Replacing your car’s headliner in 5 easy steps

Replacing your car's headliner in 5 easy steps

You might think that replacing your car’s ceiling—known as the headliner—is a job reserved for an automotive upholsterer. But here’s how you can do it yourself.

Whether it’s ripped because of oversized cargo or merely stained and saggy from leading a tough life, a damaged auto headliner is an unsightly blemish on your otherwise sweet ride. But with a couple hours and a few tools, you can get it looking new again.

1. Out with the old

To remove the old headliner, start by unscrewing anything attached to the roof, including sun visors, dome lights, clothes hooks, and support handles. Now all that’s holding it in place are the edges that are tucked under the plastic trim moulding.

Gently pry the moulding off (it’s held by clips) along the top of the doors, and at the top of the windshield and rear window. Remove the entire headliner and place it on a work table.

2. Clean and prep

Peel off the damaged material from the board-like headliner, and use a wire brush to remove any old adhesive or bits of fabric. Next, lay your new covering over the headliner with the foam side down, and ensure that you have enough material to cover the entire board with an inch or two to spare.

3. Glue new material

With your new fabric roughly in place, fold it back from the middle. Then apply a good spray adhesive to the uncovered board as well as the half of the fabric you just revealed. Following the adhesive’s instructions, flip the glued half back over the board and then repeat the procedure for the other half.

Once all of the glue is in place, work from the middle to ensure that wrinkles are pushed out and that the new material sticks firmly to the board. Allow to dry.

4. Cut and trim

Using a sharp utility blade, cut along the edge of the headliner board. (In some cars, parts of the headliner have the fabric wrapped over the edge, not just up to it. Try to replicate those overlaps when you apply the new cover.) Also, you’ll need to cut the fabric out of all of the holes for the lights, visors, and so forth.

Be aware that sometimes your headliner may have holes for accessories that were never installed on your vehicle, so ensure that you trim only the appropriate holes.

5. Reinstall the headliner

In a reverse of the earlier procedure, tuck the headliner back under the mouldings and re-attach them. Finally, replace all of the roof accessories you initially unscrewed, making certain that electrical connections are secure.

Know your limits

Not all headliners are created equal. Sometimes there are mouldings that simply won’t come loose, or maybe your vehicle’s delicate, roof-mounted televisions give you pause. If it all looks too complex, consider it a sign that it really is time to call the auto upholstery service.


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