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Over the years the vinyl on my steering wheel has fallen apart. I'm not so concerned about cosmetics but on humid days it becomes sticky and leaves a mess on my hands:

enter image description here

Unfortunately, even the wholesale price of a new wheel, without the airbag, is $300 USD (list price $500 something), and I haven't had any luck at salvage yards.

So my question, which is hopefully appropriate here, is: Are there any techniques I can use to restore / repair the vinyl, given its current poor condition, or at least prevent it from becoming sticky or flaking off onto my hands?

And even if I get a new wheel, how can I protect it to prevent this from happening? (If it matters my skin pH is on the low side, I'm one of those people that e.g. wear the paint off of laptop palm rests quickly. So I need to protect it from that.)

My shift knob, parking brake, and driver side arm rest have the same issue as well, although the shift knob is beyond repair (sadly, wholesale OEM knobs are $130...). Only the interior parts that regularly contact my skin show this type of decay.

  • Are you sure it's not just a mixture of dead skin, dirt and oils that has accumulated on the surfaces you touch with your hands over the years? Did you try cleaning it off well? – I have no idea what I'm doing Jul 20 '16 at 16:52
  • @IhavenoideawhatI'mdoing Yeah, it's clean. I clean it regularly over the years and yesterday I just went at it with dish soap and a sponge. The scuffed areas are worn down, and it's brittle and flakey. When it's humid (temperature doesn't matter), little black bits of it get stuck to my hands. The shift knob (don't have a picture of it) vinyl covering is completely gone in a large area, and the edges of the hole have that same texture that's on the steering wheel and break right off if I pick at it. It's about 15 years old, fwiw, and gets very heavy use. – Jason C Jul 20 '16 at 17:23
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It sure looks like that is a factory laced-on cover; I can see the little ridges on the underside at the seam.

These are often laced on over a foam cushion and a bunch of nasty sticky black mastic. Use a razor blade or utility knife to slice that open at the seam and peel it off. Clean off the actual steering wheel frame ring under it with a solvent, then install a high quality cushioned steering wheel cover. No need to replace the steering wheel.

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This falls under normal wear and tear. You can install a leather cover around the rim of the wheel. A black leather cover from an auto parts store would work. A better option would be to have a cover made for it. They tend to last longer and get sewed into the part (instead of just tying it down).

I try to avoid this by using leather care products. You have to try a couple until you find one that does not feel greasy. It helps but you have to apply it religiously (once a month).

If you live in a hot climate it might be a good idea to use one of those windshield sunlight covers. High temperatures really damage the interiors of cars. More so on older cars who do not benefit from newer, better materials.

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In all honesty, I would say the steering wheel in the picture is beyond repair.

I have successfully used shoe polish to mask the scuffs on my Lumina's steering wheel. As with shoes, the sheen doesn't last forever; the steering wheel would regularly need to be polished to keep it looking good.

I don't recall that the shoe polish left me with icky hands either, so I'd say it's worth a go.

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