It’s not the glue that releases but the backing on the headliner material that deteriorates and then the headliner material and backing start to separate. This crumbling of the foam rubber portion of the headliner material is what creates the sagging. When this happens people will try all kinds of things to fix it, from injecting glue through the fabric with a syringe, stapling the fabric up, thumbtacks, whatever it takes to make the thing stay up. The problem is that this will keep getting worse as more and more of the headliner deteriorates, it will become a safety issue and it looks bad.
Having your headliner material replaced is an important safety concern.
A loose headliner can cause miscellaneous debris from the old worn out foam to fall into the eyes while driving or the loose fabric of the headliner can come off completely without warning causing a blinding hazard, especially if you are driving with the window rolled down. Most people wait too long before finally getting a new headliner. In my opinion, the main reason for this is simply because they don’t know what a headliner is much less where to go to get it replaced. That’s why articles like this are good reference for consumers. It helps those that are not so car savvy to become educated and are more familiar with the services upholstery shops can provide. And for those that are very familiar with these services but would rather test the waters and try it yourself, there are some tips here for you as well.
Dealing with airbags under the headliner board
With many of the new cars having airbags installed just above the headliner, upholsterers must deal with the newer vehicles just a little differently. Make sure the ignition is in the off position for the duration of the work being done. The airbags must be disengaged in order to remove the headliner material and board. If the airbags are disengaged and the ignition is turned on, the air bag warning light will come on and will have to be reset by the dealership. You don’t want to have to go through all of this hassle, so just make sure the ignition stays in the off position.
Starting the job
- Do your research before removing a headliner for your specific vehicle. You may have wiring or other items under the headliner that could get damaged if you are not aware that they are there. Also, make sure you understand how your specific vehicle headliner is attached, there are several different methods the car manufacturer uses to attach the headliner to the ceiling such as rods, clips or pressure.
- You or your upholster will begin the job by removing the sun visors, if you have deluxe fixtures fitted with a light that also required disconnecting the electrical wiring be extra diligent to take pictures of how the visors are put together and label all parts in ziplock bags. Remove the stock overhead console if applicable. If this is also fitted with lights or other digital equipment the same documentation rules will apply as with the visors. Then remove the bolsters these are the stock plastic covers on the front columns. Pictures and reference maps are very important, especially if this is your first time removing a headliner and you have a lot of fixtures overhead. Keeping all the individual screws and parts together and labeled will save you so much time later on down the line.
- Remove the clips
on both sides of the headliner to free the headliner board. Once the board is free you can safely remove it from the vehicle. The best way is through the passenger side front door.
- Place the headliner board on a work table or a clear work space with the fabric side up so that the fabric can be removed and the old glue can be scraped away. Make sure that there are no other attachments on the headliner such as hanger hooks, handles or air vents, these items must be removed before stripping off the fabric, document and store these items appropriately.
- Remove the headliner material in one piece or as cleanly as possible then begin scraping the old foam backing off the board using a wire brush.
Using a vacuum, remove the dried foam off the board and blow off the residue with an air hose or sweep it off as cleanly as possible. The cleaner you can get it, the smoother and nicer the new headliner material installation will look. If you have a fiberglass headliner (older models) it is recommended that you take the vehicle to a professional upholstery shop as you can damage the fiberglass when removing the old foam. Measure out enough headliner material to cover the headliner board. It’s always better to order a little extra just in case. You don’t want to come up short on headliner material.
- Material Note: A professional upholstery shop will use adhesive sold in 5 gallon
drums and applied using an air compressor and glue gun but if you are doing this project from home you can use spray adhesive sold in a can from your local upholstery trim shop or the internet. You will need about one or two cans depending on the size of the headliner. A minivan or an SUV may need up to three cans of adhesive.
- To bond the fabric to the board, spray adhesive on half of the board and the corresponding half of the fabric. Allow the glue to get tacky then bond the fabric to the board. Working in sections like this will help you keep control of the headliner in this tacky state. The glue can get very messy and could cause you to lose good fabric if it gets away from you. If the headliner material is not put down in the position you would like it to be in, don’t worry, you have a little time before there is a permanent bond between the headliner material and the board but you have to work quickly. Once you have one side down, do the same with the other side. Smooth the fabric out on the board to make it as seamless and wrinkle free as possible and to assure the board is permanently bonded.
- Trim the headliner material to cover the board exactly at the edges and to match the openings in the board for the fixtures installed through the board into the ceiling. Make necessary openings for wiring and fixtures, when the fixtures are installed all rough edges will be covered by the fixture housing or trim pieces. If the trim or fixture does not cover raw edges you will need to wrap the edges to create a smooth finished look.
- Now you’re ready to re-install the headliner, begin with loosely putting the headliner in place so that you can rewire the lighting, airbags and other fixtures that must be connected above the headliner itself. Once all wiring is complete, the headliner board can be put in a permanent position flush to the ceiling usually with clips in the same positions that you removed them from. Using your notes and pictures as reference you will install the bolsters, visors, overhead console, all electrical wiring, air-vents and grab handles as applicable.
If you feel that this process may be more than you want to deal with you can buy pre made headliners made to your vehicle specifications. You will still have to remove the old headliner but the messy work like cleaning and applying adhesive will already be done for
you. This will take considerably less time and you don’t have to let anyone else handle your car.