinylex. Designed by the guys that really know their stuff when it comes to interior conditioning and protecting.
The last and final tip to keeping your automotive interior, including your dash, looking it's best and lasting longer is window tint. Now in some states you need to be careful with the tinting laws to make sure you don't get it too dark, plus you need to think of your safety too. I have tint on our family Tahoe and I kinda wish I would have gone a little lighter, at night it's really hard to see, my Tahoe stays nice and cool, but it's a pain in the butt at night. I have to roll the window down sometimes just to see. So keep it light and you will be impressed with the results, plus it looks cool.
Now on with the fix for that crack in your dash.
Depending on where the crack is and how big it is will depend on how to fix it and how expensive the repair will be. If the crack is bigger then 2"-3" and curled up on the edges, the repair will probably not look that great. There is a limit to the size of crack that can be repaired, too big and it probably won't hold and will look like crap. If the crack is too big, replace the dash pad, don't try to fix it. Another thing is location, if the crack is up close to the windshield then it's almost impossible to do a repair without removing the windshield, which can be costly. So with that said you be the judge.
The first thing I do before I start any repair is to mix my color, this insures that at least the color will be right.
Next I inspect the crack in the dash, if the edges are curled up then you will need to trim that off with a razor blade or Xacto knife. The goal here is to get the area as level as you can. Now when doing so cut at a 45 degree angle and don't bring the ends to a point, what I mean by this is trim all the way around the crack rounding off the ends of the crack, this will insure that the crack will stop and not crack further after your repair.
Of course your next step is prepping the repair area, use your prep solution with a scotch brite pad and clean the area thoroughly. You might need to clean the entire dash depending on where and how large the crack is.
Now it's time to determine what fix you going to use.
If the crack is smaller then an 1/2" I usually grab the super glue and do a super glue repair. I do this by spreading the glue in the crack then sanding it smooth with a 240 grit sandpaper, texture with your water based spray grain, then dye.
But there are times when your vinyl repair compound will need to be used, after all this is vinyl. The low cure usually works best because high heat tends to warp the repair area. This is where your patience comes in when doing your repairs. Thin layers of compound work best, curing and dying between coats until the area is level and smooth. You can texture while layering your compound with your grain pads. One little trick I use to help level the repair when using a grain pad is a little rubber squeegee about 3"x5", it's what body shops use to squeegee the water off the painted surface when they wet sand. This little thing works great, when you use your hand to imprint your grain into your repair, your hand kinda molds around the area and doesn't leave a level area but with the rubber squeegee it gives you a little more backing when you go to imprint. Now graining your repair can be tricky, the low cure compound doesn't grain that well, but if all else fails make sure the repair is level, this is your best hide. If that is achieved then texture with your spray grain.
One last trick up my sleeve is the use of a great product from Urethane Supply Co. This is a two part epoxy like substance that is specifically designed for padded dashes and the name says it all, Padded Dash Filler.
This stuff is the bomb, when it comes to dash repair. Mixes like Bondo and is even applied like bondo, but its flexible. It's just what the doctor ordered when it comes to dash repair. If the crack is larger then 1" this is the stuff to use.
Now this product will require you to trim the area and then sand around the area about 1" to 2" out with a heavier grit sandpaper like a 180 grit, this gives it something to bite too. Trim down into the foam a little to, so that you make like a little groove for the compound to lay in.
Mix your compound on a small piece of tile, I like using small tile pieces, they clean up easily and are easier to hold when mixing and applying. Now when you get the product they send you the red catalyst, try the blue, it seems to set up a little quicker. The blue you can get at any automotive parts shop. But the red works just as good just takes it a little longer, time is money in my business.
Apply your compound liberally over the repair area, don't worry about getting your first coat really smooth, all you need is to get it covered, you'll be sanding it smooth later. Let it set up for a while, depending on the weather will depend on how long this stuff takes. You can speed it up a little with a heat gun but don't melt it just give it a little boost.
Once hardened start sanding, I usually start with a 180 grit to knock off the big chunks then progressively move my way up to a finer grit like 240 and then to 400.
One coat won't be sufficient, I promise, this is another layer thing. Sanding between coats. Each coat you apply you will need to make smoother. Again what your trying to achieve is a smooth level repair.
After all is smooth and level, grain with a spray grain then dye.
As far as texture goes, I use two types of spray grain. One is a water based spray grain and the other is Sems Texture Coat. In fact the Sems Texture Coat almost matches the some of the Pontiac dashes to a tee. Now the Sems Texture coat is a solvent based, but I haven't had a problem with it peeling up against the water based dyes on the dash, so kudos to Sems.
One other trick I have found with the the Sems Texture Coat is after sprayed if you let it flash out a little but not dry completely, you can take your grain pad and imprint your grain into the texture coat, pretty cool huh.
Dash repair is an art and a craft, just like all automotive interior repairs. If the steps are followed right and patience is used in your repairs you success will be good.
Hope this helps in your dash repair adventure. One thing to always keep in mind is to keep your repair as level as possible, this is your best hide.