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Getting inside the ride: Repair & restore

October 11, 2010
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Would you like to find a successful add-on service to bring to your existing business; one that you could easily sell to your existing customers? Are you looking for one that goes hand in hand with making a car’s interior look clean and new again?

Well, there may be just the business for you — vinyl, leather, plastic, and fabric repair and dye. It is also known as auto interior repair.

The knowledge that sells
Carwashes and detail companies are in a great position to sell these services. When an employee washes or details a car they may find stains, holes, tears, cigarette burns and so on.

Perhaps the customer cannot get the stain out completely, or the customer thinks there is a stain when it is actually the dye wearing away.

It would be nice to be able to dye the leather seats and get rid of the worn spot that way, or if there is a red stain in a carpet that can’t be removed, dye it so it looks like new again.

There are chemicals that will take the stain out, but many times they will leave a slight orange stain. Knowing how to dye the carpet and putting a light coat of dye over this stain on the carpet will make it look like new again and make customers happy.

Many times when a detailer cleans the inside of a car, he or she can pinpoint damage in the vinyl, plastic, fabric and leather.

By having the knowledge to repair these items, the detail business could increase its profits dramatically. Shops can charge anywhere from $65 to $125 minimum for a repair and really add-on to the revenue.

A small price to pay
What is auto interior repair? When people think of repairing a seat they think of an upholsterer replacing a panel on the seat or recovering the whole seat.

However, there is a process that can just repair the damaged area. An example of this would be there’s a cigarette burn on a vinyl seat; there are companies that make compounds that can be used to fill the cigarette burn and repair it so well that no one would ever notice it.

This process is very helpful and can actually save the customer a decent amount of money.

An example would be if someone had a cigarette burn on their dashboard, the only option they would have is to replace the entire dashboard.

Most people aren’t willing to pay the price to replace the dashboard for a small cigarette burn, but they would be more than willing to have it repaired for a reasonable price. The same would go for such parts as:

  • Door panels;
  • Seats; and
  • Carpets.

Where to begin
There are processes to repair leather, plastic, vinyl, and fabric, but first you have to learn how to complete the processes.

One may ask, “How do I learn these processes?” There are quite a few ways to go about this.

  1. Contact chemical companies that sell the products to complete this process.
  2. Find technicians in the field who are already teaching this process.
  3. Get in touch with the companies that sell videos on how to repair interiors.

Normally, you will need to utilize more than one of these options to become proficient.

The next question tends to be: what if I learn how to complete the repairs and I find that I don’t like it or I can’t do it?

Another option is finding a good technician that is willing to do the work at the wholesale price. Simply sell the job and have the technician finish the work.

Then pay wholesale amount to the technician and charge the retail price. This may be a good permanent option for many shops.

Some owners try this first to see how much interest there is from customers. Then they can go take the classes and learn how to repair it themselves or send an employee to learn the process.

The color wheel
The first thing a detailer will learn is how to match the colors. Some companies sell the colors pre-matched by the make of the car and the color of the interior.

There are formula books that can be referenced to look up the color and use measurements to mix the color, and color computers for matching shades.

Many prefer to mix colors by eye, which can be very difficult to master. Some detailers will learn to develop a sense for color matching and creating custom colors, some may be good at matching, while others may find it difficult to perfect. It is a very difficult skill to master.

Vinyl repair
The next thing a detailer will learn about is vinyl repair.

There are three vinyl repair compounds:

  1. A thin compound: is usually super flexible and it cures at a lower temperature, which is good for very thin vinyl and some leathers.
  2. A normal compound: is what is used on most average vinyl.
  3. A super strength compound: would be used on stiffer vinyl or some awnings.

Then there is also a cold process, which is flexible filler that is sand-able. Many times a detailer will use this on door panels and dashboards.

Learning the leathers
Leather repair can get a little tricky. Leather comes from many different types of animals: cows, horses, sheep, alligators, elephants, deer, and so on.

There are many different ways to tan leather.

There are several different coatings.

  • Aniline dyes;
  • Water-base dyes; and
  • Lacquer-base dyes.

A detailer may want to learn more about the different leathers. In the automotive field, most leather is from cowhide and most of the leather dyes are water-based. This should make it a little easier.

To repair leather there are heat cure compounds and air dry compounds that come in lacquer and water-base products.

Plastic please
Plastic repair is another type of add-on offering. There are many different types of plastics, including:

  • ABS;
  • PVC;
  • Polypropylene;
  • Polyethylene;
  • Nylon; and more.

When repairing plastics it is important to know the difference between the plastics. For example, an ABS plastic is very simple to repair and to dye, because the compounds and dyes bond rather well.

However, polypropylene plastic is an oil-based plastic and it is very difficult to bond repair compounds and dyes to it.

Compounds for repairing plastics are a two-part resin, superglues, and welding.

Doug Snow, president of Snow’s Auto Interior Restoration, Inc., has been performing auto interior restoration since 1980 and is an instructor of interior restoration. Doug can be contacted at