E-tek How-to: Dash Covers

by E-tek Restorations
C ompared to the cost of the
alternative - a new vacuum formed dash pad - vinyl dashcaps are a definite bargain. These dashcaps are pre-molded plastic in the exact shape of your original dash, available in hundreds of applications. Designed to glue over the existing cracked dashes, they ca give any dmaged or worn dash a new lease on life.
While they don't look EXACTLY like the original, they are pretty close and most guys are not sure if spending another $400 (or more) is worth getting the "real-deal".
Since these thermal-molded dashcaps are semi-rigid, they will hold their shape, even when the surface beneath is less-than-perfect. However, you do need to smooth out any larger imperfections and not overuse the silicon adhesive to guard against having bumps and waves show in the final product.

While some manufacturers say you  don't need to remove most components of the dashboard to complete the installation, and that only need a small amount of adhesive is needed to keep it fastened securely in place, don't fall for it! Like most things, the extra time and effort you put into the prep and installation, the better the end result.

Like most of you, I wanted to do the best job possible on my Challenger, so Iprepared the original dash to provide a flat, solid and level surface for the new cap. These companies also advise that the dash need not even be removed from the vehicle for installation.

Whether or not you are removing the dash from the vehicle, cleaning the old dash is paramount for proper adhesion. Make sure to start by  wiping all dash surfaces with a clean cloth dampened with wax & grease remover, enamel reducer, or acetone. The surface must end up perfectly oil and protectant free. I'd stay aways from lacquer thinner though, as that might excessively soften some plastics causing other, unforseen problems.

Repeat this cleaning process several times or until the surface is dull in appearance, and there is no feel of any residues to the touch of your fingers. The masking tape test is a good indicator: if the tape won't stick, keep cleaning!

As well, once you get started, you'll want your shop and interior vehicle temperature to bed a minimum of 20C/72°F, but not so hot so as to significantly change the drying times of the repair materials or the silicone adhesive.

As I was doing a complete restoration of this vehicle, I started with a stripped dash that was out of the vehicle. As stated earlier, you can do this with the dash in-vehicle,but it will require some extra planning and effort on your part. 
First up is removing the vent grates and plastic vent tubes from the back of the dash, as well as any emblems, garnishes and speaker covers.
The defrost vents  on the Challenger unscrewed from the inside of the dash.While vent bezels can look fine,  commonly the vent louvers are broken missing. Be sure to have all these parts on hand before beginning in order to mark the openings to trim them appropriately.
Next up was the first of a few trial-fits. I installed the dash cap over the dash by pulling and pushing until it was properly seated. Be sure to check that all the edges are seated and that the vent and speaker holes line-up correctly, then mark the holes with a marker pen. A silver Sharpee worked best on the black dash, which I later used again to re-color a silver strip around the AM radio bezel when finishing out the dash.
Once marked, remove the dash cap and cut out the holes carefully, just inside where the various caps will mount.

As can be seen above, the extruded plastic rises up around large cracks and need to be trimmed down to fit the dashcap. Cutting the brittle old material is tough, even with new razors, but I used a long knife-blade razor held flat across the surface to slice any proud areas off.
I sanded the smaller cracks with my D/A sander locked to the grinding mode. The heat from the DA softened the material around the cracks, which allowed the plastic to resettle closer to level than where it started.
After sanding the areas flat - or even slightly lower - I used 3M's flexible repair compound,which is used by bodyshops to fix flexible bumpers and other soft plastic parts. You can purchase it at any autobody supply store. Equal parts of the resin and hardener are mixed to catalyze the product, which then allows for about a 5-10 minute working time.
A plastic spreader was used to apply the compound slightly higher than level with the surface.Once dried (about 30 minutes), I sanded it with 120Grit on the DA and feathered the repair well past the actual repair area.
Two applications were required in some spots - just repeating the process. With the basic repairs done, a few coats of plastic-specific (SEM) primer where applied. The dash now had a solid and level surface for which to support the vinyl cap.
Next, the dashcap was slipped on for another trial fit. This time I noticed a slight discrepancy between the window for the VIN and the recess in the stock dash, so I marked  where the two lined up in order to repair the area with more 3M flexible rubber filler.
The original dash is built of a thermoplastic material, which, although brittle, becomes soft and formable with heat. I used a heat gun to work the material in the VIN tag area, then coaxed the softened plastic to match the recess with the window in the dashcap.
The next stage of the install was to simply follow the installation instructions as supplied with the dash. Again, clean the old dash surface again, as well as the underside of the new dashcap. Although a tube of silicone adhesive was supplied with the cap, I purchased a tube of black silicone to use with my caulking gun.
The instructions state to apply the silicone to the edges only - which is important - both to ensure there are no lumps or bumps in the final product, but also to allow for some movement due to expansion or contraction with temperature changes.
Once the adhesive was applied, the cover went over the dash for the final time, popping right into position. I then then used clamps, spring clips, some tape and even a pair of vice grips (over pieces of wood) to hold the dash in place while the adhesive dried.
Be sure to work quickly and press the edges tightly together before the silicone dries, then let it set over night.  If required, you could even put a couple of black self-tapping screws in the corners or undersides, where they will be hidden when the dash is re-insertred into the car.
The front lip of the cap extended over the dash by about 1/2” but this will also be hidden when wedged between the dash and the windshield. You can trim it if you want - I left mine alone.

Once glued I attached the top radio grate to hold the centre portion down. Here I needed to drill small holes for the back studs of the grate to fit through the dash cap and dash.

The final stage was to attach the plastic vent tubes to the underside of the dash. I did this by drilling out large enough holes on both sides of the vent tube so that the tube can sit flush against the metal backing plate. I then siliconed and pop riveted the vent tube into there original location.

Finally, the emblem was replaced. While in some cases you may need to drill holes in the dash’s emblem recess for the emblem mounting pegs, mine was an adhesive-backed emblem form YearOne - easy peasy.
With the dash back in the car and put back together, the final results are very good. With the dash and instruments back in place it really looks like a new dash - without the tell-tale signs of it being a dash cap.
The whole installation took about 3 hrs plus the overnight dry time. It’s definitely a high-value project that can increase the worth of your vehicle as well as owner-satisfaction.  At under $100, it’s pretty cheap too. Of course for those of you with a larger budget  can have your old dash completely restored for about $650. Check out www.justdashes.com for full informationon both methods of restoration.