Restoring what can't be replaced
Updated: Jan 25, 2019
Tips for bringing ugly parts back from the dead. Some helpful tips for economical preservation of original and rare parts:
Sometimes stuff is just broke and you gotta buy new stuff.
That’s where we can help you. It’s what we do. We offer a complete line of replacement parts for BMWs at www.bimmer.com
For the items that are no longer available or beyond your budget, you have options that require little more than patience and a little elbow grease. We call this approach “restoration” and much of it can be done by folks with little or no experience in working on their own cars. It requires attention to detail and occasionally a gentle touch, but it’s not rocket science and can be accomplished by just about anyone with the time and interest in doing so. The rewards are immediate and can be super satisfying!
Dilapidated parts fall into the following general categories:
Vinyl interior trim
Chrome plated bumper and interior parts
Anodized aluminum trim
Aluminum and steel engine and chassis parts
Mylar or “chrome plated plastic” interior parts
Fabric and cloth upholstery
The local auto parts stores offer a dizzying array of cleaning products, specialized detailing tools, polishes, waxes, glorified rags, and usually accompanied by an overworked, underpaid, under-trained counter person that asks “is that for a manual or automatic transmission?” when you inquire about any of the above. They can’t help it.
The good news, is that rarely will you need a “specialty product” to make a huge improvement in the parts you’re cleaning or rejuvenating. Even as a professional, when I'm performing full-bongo restorations, I often rely on mundane and inexpensive cleaning products.
Here’s a basic list of materials and consumables in my arsenal:
Cheap rags, old T shirts (...and please, don’t use old underwear. We’re not savages here!)
Disposable paint brushes. Both ½ wide “flux brushes” and 1” wide paint brushes
(I often take scissors and cut the bristles down to ½” or so, to make them effectively more stiff and aggressive at scrubbing the funk.) I sometimes wrap the metal portion of the brush with masking tape, to avoid scratching delicate surfaces, during the cleaning process.
Citrus cleaner and / or common household “Simple Green” type cleaners.*
(I’ve had great luck with the weirdo off-brand stuff at the dollar stores.) The only difference is the quality of the squirter handles, usually. Save your empty name brand glass cleaner bottles for refilling with the cheap stuff, when the new triggers fail on the el-cheap-o brand cleaners.)
Nylon bristle “vegetable brush” or fingernail brush
(I try to find unscented stuff, since I don’t want my car to smell like a strawberry-infused Gentleman’s club.)
*ALWAYS test cleaning products on a small hidden portion the surface you plan to restore BEFORE embarking on the full monty! I’ve tried to suggest cleaners that are gentle above, but I’ve been surprised before by a few of them. Don’t ruin stuff. That’s bad.
For more aggressive cleaning and reconditioning, I’ve attacked the aging process of car parts with these:
Lacquer thinner / Acetone
Brakleen aerosol solvent
3M adhesive remover
#000 steel wool. (NEVER use anything coarser, and ONLY use this on steel or chrome plated parts, as it can thoroughly THRASH plastic and anodized aluminum trim with scratches.)
Cleaning and restoring the look of vinyl:
Unlike leather and fabric, most BMW vinyl is remarkably robust stuff. Even mold and other filth usually won't do permanent harm to it. The only tricky aspect, is not damaging the "iffy" seat padding or cardboard that lies beneath it. I try to keep the old horse hair and cardboard portions dry and unmolested whenever possible. With that said - go get your garden hose.
Working outside in the sun has yielded good results for me. I lay the seats on the pavement and lightly douse them with water, while avoiding the metal and padding on them as much as practical / possible. I do one seat or panel at a time, and immediately start working with diluted dish soap and a fairly aggressive vegetable brush. Small circular patterns and frequent rinsing is essential. I do 4" to 8" square sections at a time, always rinsing and then moving on to the next area. Above photos show the magical transformation possible. Total time required: Maybe an hour or two per seat. I finish up with a high quality vinyl dressing to keep them from looking too "dull" after they dry. On door panels, be careful not to get too aggressive with the chrome plated plastic trim. I know of no truly effective and perfect way to repair these...but I'm always looking for solutions for this common problem. Chrome / Mylar tape and other polished-looking foil tapes haven't worked well for me.
Allow to fully dry in well ventilated / outdoor / sunlit area. Mold HATES sunlight. Let the often destructive UV rays do some GOOD for a change, on your car! I've used the above techniques - or variations thereof, to restore dashboards in the car as well as center consoles, door panels, and other small parts.
Tune in later for additions to this article, as I'll be tackling chrome, rubber, and steel cleaning techniques in future updates! (last updated January 25, 2019)