DIY Reupholster Vehicle Door Panels




About: Let's make something.

Hi there! Thanks for checking out my Instructable!

This Instructable is geared for those who are interested in restoring your old ratty vehicle door panels. I completed this project on an older 1981 Subaru. It is a simple technique that can easily be completed in a weekend and it will completely transform your interior! Let's get started.

Materials & Tools:

- 3M Adhesive Spray (Used to apply the foam and vinyl to your door panel).

- Foam (This is going to be your new cushion for the panel. Thickness depends on you).

- Vinyl (Used as your new door panel skin. You can use whatever material you wish, just make sure you have plenty to cover your entire project).

- Razor blade and/or scissors (Used for trimming and cutting the foam and vinyl).

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Step 1: Breaking Down the Panel

Remove the door panel. On most vehicles, especially older, they are usually held in place by a clip. You can either use a special tool for this or carefully use a screwdriver to pop the panel off at each clip point. Make sure you unscrew anything that is connected to the door frame (armrest, door handle trim, etcetera). Handle the panel with care as they are not made of the sturdiest of material.

Once your panel is off, remove the old skin. You may have to fight some glue or staples. Clean off what you can and get ready to trace it on your foam.

Step 2: Tracing the Panel

1) Place your foam on the table.

2) Take the interior side of the door panel and lay it face down on your foam.

3) Use a marker and trace your door panel onto the foam.

4) Remove the door panel from the foam and cut out your newly traced outline. Test fit it on your panel to ensure it lines up.

5) At this point spray the panel side of the foam with adhesive. Also spray the panel with adhesive. Let the two surfaces sit until the adhesive begins to get tacky.

6) Once tacky, apply the foam to the panel and let dry.

7) After the foam is dried to the panel, feel free to cut out your openings.

Step 3: Applying the Vinyl

It is time for the vinyl. Take special care to not get adhesive on your nice new vinyl surface! This step can be frustrating and time consuming. Please be patient!

1) Lay the vinyl flat on the table "face" down.

2) Lay your door panel foam-side down on the back of the vinyl.

3) Loosely trace around the panel leaving a 2-3 inch gap around the entire panel. This allows for room to stretch the vinyl and adhere it to the back of the panel.

4) Cut out your vinyl.

5) Apply adhesive to the back of the vinyl and let it tack. Also apply adhesive to the foam on the panel and let it tack.

6) Once both surfaces are tacky, begin applying the vinyl to the panel. This step takes a lot of manipulation, stretching and slicing. On corners you will have to slice the vinyl to properly fit it. Be careful to not get adhesive on the fancy side of your panel.

7) After you are happy with your fit, you may begin slicing your openings. Always start small, you can always increase your cuts. Repeat the process with however many panels you are doing. Reapply any clips or weatherstripping to the panel. Pat yourself on the back.

Step 4: Reinstall & Extra Step

It is now time to put the panel back on! For me it was as simple as popping the clips back into place and reinstalling my armrest and window lever. Unfortunately all of my door handle trims were sunbaked and broken, so I could not hide my cuts!

Extra Step: The lower half of my doors were a separate plastic panel. I purchased a Duplicolor interior plastic spray system and touched up all my faded plastics by simply following their instructions. While I was at it, I sprayed a few other interior plastics as well. I am glad I did, the results look amazing!

I hope you enjoyed this Instructable! It is an easy way to give new life to an old worn out interior. Any questions? Please ask!

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    11 Discussions


    Question 1 year ago

    Hi. Wonder if any of you could help me with this problem I'm having. Last winter I repanelled the dash trim and glove box tray rail of my Triumph Spitfire '76, with foam backing and vinyl. I used the 3M Super 77 Classic Adhesive Spray and followed the directions for use. They looked great and I was very happy with the new look. Last month I noticed that the vinyl was coming away from the foam. The glue between the 2 is very tacky and yet it was dry when I first did the job. I notice that the vinyl is also coming away from the metal. It's just not right!!! Any ideas???/

    1 answer

    Answer 11 months ago

    Tony, I spray both contact surfaces, let it get nice and tacky. On the edges I use plastic tile edging, secures with small vise clamps from Home Depot and use rubber rollers like the one below to ensure full contact. I also roll the opposite side edge.
    This is the type of roller, I have a few sizes, and a round one:

    Hope it helps,

    Ska Tatanka

    3 years ago

    Nice job. One big, important tip, LET THE GLUE DRY BEFORE HANDLING IT ! I left finger print spots on my panel because I got in a hurry. Good thing I was still practicing my stitching. Many of my steps match yours, even to repainting those darn sun beaten plastic parts. Maybe I should do my own tutorial on the this subject, getting into the sewing part of it.
    I also used the 3M 77 spray on my project. Worked well, except sets up rather quickly sometimes.
    I am taking mine a step farther. I hated the " Plain Jane " look with the smooth panels. I bought a Singer Heavy Duty machine and played with the different FANCY stitching. I then laid out a 3 inch wide pattern across the panel. The new mat'l is charcol gray. As my Jeep is a burnt orange colour, I chose a Tangerine thread and went to work. Stricking look in vehicle.
    I have also ordered a new foot to make my own piping. Now more patterns abound.
    Many of my steps match yours, even to repainting those darn sun beaten plastic parts. Maybe I should do my own tutorial on the this subject, getting into the sewing part of it.


    Reply 3 years ago

    Give it a shot, it's a worthwhile project!


    3 years ago

    I really needed this Instructable right now. Fixing up a 78 F-100 you can just imagine what the interior looks like.

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    Perfect timing! You should post the results.


    3 years ago

    Hey thanks for the comment. There are actually methods to restoring cracked dashes. If I come across a dash I will do an Instructable on it. It essentially entails filling the crack in the dash with an expandable foam, or a resin; then smoothing it out level to match the rest of the dash and applying new vinyl with a high temp resistant adhesive/cement.


    3 years ago

    Nice project and you did really good. I only wish someone would post a project about refinishing dashboards that are old and starting to crack. I guess the factories used special forms and heated molds to make dashboards. Thumbs Up on your project though.