How to Restore Car Trim: The Best Way to Get Black Plastic Back

How to Restore Car Trim: The Best Way to Get Black Plastic Back

How to Restore Car Trim: The Best Products and Method for Restoring Black Car Trim

Over time, the black plastic trim on your car will fade to grey or even white in the sun. Eventually, UV damage causes cracks, and scuffs and scratches stand out. When you wash your car, there's just something missing from that clean, sleek look. Once you notice this, it's time to restore the moisture and finish to your car's plastic trim. In a few simple steps you can appreciate a full detail with protected trim to last a while.


What does trim restorer actually do?

Plastic trim on the exterior of your car won't have a protective layer on it straight out of the factory like your paintwork and wheels do, so it is more exposed to the elements. It dries out and is damaged by dirt and grit from the road, as well as being damaged by the sun's rays. Restorers rehydrate the plastic and leave a dirt-resistant layer, as well as UV protection. They usually are dry to the touch and even oil-based products will be non-greasy, so they don't attract dust. Water beading is another feature of trim restorers, and this is a great indication of when the protective layer is starting to fade. When water starts to cling to your trim rather than bead off, you'll know it's time for a refresh.


What to consider when choosing a car trim restorer

Quality of the finish

If you want to achieve a super glossy black shine, there are certain dressing products that will produce a long-lasting wet look. If you are looking to breathe some life back into trim that is scuffed and faded, there are less intense restorers that will bring the plastic back to its original condition with a more subtle finish. Typically, restorers are used on plastic trim, whereas dressings are used on rubber tyres. When thinking about finishes on your car, it's always best to do a patch test before committing. That way you can make sure you'll be getting the desired look.


Application process

Some products are gels or creams that you spread on with an applicator, giving you the most control over where the product goes. Then there are sprays and aerosols, which are more difficult to apply to the right surfaces. If you use these, make sure you protect paintwork from overspray, and wipe off excess product as quickly as possible to prevent it sticking to places you don't want it. Some products specify that they won't damage or stick to paintwork if there is overspray, but it's better to be safe than sorry!


Oil or water-based products

Oil based restorers offer a deeper gloss, whereas water-based ones are more subtle and matte. Oils will sink deeper into the pores of plastic and are less likely to sling off, but water-based products are better for the health of the trim or the tyre in the long run. When making your decision, think about the finish you want on your trim, and take our product guidance to make sure you're getting the finish you're looking for.


How to restore black plastic car trim

Step 1: Clean your car

It's important to apply any protectant or dressing to a clean surface so that it sticks and doesn't trap unwanted dirt. Ideally, wash your whole car beforehand and make sure the trim is dry before restoring it. Otherwise, you can use a pH neutral all purpose cleaner to clean up the plastic trim without going through your whole detailing process.


Step 2: Use a trim restorer

Once your vehicle is clean and dry, you're ready to apply the good stuff. If you're using a gel or cream, take a drop on a clean applicator and spread it over the trim in thin, even layers. If you're using a spray, spray onto your applicator rather than the trim directly, as you want to have maximum control over coverage. You will achieve the best results by going slowly and carefully.


Step 3: Use a tyre dressing

For an extra glossy shine on tyres or trim that isn't too damaged, a dressing product will do the trick rather than a restorer. It will add a non-greasy wet look that repels dirt and protects from UV damage. Like with restorers, some are gels that you need to manually work into the plastic, and some are simply spray-on products, so choose based on how long you want to spend sprucing up your bumpers.


Tips on application to trim pieces

  • Use the smallest possible applicator tools for precise application
  • Microfibre or sponge applicators work best, allowing you to work the product into the pores of the trim
  • Prevent product getting onto paintwork by taping off the edges of your trim, and wipe away any excess with a microfibre cloth
  • If your application is looking uneven, you can buff away excess product with your applicator


What not to do when restoring your car's trim pieces

The heat gun method draws out oils from the plastic, which can leave a long-lasting finish. However, each time you do it, you get a step closer to permanently drying out the material and risk irreperable damage to surrounding paintwork. Don't do it! Some people like to go the extra mile and completely repaint their trim, but this is way too time consuming and technical for your average car owner. The craziest method we've come across is the peanut butter trick. The idea is to use an oily substance to rehydrate trim, but there's no need to make your car smell like a slice of toast. Stick to oil-based restorers.


The best products to restore car trim to their former glory

Before you get started, use a quick cleaner like ValetPRO Classic All Purpose Cleaner - 500ml to get rid of any dirt and dust that will prevent the restoring products from sticking.


Trim restorers


Tyre dressings


Sponge and brush applicator tools



What is the best exterior car trim restorer?

It depends on how damaged and dehydrated your trim is, and the finish you are hoping to achieve. For the most faded and cracked plastics, a thicker gel or cream is best, as you can apply a few thin layers and really work it into the pores of the trim. Water-based products will usually last longer than oil-based ones, so think about how often you plan on topping up your trim's look before choosing your products.


What is the difference between a trim restorer and a trim dressing?

Car trim restorers are absorbed into the plastic, rehydrating it and protecting from further damage. A dressing is aimed more towards giving trim a fresh look on the surface without penetrating deep into the surface. Restorers are mostly for use on plastic trim, bringing back a matte factory look. Dressings on the other hand are typically used to give tyres a glossy showroom shine that they didn't have before.


How do you restore grey plastic trim?

Most trim restoring products on the market are for black trim but will treat similar colours without changing them too much. If yours is grey and you don't want to darken it past its original colour, then we advise using a specific product aimed at grey trim. Another option is using a black-finish restorer in a very thin layer. Make sure you do a patch test in an inconspicuous place beforehand so you can ensure you get the results you're looking for.


What should I use to apply car trim restorer?

A soft foam applicator or tool is best, especially when working on small areas like the backs of mirrors. For larger areas, a sponge applicator will cover ground a lot quicker, but be careful around paintwork.

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