Anyone who’s driven an old car knows how annoying it is when your headliner begins to sag. It doesn’t only look unpleasant and messy, but it can be dangerous too. If the sag is particularly bad, the headliner material can begin to encroach on your field of vision, and may become distracting.
A sagging headliner may not seem like a big deal right now, but the obstruction and distraction could lead to an accident. If you got into a car crash because of something so simple to fix, you would be kicking yourself.
We have rounded up a selection of the top 5 easy ways to fix a sagging headliner without having to remove and reinstall it completely. This will help to keep you and your passengers safe while improving the aesthetics of the car’s interior.
What is a headliner?
A headliner is also referred to as the headlining of the interior of a car. In layman’s terms, it is the fabric that is attached to the underside of the car’s roof.
It helps to reduce the external noise that is heard while the car is in operation. It also helps to provide a layer of insulation to keep heat inside the car and gives a cleaner, more finished look.
Headliners are composite materials, usually a fabric overlay on top of a foam or non-woven backing material. The material tends to be a tricot knit fabric with a melted polyurethane foam backing. This is then adhered to the fiberglass roof of your car.
What causes headliners to sag?
Headliners will sag naturally over the course of time. This is due to a combination of gravity, exposure to heat, humidity, and moisture. This causes the bond between the fabric and the foam to weaken and deteriorate as the materials contract and relax.
The foam backing will oxidize and turn yellow. This compromises the bond to the fabric and results in the material sagging off of the roof.
How do you prepare?
To prepare for a spot repair of your headliner, you will first need to ensure the backing board of the headliner is dry and clean. If there is any old adhesive agent or residual moisture on the surface of the backing board, new adhesives will not stick.
We always recommend taking out the central cabin light in your car. This will give you a lot more space to work in. It will also make fixing the headliner easier as it will slot into place smoothly. This will also ensure that you do not make a mess with the adhesive, resulting in it getting in inconvenient spots.
It is also smart to take off the sun visor, particularly if the affected area of the headliner is towards the front of your car. This will again give you more space to work in, meaning the fabric can be stretched out correctly.
Double-sided tape works really well as a short-term solution to a sagging headliner. Tape is a very readily available resource and this will hold relatively well. It is particularly effective if the sagging fabric is primarily around the outer edges.
To use this fix, pull back the fabric so that the backing board is exposed. Attach one side of the tape to this exposed area. You should try to cover as much of the exposed area as possible to ensure a firm attachment.
Pull the other side of the tape covering off to expose the adhesive. Pull the headliner fabric taut and stretch it across the backing board. Press firmly against the tape to adhere the materials together.
This is, as the name suggests, a simple fix. All you need to do is grab some pins of your choice and push them through the headliner fabric into the foam backing. This will secure the headliner in place without much hassle or effort.
You can use thumbtacks if you have them on hand. This is fantastic if you have young children as you can choose novelty or colored push pins. These will brighten up the interior of your car and you can make fun games out of them to entertain your kids on long car journeys.
There are pins known as clear-headed twist pins, or saggy stoppers. These are the preferred pin choice for this use. The needle of the pin is in a corkscrew shape to ensure a strong affixation. The head is made of a clear plastic which means they are fairly invisible once installed in the car. These pins are very cheap to purchase and easy to use.
The pins have been designed with upholstery in mind. They will not damage your car and are made to handle tough fabrics. The spiral shape of the needle means that you can rest easy with the knowledge that they will not fall out of the ceiling and onto your passengers’ heads.
The principle behind this method is the same as the double-sided tape. It has a stronger adhesive property and is likely to be much more resilient and durable. Any glue will work in theory, but some will be more effective than others.
Hot glue and superglue are common choices and will do the job sufficiently. The best option, however, will be a specialist automotive fabric adhesive spray. You can commonly find these in auto shops and DIY stores. Using an aerosol spray like this will ensure a more even fusion and consistent result.
For a more even finish, you could consider removing the entire area of backing from the interior of your car. You will need to pull off all of the fabric and clean off any old adhesive. Use the aerosol spray adhesive to reattach the fabric evenly across the backing board.
We recommend laying something flat and heavy over the top to ensure an even application. You should leave it to dry completely before you attempt to reinstall the backing board and headliner in your car.
Hairspray and Staples
If you are a teacher, or for some other reason have a staple gun lying about your home, this is the hack for you. This method is incredibly simple, all you need to do is hold the fabric into the correct location and staple through.
Once you have added enough staples to secure your fabric, you will need to grab a can of aerosol hairspray. You should spray generously all over the stapled area of the headliner. Leave the doors of your car open wide and leave the car parked in a well-ventilated area.
As the hairspray dries and evaporates, the residue left behind will act as an adhesive. Once it has dried completely you can remove the staples if you want to. You do not have to, although the fix may hold for longer if you leave them in.
Steam Cleaner and Paint Roller
This fix works as it melts the existing adhesive and reintroduces a level of moisture. This can give the old adhesive a new lease of life and prolong the lifespan of the headliner with relatively little maintenance.
To do this, turn on your steam cleaner and allow it to heat up. Run the steam cleaner along the fabric, following its path with a paint roller. This will press the fabric down onto the newly moist adhesive and ensure that it sticks in an even application.
You should take care not to heat the glue excessively. Too much heat can cause the fabric to burn or shrink. If the adhesive has completely dried out, then this method will not be effective. If you do not have a steam cleaner, a hairdryer and a spray bottle of water should work just as well.
How to Replace a Headliner
You can attempt to repair or replace a headliner at home if you feel confident in doing so. If you are concerned about your abilities, we recommend contacting a trained automotive expert to do the job for you.
Your first step is to prepare the car. It is vital to disconnect the battery terminal before you begin. This will ensure that you do not injure yourself or accidentally start the car as you are working on it.
You should also remove the passenger seat to allow you more space to work in. This will ensure that the working angle is more comfortable and safer.
You should then remove the trim from your car. If you are interested in cars, this is a good way to understand the specific make and model of your vehicle. You tend to find higher trim levels on more expensive cars.
After this, you should unscrew your sun visors from the car and take off anything that is attached to the interior ceiling. This includes the upper portion of the seat belt loops, as they are very close to your working area. It is wise to also take off a small area of the upper interior trim panels. This gives you more space around the edge of the headliner to work in.
Once this has been completed, you should pull all of the old fabric off of the backing board of your headliner. Put the headliner panel onto a clean surface to work with.
Once the fabric has been ripped off to expose the baking foam, you should also remove this. Scrape them off using a metal scraper and then vacuum up any residual bits of foam.
If the exposed board is damaged, you should repair this using aluminum tape. Reattach the board to the roof of your car using double-sided tape.
Find a glue and spread over half of the board and the back side of the fabric you are using. Lie the fabric over the board and smooth down. Fold the edges of the fabric over the board and glue them to the underside. Take care to leave a little bit of space around the edges.
Trim the side edges so that they are flush with the board and cut holes in the new fabric to reattach any accessories you removed from the ceiling.
Reverse the initial steps that you performed to reattach the headliner to the interior of your car.