This DIY has been 6 months in the making, and I think it’s WAY overdue. As our beloved MKIV’s are aging, so are many of the components. Obviously the steering wheel gets a ton of use… more and more three-spoke (leather) wheels specifically are beginning to look awful. Well thanks to a decent amount of research and some trial and error, you now have the opportunity to re-finish your steering wheel making it look AND feel like new. You will be able to fix fading, remove scratches, dents and most if not all other flaws.
Estimated time to complete from start (removing steering wheel) to finish (reinstallation): 2 hours
Estimated cost (if you need to buy everything): $20.00
Before I start, know that if you try to refinish your steering wheel, you accept full responsibility for everything you do. Be smart, enough said.
Note: This DIY applies to leather wrapped steering wheels ONLY. This includes all newer model ‘standard’ MKIV three-spoke wheels, GLI/20th perforated wheels and R32 wheels. I have personally re-finished all three varieties; however the pictures provided will focus on the ‘standard,’ most common three-spoke wheel.
What you will need:
-‘The Original Leather Refinish, Black’ (I buy mine locally at a shoe repair store, but you can find it online. ex. http://www.ecrater.com/p/12471668/bl...n-aid-to-color)
*I have tried several leather dyes, and this is the ONLY one that I would suggest
-A paint brush of some sort, I suggest a regular art brush (one with synthetic fibers) 1/2-3/4” wide.
-Fine grit wet/dry sandpaper (800 grit and 1200 grit)
-Spray bottle filled with water and a few drops of dish soap
I recommend removing the steering wheel from the car to perform this DIY, although it is not necessary (the leather dye dries fairly quickly and the car can be driven an hour after finishing everything).
Please follow these steps to remove your steering wheel (credit for this part goes to username: tatge):
Items you will need:
- T55 torx bit or 12 spline tool (commonly called a triple square which can be purchased at most auto parts stores)
- Torque wrench (one that will allow you to torque to low settings)
- Small flathead screwdriver
- Ratchet for torx bit
- Extension for rachet and bit
- 10mm socket (to disconnect battery)
- Radio security code (for earlier model year Mk4's)
*Make sure your wheels are straight and the steering wheel is appropriately aligned.
1. Disconnect the battery.
2. Insert key into ignition, and turn to the "on", but not "over" position (this will keep the wheel from locking).
3. Turn the wheel 90 degrees to one side. You will feel/see a small hole in the back.
4. Insert a small flathead screwdriver into the hole. Make sure the screwdriver is angled such that the handle is against the steering column, and the flathead is as high up within the hole as possible. Make sure to push the screwdriver in as far as you can.
5. Pull up on the handle. What you are trying to do is push down on a small spring within the steering wheel that holds the airbag locking latch secured.
6. You may have to try a couple times, but you will eventually see, hear, and feel the airbag catch release from the spring.
7. Turn the wheel in the opposite direction 180 degrees until you can see/feel the second hole.
8. Repeat the screwdriver procedure.
9. The airbag should now be released from the steering wheel. However, it is still attached to the wiring harness. Make sure to unplug the harness from the airbag before you pull it out too far from the wheel.
10. Place the airbag somewhere secure, with the padding side up.
11. Disconnect the wiring harness from the steering column. If you look closely, you will see two indentations in the steering wheel, near the wiring harness, that will fit the harness connectors. Insert the connectors in the appropriate indentations just to get the wires out of your way.
12. Using the T55 torx bit or the 12 spline tool, remove the bolt in the center of the steering column.
13. Pull the wheel off the steering column.
If you made it this far, this is where the fun begins!
You need to clean the wheel as best as possible. First, glove up. Then wet a rag with rubbing alcohol, yes rubbing alcohol and scrub away. You want to get rid of all the dirt, grime and oil that has soaked into the leather after years of use. Essentially the rubbing alcohol breaks everything apart and dries the leather out a bit, which makes absorption of the dye much better.
Your wheel should now look like this (notice the terrible fading at the top):
Here’s a better pic of the wear and fading:
Grab your spray bottle (with the water dish soap mix) and begin soaking the faded area. With the wheel wet, spray your 800 grit wet sand paper and begin sanding the faded areas. What you’re trying to go is even everything out and remove any rough edges. A key to this is to keep everything nice and wet! Periodically run your hand over the area, once you are no longer able to feel where the fading begins and where it ends, stop.
This is where you’ll remove scratches and other blemishes. Obviously there may be damage to the wheel that is un-repairable. Use your best judgment to determine whether you think the scratch can be removed or not. This scratch as an example was pretty bad.
Using the same method you used to even out the fading, begin sanding the scratches/dents. I wet sanded the scratch and surrounding area until it was 90% smooth.
Go over everything you just sanded one last time with the 1200 grit wet sandpaper so that it’s all 100% smooth.
Once you’re satisfied with how smooth your wheel is, dry everything off. You’re wheel looks even worse now, good work.
Go over everything one final time with the rubbing alcohol and the rag.
Now you’re ready to paint (dye) the leather! If you don’t have a towel or something under the wheel that you don’t mind ruining, now would be the time to but something under it. Next, vigorously shake the container of dye until it’s well mixed. CAREFULLY open the top. This is dye, yes it will stain clothes, hands, pets, whatever it gets on.
-Start by painting the leather on the back side of the wheel while it’s laying face down.
-Paint in one direction. I find that it looks better if you try to use long brush strokes.
-After your first pass, go over the same area to minimize the possibility of leaving streaks or bubbles.
-You’ll get a feel for the consistency quite quickly. I really love this product, it goes on smooth and it’s not overly watered down.
-It has a nice sealing quality to it, so feel free to paint over the laces.
-Try not to get it on the plastic/rubber/foam portion of the wheel.
After a few minutes the dyed areas will be able to be handled. Flip the wheel over and paint the front portion of the wheel.
Your wheel should look like brand new now, and if you took your time, you shouldn’t see any brush strokes or places you may have missed. Carefully examine the wheel under a bright light to help see anything you may have missed.
Reinstall the wheel following these steps:
1. Push the wheel on the steering column making sure to line up the splines of the column and the wheel such that the centering mark on the wheel corresponds with the centering mark on the column.
2. Clean the threads of the bolt. Put some new locktite on the threads of the bolt and tighten the bolt down.
3. You will need to use a torque wrench to torque the bolt to the appropriate setting. Torque to 50 Nm (37 ft-lb).
4. Use a center punch to mark the bolt. This should be done each time the bolt is used (the bolt has a lifetime of 5 uses before it needs to be replaced). You should see an already existing punch mark ... make yours next to it, but not so close as to be confusing to someone other than yourself.
5. Plug the wiring harness into the steering column.
6. Plug the wiring harness into the airbag.
7. Push the airbag into the steering wheel making sure the locking lugs are securely fastened (you'll be able to see/hear/feel when things lock up).
8. Turn the key off and remove it from the ignition.
9. Reconnect the battery.
10. Insert the key in the ignition and turn it "on" but not "over". If you don't get an ABS light, then you're good. Give it a little while.
11. Turn the car off and then start the car.
12. You will need to reset your clock, and on earlier Mk4 models, your radio will need to be unlocked with the security code (I don't have to do this on my '03, but your manual will tell you what to do).
13. You will also need to reset your auto up/down window functions.
14. Make sure all windows are completely closed (all the way up).
15. Get out of the car.
16. Lock the car from the outside by inserting the key into the door and turning in the appropriate direction.
17. Unlock the car through the door.
18. Lock the car through the door again. Make sure to hold the key in the lock position for several seconds (I typically wait until the alarm LED has blinked a couple times).
19. Your auto up/down functions should now work again.
Here’s a few pics of the finished product (sorry about the glare):
If you’re wondering how well everything holds up, it has been six months since I completed the restoration and my wheel has shown zero signs of wear. It hasn’t faded at all and the dye doesn’t leech out.