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How to restore that faded plastic trim

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before and after plastic trim restoration

If you are like me, you buy used cars to dodge the depreciation and gain value. Besides, who am I kidding, I can barely afford a new car. The used car approach is great for the wallet and the environment. And yes, finding value in a used car comes at a cost. Generally used cars need a some attention or as I say “light restoration.” Faded black plastic components are the more common items that need to be restored. To have spent the time polishing the paint and leave the faded plastic will detract from all your hard work and overall appearance of the car.

Many car these days have lots of plastic and for good reason. It is durable, lig weight ht and can hold up to the harshest of road conditions. Have you ever noticed the large black plastic trim lining the wheel wells on most 4WD cars or SUVs? Well, the plastic can take a hit from rocks with little to no damage. However black plastic’s biggest enemy is the sun. The sun emits ultra violet, or UV rays which cause the plastic molecules to oxidizer. This new oxidized compound is now white or grayish and it sticks out against the black.

faded black plastic trim
This was once a beautiful midnight black cowl and over time has turned light gray.

I should mention that the sun is not the only contributor to this. Pollutants in the air also oxidize the plastic. However the UV rays accelerate this this condition and therefor is the main objective for protection. Also the suppliers that make the plastic typically using UV inhibitors to improve the lifetime of the plastic as well. Thirty years ago plastics were notorious for fading and warping quickly from the sun. They have improved quite a lot since then.

Restoring the faded plastic trim

High level restoration process:

  1. Clean the plastic with all purpose cleaner
  2. Srub the surface twice and rinse with water
  3. Dry the plastic with a towel and you can even use a leaf blower to help.
  4. IIf severly faded apply a black plastic stain. I use Solution Finish.
  5. Seal in the plastic to protect from the elements with a ceramic coating. I use CarPro DLUX plastic and wheel ceramic coating
  6. Let it dry for twenty four hours and avoid water exposure

How do I know if I need to stain the plastic?

More often than not you don’t need to stain the plastic to get back to black. It is for extreme cases. If it was not for this article, I would NOT have stained the plastic in the photos. An example of when I would is for my mother’s truck. This truck has sat outside under direct sunlight in California for 23 years and is completely white on the top surfaces. I could probably get away with not staining the sides and just do the top of the trim that faces the sun directly.

Scrubbing the faded plastic trim clean

This part is pretty self explanatory, clean the plastic. I used some generic all purpose cleaner and a scrub brush followed by a rag. Fully rinse with water to remove any chemical residue. If you encounter sap or grease you will need to pick it off and use a strong degreaser to ensure it is all gone.

Staining the faded plastic trim back to black

Heads Up! you most likely do not need to do this

As I mentioned earlier, most plastic do not need this treatment. Slight to moderately faded plastic will come back to black when you apply the trim coating or sealants. If you do find yourself in a situation to stain the plastic then here are the two products I have had success with. Just as a warning they are time consuming and a challenge to work with.

Solution Finish – website link here, is a solvent based stain. It is very potent and effective. Follow the instructions on the container and use proper personal protective equipment (gloves and eye protection. To get into the cracks and tight spots use a hobby paint brush which I dispose of later. This product does get gooey if you apply too heavy and does not dry completely. What I mean by this, if you paint it on between the “fins” on the cowl under the wiper blade area then getting the excess out of there will be a challenge and it will goo up.

Turtle Wax Trim Restorer – website link here. I have recently used this and so far it has been working out well. I have not applied a ceramic coating over it yet to determine if that combination is effective. It does go on nicely and acts more like a paint compared to Solution Finish product. Excess is easy to manage and drying time is shorter. It produces more of a matte finish and works well with the small paint brush.

Seal in the plastic trim with a ceramic coating

I have had very good results with plastic trim ceramic coatings. All of the ones I have tested have worked well. They generally last about a year and re-coating is simple and quick. My preference is to use the ceramic coating for the foundation and then every other car wash I apply a standard trim sealant like 303 or Perl.

CARPRO Delux – plastic trim and wheel ceramic coating. Website link here. This product is applied exactly like a DIY ceramic coating. The surface must be free and clear of oils and debris before applying. After applying you can wipe off any excess. Since the plastic trims are textured it makes it almost impossible to see any high spots. So I generally apply the product a little thick, not wipe it off and let it cure that way.

Cerakote ceramic trim coating – Website link here. This product popped up on my radar about 2 years ago and I find it very cost effective and easy to use, It does not last as long as the Delux (maybe 8 months instead of a year), however it is much less expensive. The package comes with small squares of fabric that is saturated in the product. Much like wet wipes but for trim coatings. It definitely has a more solvent based smell making it very different from the normal trim treatments after a wash.


Honestly restoring the black plastic trim of a used car is not too involved and definitely gives the car that extra pop. The paint can be polished and waxed but have faded plastic right next to it just takes that away from the appearance. The majority of the time is spent, cleaning the plastic and then applying the ceramic coating will restore the plastic back to its former appearance. Yes, there are other trim coating products such as 303 and Perl, but those do not last nearly as long as the ceramic product. I recommend applying the ceramic and continue to use your other trim sealants for maintenance.

The staining of the plastic is a last resort and will only work for black plastics. Sometimes it can be used to cover up the old built up wax. The staining process is much more involved and needs to be treated more like a paint job. If you happen to find your self needing to restore the rubber trim then check out this article. The process is pretty much the same as this but with some caveats.

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