How to Restore Faded Plastic Trim on your Car.
Updated: Oct 1, 2019
In Recent years, Black plastic trim has been popular am auto manufacturer. Lets think of the Subaru car line-up : Forester, Impreza, Outback Etc.. or any car brand.. All covered with plastic trim, from the top rack end caps, door handles, pillars, side mirror, to the very bottom liner on the lower door panels. Leaving all of your plastic trim out exposed to suffer from the harmful, unforgiving "Mother nature's" UV-A & UV-B rays to leave exterior trim looking faded, tired & Thirsty.
Why Does My Plastic Trim Fade?
Lets be straight up here..."Mother nature" Is a B&^%$! She is will be the #1 reason for your plastic trim to fade. The sun throws powerful UV rays all day long. To be exact, UV-A & UV-B Rays that cause the plastic trim to fade. (We only have to worry about the effects of UV-A and UV-B as UV-C does not reach the Earth’s surface.] The reason why UV radiation is so detrimental to polymers has to do with the high energy of this type of light and how it interacts with the polymer. The UV-A and UV-B radiation break the bonds in the Plastic (polymers) with in the plastic trim thereby causing it to degrade little by little! Absorption of UV light starts the degradation process and generally affects the polymer additives first within the plastic trim. – most pure polymers are not able to absorb UV radiation but the additives in the plastic (polymers) are and do absorb UV radiation. Bombarding plastic (polymers) with UV rays causes the breaking of atomic bonds and the formation of what are known as ‘free radicals’ – atoms with unpaired electrons. These free radicals then react with oxygen (oxidation) to form another type of radical which can then remove a hydrogen atom from another part of the plastic (polymer) and this regenerates another free radical – this process then continues and causes the plastic polymer to degrade, in other word's causing your plastic trim to fade. Once you do notice the fading of your plastics, you might think to your self "I'll just avoid the sun in general." Well... im sorry, moving your car out of the sun will not necessarily stop this process. Once this chain reaction has started, sunlight is not needed to cause it to continue to fade into a dull, matte shade of grey. The way to stop your plastic trim from fading would be to somehow ‘clean up’ the free radicals caused by the UV rays to make the polymer inert (un-reactive). Polymer manufactures attempt to do this by adding stabilizers (such as antioxidants) to the material…but the stabilizers can only do so much. In the end, if not cared for properly, what we end up with is a material that suffers from cracking, chalking, color changes, bleaching, and loss of its physical properties "AKA" faded trim or worse it’s beginning to crack and becomes unrepairable. Or it can be as simple as washing the car regularly with strong detergents instead of proper Ph balanced car wash soap & detergents, but in all cases it’s simply because the rubber and plastic trim parts haven’t had protective products applied regularly enough to stop the damage from the sun’s UV rays.
It is KEY to start a regular maintenance treatment program of exterior plastic trim. while it's brand new and in excellent shape, to persevere the condition of the trim on your vehicle. The the secret is real simple,
"Find something you like and use it often"
Now Here’s to Restore Faded Plastic Trim (ill keep it short and simple!)
First, start by washing the vehicle to remove any dirt or grim which will affect the restoration process. You will want the cleanest surface possible for the best bonding.
Next, you will want to "Tape" off the surrounding areas such as paint or glass with some 3M Painters tape: I personally use this product, check it out here. As some products contain dye's & may leave smudging and/or stains on other surfaces of your vehicle.
For this step I will be using the magic sauce "Solution Finish" By Chris West. Check it out here . The link i provided will set you up with everything you need to get the ball rolling, Chris West came up with this starter kit. It’s important to take care of plastic and rubber components as they can bleach, discolour, or deteriorate from the outdoor elements. If you take the correct maintenance steps, this can help protect the trim, ensuring it has a long life and prevents costly replacements in the future. Mix the product/solution accordingly. Depending on which product you are using, it’s important to consult with the instructions first. Apply it to a soft clean cloth or microfiber applicator and work the solution into the surface. Use a back and fourth, overlapping motion to make sure the product is evenly applied to the entire plastic area.
Let product sit and dry at least 10-15 minutes to dry & to avoid dripping or streaking.
Finally, once done you’ll be left with a glossy finish. Normally I like to finish up with a clean microfiber cloth to remove (buff) any access product and this will remove the excessively glossy shine to give a more subtle OEM (original equipment manufacturer) look.
Depending on the severity & condition of the plastic/rubber trim that will determine how much work is required to bring the color and shine back to the original appearance. You may need to apply up to 1-2 additional layers if necessary. This will darken the trim to it’s original shiny black appearance and add more protection.
There it is here, hopefully a somewhat simple guide on how to restore your faded plastic trim & rubber pieces. Do you have a favorite product or method used to restore faded trim, please be sure to leave your recommendations in the comment section below.