Nothing makes a car show it’s age like cracking or peeling leather, and nothing is more front and center than the vehicle’s steering wheel. Leather mainly ages due to poor maintenance and exposure to the sun as well as the natural oils and friction from our hands. Whether you just bought a used car with a peeling steering wheel, or you’ve neglected to use a leather conditioner to clean the wheel you’ve had for years, there ARE ways to repair this unsightly blemish on your vehicle.
Deteriorating leather may be fading, disintegrating or even cracking and tearing. In most cases the steering wheel that once slid so smoothly through hands now is uncomfortable to hold. So what do you do as the owner of the vehicle when you are experiencing this in your own car. There are several options for fixing this phenomenon.
- Replace the entire steering wheel with a stock version either DIY or at a mechanic
- Send the piece out to a specialist for expert restoration
- Repair the steering wheel yourself at home
- Use a steering wheel cover or have the wheel wrapped by a professional.
- Have a custom cover made for the car that you install
Replacing A Steering Wheel DIY
The act of replacing a steering wheel is not a job to be taken lightly as it does involve disconnecting and reconnecting electrical wires, as well as avoiding the air bag that lies in your steering column. However if you feel you are capable, this task can be accomplished in a few easy steps.
- Buy the wheel
- Remove your existing wheel
- Remove the cover and disassemble
- Disconnect the wires
- Center and tighten the lug nut
Buying A New Or Used Steering Wheel
You can find tons of unique options for steering wheels online. Whether you are looking for a gorgeous and unique new addition of flare, or you are just looking to replace the steering wheel with a newer version of the stock wheel that came on your car originally, the internet will have what you are looking for.
Regardless of what you buy, be sure that it fits the overall dimensions of your steering column. To find out what dimensions are specific to your make, model and year of vehicle, do a simple search online and see what information you can attain. If you are struggling with this, give the car manufacturer a call and they should be able to assist you and may even be able to sell you what you’re looking for.
If this is as far into a DIY as you are willing to go, take the steering wheel to a local mechanic to have a professional deal with the screws, wires, bolts and lug nuts. Having a steering wheel replaced at a local mechanic will cost you on average $150 in labor costs.
Disassemble The Wheel
Once you find the wheel you want, you’ll have to take off the covering of the wheel that is standard on most modern steering wheels. You’ll want to be extremely careful when doing this not to cause permanent damage to the wheel. Each wheel will be a bit different, however most are held together with tiny screws that you’ll need to remove.
Disconnect The Wires
The new age steering wheel can perform all sorts of tasks with the simple press of the button. These features can be incredible for safety and keeping a driver fully focussed on the road, however when it comes to replacing a steering wheel, this is where it can get a bit complex.
Important safety information!!!! When dealing with live electrical wires, you’ll want to know what you are doing already. This article is not meant to teach you the safety concerns of trying to repair electrical connections. Please be sure to disconnect the battery if you are trying this at home.
Additionally there is an airbag located in the steering wheel that helps prevent traffic fatalities. Unfortunately the velocity of which airbags deploy can be extremely dangerous themselves, especially for someone holding metal tools. You’ll want to be very careful not to disturb the air bag.
Find and disconnect the wire connectors on your steering wheel being sure not to cut or damage the wires themselves. If you do manage to tear, cut or damage the wires you’ll need to call a tow truck and get your car to a mechanic to see if they can undo this major oops.
Center The Lug Nut
After the original steering wheel has come off, it should be simple to locate the lug nut at the center of the steering column. You’ll be able to take off the lug nut using simple tools. Once you’ve removed the lug nut, set it aside in a safe place for reinstallment
The area around the lug nut will be greasy, as this helps the steering wheel turn which is a vital function of a steering wheel. If the area around your lug nut isn’t greased up you will want to lubricate it.
After installing the new steering wheel you will want to add extra lubrication to this area. Then simply reconnect the wires to the new steering wheel, secure it and attach any parts or covers that you had removed carefully not to damage them. That is it, you’ve replaced your steering wheel
Having Your Steering Wheel Sent Out For Refurbishment
If you want an expert to repair the steering wheel of your car you have to options, finding someone locally who specializes in leather restoration in vehicles, or removing the steering wheel completely and having it sent out to a company.
If you intend to ship out the steering wheel, consider having a mechanic remove it for you or review the safety information in the section above.
Having a steering wheel refurbished by an expert can be very expensive regardless of if you have the wheel removed and sent out or have someone detail it while it is still attached to your vehicle. The price for this service can range anywhere from $200- $750. For this reason it is generally cheaper just to buy a new steering wheel if you don’t have some form of vintage car.
Refurbishing The Leather Steering Wheel Yourself
You can alternately refurbish the steering wheel of the vehicle that is peeling yourself in 10 steps. Here is what you will need:
- Unwrappable fabric or a plastic tarp
- Rubbing alcohol wipes or rubbing alcohol and a white cloth (must be light enough to see the debris you are removing)
- 400 grit sand paper
- Linseed oil
- 2 small rags
- Leather filler
- Adhesion promoter
- Leather dye
Step 1: Cover and protect the interior components of your car
While the materials used to restore your steering wheel to it’s former glory are safe to use, they can discolor, stain or bleach other parts of the car they may come in contact with while you work. You’ll want to thoroughly cover the seats, dashboard, steering column, and floor of the drivers side of the vehicle to make sure if these chemicals do drop here and there that they will only make contact with the protection you laid down. Use the fabric or tarp and secure them into place using tape where needed.
Step 2: Clean the steering wheel
A car’s steering wheel is easily the filthiest component that lies within the cab of the vehicle. Over time a steering wheel will collect oils and dirt as well as any other junk on your hands. To clean the steering wheel, use a rubbing alcohol based wipe and wipe down the entire surface of the wheel, not just the part you will be restoring. You’ll likely find that the wipe is coming away dark with the dirt and oils it is grabbing from the steering wheel. Repeat this cleaning process until you are no longer removing contaminants from the wheel.
Step 3: Cover the details of the steering wheel with masking or painters tape
Now that you’ve protected the other components of the vehicle you’ll want to cover up the non leather parts of the steering wheel such as any plastic pieces, buttons or key areas. The cleaning and coloring agents you will be using can discolor and stain these pieces as well.
Step 4: Exfoliate the leather
Next you’ll want to take a sand paper sheet that is about 400 grit to the steering wheel and really put some elbow grease in removing the flakes. Other than flake removal, exfoliating the leather leaves tiny cracks which will help the cleaning and painting agents do the best job.
Step 5: Add healthy oils
Next you are going to add back moisture to the leather by applying a healthy coating of linseed oil with the small cloth you have set aside. You don’t want to leave the wheel overly greasy but you do want to apply a decent amount. To achieve this, apply in small amounts until you get your desired result. Allow the oil to rest for ten minutes before proceeding to step 6.
Step 6: Fill the gaps with filler
Next you are going to take the leather filler and apply to the areas of the wheel that are uneven, pressing down on those areas with your fingertips to really pack the filler in and get an even surface.
Step 7: Even it out
Now, you’ll take the 400 grit sandpaper and again sand down the wheel giving extra attention to the areas that you filled with leather filler. This will really add an extra punch in packing down the filler and giving you a smooth finish.
Step 8: Wipe the wheel clean
Next you’ll want to remove any residue from the flaked leather, sandpaper or filler that may be left on the wheel. Any form of flakes or grains left behind will disrupt the next process so be sure to be exceptionally thorough here.
Step 9: Apply an adhesion promoter
Now apply the adhesion promoter to the steering wheel. An adhesion promoter helps in attaching the color to the leather. What this does in theory is makes the color last much longer and it also makes application of the dye easier.
Step 10: Leather dye application
Put on the gloves you have set aside and apply the leather ink to your clean sponge. Using circular motions, press the dye into the steering wheel using the sponge. You should start small and slowly build up the amount of dye you are applying so that you can get exactly the right color for your vehicle. You can always add more but once you’ve applied it, you won’t be able to remove it.
That is it. Allow the dye to dry according to the manufacturer’s specifications and seal if you desire. Your steering wheel won’t look completely brand new, but the coloration and texture will be far improved from where you began.
Buying A Cover Or Having The Wheel Re Wrapped
Buying a steering wheel cover is going to be your cheapest option. You can purchase steering wheel covers in practically any color or material your heart desires. However, some may not enjoy the look or feel of a steering wheel cover which can be a bit bulky.
You can alternatively have a professional re- wrap your steering wheel though this too can be an expensive option. Find a local professional to perform this task for you, but expect to spend between $150 and $450 for this service.
Installing A Custom Made Cover
You can purchase a custom made cover for your steering wheel online which will be much less bulky than one you would buy at an auto parts store for under $20. If you are interested in more information on this, check out this informative video where Boost Brothers gives you step by step information on what company to use, and how to actually manually install the custom cover.
We hope this article has answered all of your questions regarding issues with your cracked or peeling steering wheel and that you feel more prepared to handle such an occurrence now and in the future. Consider protecting your vehicle with an extended warranty plan from Protect My Car.
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