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    Thread: DIY: Leather Steering Wheel Restoration (fix fading, scratches, dents etc.)

    1. Member garretsoccer2's Avatar
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      04-30-2012 12:00 AM #1
      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.
      -Rubbing alcohol
      -Rubber gloves
      -Various rags/towels
      -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)


      Removal:
      *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!

      Step 1:
      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:


      Step 2:
      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.

      Step 3:
      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.

      Step 4:
      Go over everything you just sanded one last time with the 1200 grit wet sandpaper so that it’s all 100% smooth.

      Step 5:
      Once you’re satisfied with how smooth your wheel is, dry everything off. You’re wheel looks even worse now, good work.

      Step 6:
      Go over everything one final time with the rubbing alcohol and the rag.

      Step 5:
      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.

      ‘Painting’ Tips:
      -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.

      Step 6:
      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.

      Step 7:
      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.

      Step 8:
      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.

      Cheers,

      Garret
      Last edited by garretsoccer2; 05-01-2012 at 11:57 PM.

    2. Member omeletduefromage's Avatar
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      04-30-2012 12:19 AM #2
      after you sanded down the problem areas did you proceed to sand down the entire wheel as well? the top portion of my wheel is starting to fade and would like to try this.

    3. Member vjg1215's Avatar
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      04-30-2012 12:21 AM #3
      Nice diy

    4. Member garretsoccer2's Avatar
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      04-30-2012 12:51 AM #4
      Quote Originally Posted by omeletduefromage View Post
      after you sanded down the problem areas did you proceed to sand down the entire wheel as well? the top portion of my wheel is starting to fade and would like to try this.
      It wasn't necessary. All you're trying to do is blend everything and make it uniformaly smooth to the touch.

    5. Member garretsoccer2's Avatar
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      05-01-2012 08:26 PM #5
      All PMs replied and questions answered

    6. Member Ericc.'s Avatar
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      05-01-2012 08:52 PM #6
      wow great diy
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      Best dump I ever had!

    7. Member garretsoccer2's Avatar
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      05-02-2012 07:22 PM #7
      Quote Originally Posted by Ericc. View Post
      wow great diy
      Thanks

    8. Member spitfire481's Avatar
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      05-02-2012 08:27 PM #8
      i restored an r32 wheel with SEM products with excellent results as well. results are well worth the time

    9. Member garretsoccer2's Avatar
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      05-30-2012 08:25 PM #9
      Quote Originally Posted by spitfire481 View Post
      results are well worth the time

    10. Member Albertkvw's Avatar
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      02-03-2013 04:41 PM #10
      thx

    11. Member slakr7555's Avatar
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      02-03-2013 05:51 PM #11
      STICKY THIS PLZ MODS!!! awesome DIY man. this one will go on my to do list for sure.
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      You should work on building a sentence before building a 500hp naturally aspirated VR6.

    12. Member garretsoccer2's Avatar
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      02-07-2013 08:44 PM #12
      Quote Originally Posted by slakr7555 View Post
      STICKY THIS PLZ MODS!!! awesome DIY man. this one will go on my to do list for sure.
      You'll have to post your results! If you have any questions, please let me know!

      Cheers,

      Garret

    13. Member Albertkvw's Avatar
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      02-08-2013 06:25 PM #13
      just redone mine, i used a different dye that i found at a local shoe repair. will have to get some pics up soon.

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      02-08-2013 08:32 PM #14
      What if there aren't any real worn through spots, but rather just fading of the wheel. Should I skip right to the 1200 and dye?

    15. Member garretsoccer2's Avatar
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      02-08-2013 11:29 PM #15
      Quote Originally Posted by WilNJ View Post
      What if there aren't any real worn through spots, but rather just fading of the wheel. Should I skip right to the 1200 and dye?
      You'd still need to go through all the prep stages (cleaning etc.) but yes the fine wet sanding and dying steps should be sufficient. Good luck and let me know how it turns out!


    16. Member garretsoccer2's Avatar
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      02-15-2013 11:54 AM #16
      Bump! This is a great project for the weekend!

    17. Member Fastvolks's Avatar
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      02-15-2013 12:24 PM #17
      Thanks for this R32 wheel could use a refresh.

    18. Member Albertkvw's Avatar
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      02-23-2013 01:40 PM #18


      followed this diy but i used dye i found in a local shoe repair



      paid 7 or 8 bucks for the kit came with dye, cleaner basically rubbing alcohol, a small brush and a foam brush, would recommend if you can find it.

    19. Member DieselDubber's Avatar
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      03-10-2013 04:37 PM #19
      I used the same product as the op but my wheel seems sort of sticky after it has dried. Did you notice this and does it go away?
      WTB: PG Jetta rear bumper

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      03-10-2013 06:32 PM #20
      Quote Originally Posted by Baconator14 View Post
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      03-10-2013 06:47 PM #21
      I need to do this
      My build!
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    22. Member garretsoccer2's Avatar
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      03-12-2013 09:27 PM #22
      Quote Originally Posted by DieselDubber View Post
      I used the same product as the op but my wheel seems sort of sticky after it has dried. Did you notice this and does it go away?
      Responded to your PMs. Keep me updated, I haven't had any issues with the numerous steering wheels thy I've done.

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      03-12-2013 09:59 PM #23
      jettaaddiction/bbsrs

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      03-13-2013 12:00 AM #24
      Quote Originally Posted by garretsoccer2 View Post
      Responded to your PMs. Keep me updated, I haven't had any issues with the numerous steering wheels thy I've done.
      Never stopped being that way. Ended up rubbing it down with isopropyl alcohol and most of the dye actually came off. Now it's sort of a uniform light black. Idk oh well I'm not too worried about it. Still a great diy
      WTB: PG Jetta rear bumper

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    25. Member garretsoccer2's Avatar
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      01-10-2014 03:38 PM #25
      Bump because the Vortex needs more DIY threads and less plastidip talk.

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