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How to restore rubber trim on a car

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Rubber trim restoration

My new to me, used truck is great but I need to restore the rubber trim. I spent 6 months looking for my first overlanding car project on a budget. What I got was a 1st generation 2002 Toyota sequoia. So far I have been very pleased with the truck however the previous owner did not do the best in taking care of the exterior. Not a problem. I enjoy doing light restorations on vehicles and this was going to be a fun one.

The first eye sore was this white, degraded rubber trim. It is quite obvious and could be seen from far away. Not only was it white contrasted on black it was unevenly spread across the length of the car. This was first on my list of things to restore and I knew I couldn’t make it any worse. So a perfect place to experiment. Since this is a truck used for wheeling I wasn’t going to replace the rubber. It was still doing its job and looks are not a major priority for this vehicle.

Highlevel summary of rubber trim restoration

  1. Clean the rubber with APC and cloth
  2. Soften the rubber with Goo Gone or Goof Off, scrub with red brillo pad (caution will texture the rubber and scratch the paint)
  3. Dish soap and water, scrub and rinse to remove the oils left behind
  4. Tape off and apply Solution finish, follow the instructions and let dry, this restores the rubber to its original black color
  5. Seal in the restored rubber with Carpro Dlux ceramic trim coating. So far this product has lasted 10 months after application and still going.

This is the high-level process so lets dive into the specifics of each step.

faded rubber with wax build up

Cleaning the rubber with APC

The first step in our process was to clean and prepare the surface of the rubber for the succeeding steps. This process is fairly self explanatory, I used a basic all purpose cleaner and towel to remove any major deposits. I did follow up with some water and dish soap combination to remove any remaining oils. Obviously use common sense here, if there is sap then you might need something stronger to remove. Please be careful and do at your own risk. If you see this step solves your problem to your liking then stop and protect it.

white pitted rubber trim
The all purpose cleaners and soap really didn’t do a whole lot in chaining the color back, but it did clean up the surface for the chemicals to do their job.

Softening the rubber and removing the buildup

For the Sequoia’s situation the basic cleaning did not restore the rubber trim. This is where the messy part began. Messy is an understatement since the chemicals used were very oily and got all over the car. Be prepared to wash the car multiple times with soapy water that can remove oils. Dish soap and warm water was used in our case and seemed to work well.

We used a combination of Goo Gone pump spray and Goof Off aerosol spray. The reason for this is I ran out of one half way through this. It turned out to be a good thing since we learned both products do not perform the same. The Goof Off aerosol was the best performing and made quick work of the scrubbing and was much easier to clean up after.

Once I applied the Goof Off the rubber seemed to soften and the white material that was stuck in the pitting started to come out. I used a terry cloth to get the rest of it off but found the red brillo pad and some soaking gave the best results. A few rounds of this the rubber looked a million times better and the pitting smoothed out some, it didn’t go away but was significantly reduced. The red brillo pad will scratch the paint so if you choose this route consider taping off the areas to protect the surrounding areas.

Rubber trim restoration
cleaned, softened and scrubbed rubber trim
restore rubber trim
Up close image of the area where the white residue was removed
restore rubber trim
Here is a good before and after cleaning, softening and scrubbing of the rubber trim. You can see the softening oils get all over the windows and paint.

Color treatment to restore the rubber trim

While the rubber looks pretty good now after the deep clean it still had some white patches. I probably could have done the Cerakote trim coat at this point and called it a day but I had already invested a bit of time to get here. I wanted to blend all of it together to give a nice even and consistent finish. To do this I used a rubber stain called Solution Finish.

Solution finish is a great plastic and rubber black color restorer. It is a potent chemical (use proper protection) and I use it as a last resort but you cannot argue with the results. If I cannot bring the black plastic back with either CarPro Perl or Cerakote Trim Coat Kit then I use this nuclear option. The product is linseed oil based heavy black stain that goes on much like wood stain for a deck. I usually put it on with a microfiber or the applicator sponge that they provide. You will end up throwing away the applicator and pad when you are done since when it dries it gets a bit hard and like a flexible crust.

Of course please read and follow the directions that Solution Finish provides on the bottle and use proper protection.

restoring the rubber trim
This is what the rubber looked like just after the Solution finish was applied and tape was removed. Note the rubber went from matte finish after cleaning to a glossy luster after the application. The final wipe down to even the stain out did dull it a little but not much.

Finish the rubber restoration by sealing and protecting

Now that I invested all this work into the rubber trim restoration I wanted to seal it up and slow the future degradation. The image below is the results after 24hrs dry time for the Solution Finish. It has somewhat of a matte luster and the ceramic coating brought a little more shine back to it. For the ceramic coating I used CarPro Dlux Trim and Wheel ceramic. The ceramic coating did recommend to do a final wipe as would normally do for leveling the product but I opted to not do this. The reason was it went on pretty even and the fine pitted texture of the rubber held the excess coating pretty well, so I just left it to dry.

ceramic coated rubber trim
The rubber turned out really nice, it is not perfect nor the same thing as new. You can see some of the texturing and pitting that is still there but overall a good job for my needs.
fully restored rubber trim
After coating the rubber with CarPro Dlux wheel and trim ceramic coating

Conclusion

So far I have been very pleased with the results. The only thing is that the staining of the rubber is a bit of under taking with the taping off and surface preparation. It is similar to painting a house wall in effort. So if brining the rubber back to the best possible condition is your goal then this seemed to do it. However I could have stopped after softening and removing the white build up and gone straight to sealing it in and saved probably an hour of work and 24hrs of dry time. What ever you jam is I hope you found this article useful. Please leave comments on what you would like to see more of, I am looking to do a series on light restorations.

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