How to repair the headliner in your tow rig

ByPhilip LordApril 27, 2020
How to repair the headliner in your tow rig

Is your tow rig’s headliner succumbing to gravity? Might be time to replace it, so here are 10 steps on how to repair the headliner in your tow rig

If you own just about any tow vehicle built since Duran Duran was hot in the charts it’ll have headliner made of composite board with foam-backed cloth glued on. This simple and cheap way to make the inside roof look pretty eventually turns ugly as the foam crumbles into a sticky mess and with nothing to adhere to, the cloth lining drops to make your cabin resemble the inside of a Bedouin tent. Although sticking drawing pins into the liner can work for a while, it’s not attractive and is painful when they drop out and you end up sitting on them. Ripping out the headliner board, taking off what’s left of the old material and glue and sticking on new headliner material is the only effective way of fixing this.

Materials are fairly cheap: expect to pay about $100 for replacement foam-backed cloth headliner material and around $40-$60 for the couple of cans of high-temperature spray glue adhesive you’ll need. The important thing here is don’t go cheap on glue; you’ll shed tears and several $50 notes if the glue doesn’t stick and you have to go back in to do the whole thing again. You’ll also need some steel wool or non-scouring abrasive pads to get off the old glue.

The headliner has to come out of your tow vehicle to replace the material, which for some vehicles can be less than an hour’s work. With a fiddly sunroof slide and brittle pillar-trim clips to repair on my Range Rover project vehicle, pulling out the headliner board and later putting it back in burnt up a day.

However, in the main, this is a simple job that anyone can do. Don’t worry about the backing board remaining sticky before gluing, it’ll be fine so long as all the old foam has been completely removed (using wax and grease remover is not recommended for composite boards, as it will be absorbed by the board and weaken it).

Take your time when sticking on the new material, because once it’s on, that’s it. Be careful to press the material into any hollows (such as grab handle surrounds) without creasing the material. Usually, there is some ‘give’ in the material to allow for this.

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Remove headliner board from vehicle

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Place the headliner board on a suitable workbench and pull off old headliner cloth

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Scrape excess foam with a plastic chisel then, to remove residue, use (dry) steel wool or a non-abrasive pad.

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Roll out new headliner material to check you have enough (and trim excess if required). Now’s the time to also see how the material forms in any hollows or curves in the board and to make a plan of how you’ll shape the material when it comes to gluing it down.

You’ll want to glue down half the material at a time, so fold the material over itself about halfway, and fit an old, clean sheet between so that when you spray the glue it doesn’t get onto the cloth facing.

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Wearing appropriate PPE if in an enclosed area, spray the contact adhesive onto the board and the foam backing.

After the material is ready to be laid down on the backing board (read the glue manufacturer’s instructions, but usually when the glue is tacky after 5-30min) slowly start smoothing it over the board, pressing the material down into any hollow areas on the board as planned in Step 4.

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Now fold back to other half of the material on itself, using a clean sheet between as in Step 5 and repeat the gluing/laying out process.

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Trim the material around the edges of the board (if not gluing material over the edges) and with a sharp box-cutter knife cut out any holes for interior light fittings, sunroof openings and so on.

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Check the glue’s instructions, but it’s a good idea if you can leave the board sitting for at least a few hours for the glue to set, then refit to the vehicle. Check that you’ve cleaned up any old glue/foam residue in the cabin before you risk rubbing the new material on it.

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