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Picture of Recovering You Car's Headliner and Pillars
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Is your car's headliner sagging? Is it terribly dirty? Well here the solution for you! The following will show you how to recover your drab old headliner. I will not only be recovering, but changing my color from gray to black.


Materials
I bought 6 yards of fabric - I opted for a "headliner material" which is foam backed
2 Cans of 3M 90 Spray on Adhesive (Do not go cheap on your adhesive)


Cost
Headliner Material: 6 yds. @ $11/yd = $66 | 50% off coupon = $33
Adhesive: 2 @ $13/ea = $26

Considering I'm not using all of the material (only half of the headliner) -- lets say the total cost is no more than $50.


Time

Headliner Removal: 45mins <-- never done it before
Removing old material and preparing: 60min
Recovering: 60min <-- a lot of wait time
Covering Pillars: 20min per set (3 sets)
Covering Sunroof Slide: 20min:
Installation: 30 min

So, this is a good weekend job - remove headliner on Friday (maybe prepare too). Recover on Saturday. Install on Sunday :)


Warning
Some vehicles are equipped with curtain airbags located in the headliner itself. I don't know how the airbag deploys nor do I know if the headliner material will effect operation. Likewise for pillar mounted airbags. That is one system you don't want to screw around with. <-- Just like seat mounted airbags -- you're not putting seat covers over them right? :P

Step 1: Remove Headliner

Picture of Remove Headliner
This will vary from vehicle to vehicle... For my car (Mark IV Volkswagen Jetta/Golf) instructions can be found here: http://forums.vwvortex.com/zerothread?id=1312975
 
lupu.radu10 months ago

I tried to do the same to my mk4 , but it was hard and at the end i didn't like it so i ended up buying an used headliner.
Unfortunately , i tried to use Alcantara as meterial for the headliner and the pillars , but it turned out it was too stiff to be able to stretch it over all the holes and stuff.
Second , i tried several cans of spray on adhesive (decent one) but it wasn't adequate for this type of material. It failed to hold it in place, so i basically went with another type of glue, one that has to be stretched out using a flat tool and that did the job. Still , it looked ugly in the end therefore i recommend anyone who feels like doing this ,to inform better on what type of material you want to use , see if it can be used to replace your stock headliner material.

I basically spent about 70 € just to try and save my old headliner , plus another 50 € for the used headliner , PLUS my angry wife afterwards.
Was it worth it? No.

We installed 100's of headliners in the body shop I worked in and it's really quite a simple operation. The most difficult part is getting the headliner and fiberboard in and out of the car or truck without messing up the fiberboard. It is not bent, like some have mentioned. All headliners are able to be worked through the car and out the passenger door or out the lift gate. One of the most important things to understand is "When applying the fabric to the fiberboard have one or two friends help you. Three people doing this is best. Take your time and whatever you do, DO NOT MESS UP THE BOARD the headliner is glued to." After having removed the board and headliner, place the board on a table in your shop. What I have found works well is make a table from a 4' X 4' piece of 1/2" plywood resting on 2 saw horses. Then carefully remove the old headliner from the fiberboard. Your car's interior gets hot in the summer time, which is difficult on the thicker cardboard type fiberboards, so it may be a tad bit crumbly. Then take a gentle soft 3" wide brush and gracefully brush off the remnants of foam and old glue residue to the floor. A soft paintbrush works quite well. When getting ready to put the new polyester headliner on the fiberboard, I find it best to use a suction paint spray gun and contact cement. A quart will cover one average sized headliner. It takes 2 people minimum to perform this job right. When spraying the contact cement on the fabric, put the material on from the center of the fabric and work your way outward to the edges, KEY POINT....SPRAY CONTACT CEMENT AWAY FROM YOU and across to the far edge and walk around the headliner while you continously spray away from you to all the far edges. If you dont do it like this the air from your spray gun will try and throw the fabric up and get material on the fabric side. If you accidently get the contact cement on the fabric side, you have to throw the material away and start over (bummer). Spray on in nice passes getting good coverage, but not too heavy. Do the same thing with the fiberboard getting good coverage on all areas. Then set the spray gun down and you and your helper(s) each get to grab 2 corners, one in each hand and after positioning the headliner into place slowly work it on into all the valleys. I cannot stress more than to be patient and take your time. You can get professional results fairly easily. I believe if you do not have an air compressor, contact cement can be purchased buy the can in places like Walmart or Home Depot. Some have said 2 cans will do, but I think you need at least 3 and 4 will be better. Better to have enough than not enough material. Wish you the best.
Thank you for the great advice and technique pointers! What do you think about reusing the old headliner? Mine came completely off of about 30% of my panorama sun roof cover (its "melting away" from a seam in the middle of the board) on my 2005 BMW X5, but the head liner upholstery itself is still perfectly secure. There is still a thin layer of crumbly foam on the sun roof cover, as well as the under side of the fabric liner. Since I want the fabric to match the rest of the interior, I would like to salvage the original sun roof cover fabric, even if that means purchasing the right foam to glue to both the fabric and sun roof cover (using your recommended spray cement in cans from Home Depot). What do you think of this idea in terms of reliably keeping the upholstery secure? Any foam recommendations? Also, do you have any tips for keeping the fabric secure where the edge of the sunroof cover rubs on the back of the headboard when opening/closing beyond what you wrote here? Would headliner tacks would be useful, assuming they are not visible after being installed? Also, is there any way to remove the sunroof cover without removing the headliner? If not, I suppose I can look for early signs of this problem on the headboard. Thanks again for the great post! -HS
I am a professional auto upholstery tech. Nicely done. Hot civic ^^^ is correct about the glue, this is what I use. It can be applied with a 30$ paint gun. It is essentially sprayable contact cement, decking adhesive also works well provided you make sure you buy the sprayable variety. The other will leave a huge mess trust me.

As far as removing the old foam a scotchbrite pad works well. I will caution people that there are several types of hard headliner depending on vehicle make. Some are cardboard, others are pressed fiberglass. The fiberglass ones are easy to wreck. Use caution not to disrupt the outermost layer, it is semi-sealed and once you go past it will deteriorate easily and make u itch like crazy.

As far as alternate coverings go, I would say vinyl is too heavy for a spray can glue, but I have used vinyl and leather with professional glues no problem. A nice light alternative which is popular these days is faux suede.
I found the biggest aggravation was getting all the one way clips, fasteners, map lights, visors and small screws out of the way so the fiberboard was free to be removed from the vehicle.
jgrobbelaar2 years ago
Hi. I somewhere saw an article similar to this using wallpaper adhesive. Can anyone point me to the link please?
Contact cement works best.
AnthonyM21 year ago

I had a suede headliner put on my SL 500 MBZ over the original hard shell vinyl OEM that the car came with!....Not attractive at all!....Replaced with charcoal gray suede last weekend!..I did not do it!...A guy who does car upholstery did it!...Everything was fine, until I woke up the next morning only to find my headliner was swooping on the roof. The pillars and by the back window is fine, just the middle of the vehicle is swooping/swaying down. As soon as put my hands on it, it stays on up!....But, the car will sit for about an hour, it goes back to swooping/swaying again!...What did he do wrong, what type of adhesive will keep from not SWOOPING/SWAYING!....He did not remove the old headliner, he just wrapped the suede over the OEM headliner??...Please give me some leads and answers, OK?....Anthony

The old headliner fabric has to be removed. The boards they use these days cannot support much weight. Leather is heavier than polyester.
Not difficult.....
Twinkle7839897 months ago

I wouldn't recommend folding the headliner in half and applying it that way if you are using the 1/8" foam headliner, the same type that Volkswagen uses. The folds will show through. I used 3M Headliner Adhesive, I wasn't able to work the folds out because it bonds so thoroughly and quickly. It's done, but it's not the result I'd hoped for.

zappenfusen3 years ago
Great instructable with a tremendous amount of info I was unaware of. I assumed you performed procedure with headliner installed in auto. Removing the aggravation never occurred to me. Thanks for well written, as opposed to video taped, instructions. Only problem I now face is perusing Jeep forums for removal of 21 year old Cherokee Laredo headliner. If sprocketscientist is interested there is a Video (Help us All!) instructable available. I haven't actually viewed it so I can offer no advice.

Zapp
Scanner23 years ago
Kudos on a nice instructible! I did this once on a 78 Chrysler. First, I tried the needle and thread idea- it holds the liner up, but only where the thread actually is. So if you have lots of patience for threading (and your headliner is perforated already) and you don't mind a loose headliner when done, that will work. However the good Adhesive seems to give the best result. The foam backing on the material seems to be there for noise absorption.
Just curious as to how old you VW is. Seems to be a lot of damage for supossably a well made vehicle. I'm in the process of using Dupli-color vinyl and fabric spray on my headliner for my 1962 Corvair. My headliner uses ribs and staples so it will be done in place. I will have to do a lot of masking and trim removal.
trebuchet03 (author)  Crackersouth4 years ago
It is from the year 2000....

The hot/humid climate of South Florida does a significant amount of wear and tear on this car's interior. In a related story - I had a pair of plastic bike fenders warp to the state of unusable inside the car on a particular day with hot summer sun. It slowly tears apart any vehicle that has anything more than bare plastic finishing.

I have since gone car-less.... My house mate, however, has a 2000 golf. The weather of Norther California has been much kinder.
hot_civic035 years ago
I would recommend to any one recovering their headliner to us "DAP weldwood landau top high heat resistant contact cement"   Yes the name is huge and so is the stick  especialy for vinyl my headliner is recovered in vinyl and it took two tries before i found this product and it has been great for 2 years now and i live in the desert where temps reach 120 in the summer.  the only problem with this product is it doesn't come off  so be carful and get your fabric on smooth the first time or you are in for a lot of work.   Good luck
 Nice instructable. Kudos that its also the only headliner instructable I could find.
I'm going to have to do this to my '95 Ford Escort. Hopefully I can figure out how to remove the headliner.
nitsuaustin6 years ago
Do you think I could replace my headliner with vinyl?

That is a great question to ask. I would really like to know if using a foam backed headliner is absolutely necessary or not. I am about to change my headliner out soon and prefer not to use the same foam backed material because it actually will deteriorate and cause problems again. I know that the deterioration of this foam is toxic.

If anyone has an opinion on this, please post it.

Thanks

VampireXTC6 years ago
Did you strip the pillars before applying the vinyl? I've got everything out of mine and the headliner cloth was easy enough to remove but the pillars are pretty well glued. Just wondering if there were any suggestions. I'm thinking heat gun but would prefer something a little less drastic.
jennifer056 years ago
Thanks so much for the info I have been wanting to replace my vw golf headliner so bad. but i had one question how do i get the clips off near the viziors and the center panels that hold up the head liner?
ehmbee7 years ago
Good instructable! I did this to my grandmother's Buick, as all 80s GM cars, it seems, suffer from sagging headliner fabric eventually-we managed to find some curtain panels at Big Lots for ten bucks that were the perfect size. Since it was her car, and an old one at that, we did not care too much about a match, so we used the curtain, which had a raised floral pattern. if you wanna get nuts, try some fabric you find for cheep. In the end it had a Victorian Steampunk look in a way.
jettagli8 years ago
Hi me and my friend were just about to do this and was wondering you u bought your material? i have a Jetta and my friend got a GTI we have gray pillars and headiner i want mine to look like the black headliner on the 2004.5 gli so what material do i need and where can i find it. Please respond by sending me an email at Miamivdubs@yahoo.com Thanks
carpespasm8 years ago
an easy quick fix i've seen used is to push put a pattern of those needles with the colored tips used to hold together clothing patterns.
trebuchet03 (author)  carpespasm8 years ago
You'd be hard pressed to get a needle through that board :/ But if you're headliner allows that -- sweet :)
This is a good total re-do. Definitely remove all the foam or your headliner will just come right back down again. If you need a quick fix to keep a headliner out of the way until you can re-glue, try using a thin, flexible strip of wood wedged between the plastic pieces above the doors. My grandpa used a piece of old molding for years this way.
trebuchet03 (author)  matchbookhymnal8 years ago
You can also use upholstery buttons and push through the entire board. Some OEM applications (I know the new Honda Accord and Nissan Altima) use them.