Perfect workmanship is a thing to admire, and making things perfect is not a gift that everybody possesses. Those pictures of perfectly installed dash kits (like Remin, Sherwood or B&I) might scare you off from buying them if you are not used to doing custom work, if you don't trust yourself to be able to achieve a level of perfection that makes the kit look like a factory option. Have some faith in yourself! Installing a dash kit is not that difficult. It is in fact quite easy if you just observe a couple of key points.
Thorough cleaning is key to success
Most important of all is cleaning the surfaces destined for beautification. This has to be done very thoroughly, or the dash kit panels will eventually come off. The base surface must be free not only from dirt and grease, it has to be absolutely free from silicone! Unfortunately, many products sold as vinyl treatment products are silicone based. Therefore you must treat all surfaces as if silicone has been applied to them. Wipe the surface several times with a clean cotton cloth moistened with a wax and grease remover.
A good brand to use is Prep-ALL Wax & Grease Remover. Use masking tape to test if the surface is clean. When a piece of masking tape sticks properly to the surface and you hear a ripping sound when you pull it off, you can go on and clean the surfaces to be clad with isopropyl alcohol (which you can find in any drugstore).
Make a plan and practice before actual fitting
Don't rush to putting dash kit pieces in place as soon as you are finished cleaning. Before you start peeling off the protective liner from the adhesive, you should "Dry fit" all the pieces. Hold the pieces in place, make sure that they fit and that all buttons can move freely. Use this dry fitting to figure out what points you should use as reference points when you do the real fitting. And practice fitting each piece, so you know exactly how to apply it to get it in the right place on the first attempt. This is essential, as with most adhesives used for dash kits you can't move a piece once it has been put in place. To make the work flow smoothly and with precision, you must make a plan.
An important part of this plan is to determine where you need to apply an adhesive promoter.
Pay special attention to these critical areas:
- Narrow strips of trim
- Around air vents
- Around the edges of areas where you have to bend the dash kit component to make it fit
- Around the edges of vertical and down-facing surfaces
Don't apply the promoter to areas where it is not needed. And use very limited amounts. Be careful so you don't get adhesive promoter where it doesn't belong, as it will ruin the surface. Use masking tape and protective covering to avoid this problem. Some brands claim that their products have an adhesive backing that doesn't need a promoter to stick. The problem is that if the pieces come unstuck, no manufacturer takes responsibility for the problem. They will claim that the product has not been properly installed. If you have dry fitted the pieces so you know where every little piece goes, and how to place it for perfect fit, placed out the components so you don't confuse them, and made a good plan for the application of promoter, is time to start the fitting.
Do the easy fittings first
Start with small and flat pieces that are easy to fit and don't need promoter to stay in place, just to get the right feel for the material and the easiest way to fit the components with the required precision. Application of the promoter can seem difficult, but is actually easy if you have made a plan and protected surrounding areas properly. Wear rubber gloves when you apply the adhesive promoter, so you don't get sticky fingers.
When five minutes have passed after application of the promoter it is time to put the dash kit component in place. Peel off the backing and put it in place exactly as you have practiced in the "dry fitting". Once the promoter and the adhesive touch, you cannot move the piece. Install all the dash kit components in the same order as you applied the promoter. Try to finish the process within 20 minutes. Large 2D-components should be placed working from left to right (or right to left, if that is more convenient for you), with a "roll-down" motion, to avoid air bubbles under the kit component. Components of 3D dash kits are hard shells and cannot be "rolled down" they have to be placed straight on. When a dash kit component is in place, you press it down lightly with your fingers in a pattern that moves possible air bubbles to the edges, ensuring that the whole back surface of the component adheres to the dash panel behind.
Lean back and take pride
To finish the installation off, wipe everything down with a soft cloth. Then lean back and enjoy the pride of having done a perfect job, transforming your vehicle from mundane commuter box to a luxury conveyance. This is really a job that just about anyone can do if equipped with a little patience. The dash kits of today fit really well, and if you apply the pieces without rushing it, you will find it much easier than you thought to give the installation that perfect original accessory look.
by Peter Altrem on