Headliner replacement

When a vehicle’s headliner sags, it’s time to replace it. Here’s how.

Share This Article

  • Del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmark
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati
  • Twitter


If the headliner in your customer’s vehicle rests on his head and obstructs his vision, it’s a hint that it’s time for a new headliner. The adhesive that used to hold the headliner taut and in place has dried and no longer bonds the fabric to the fiberglass headliner board.

In a feeble attempt to save some bucks, do-it-yourself-minded vehicle owners will try a variety of ineffective methods to keep the fabric from drooping and messing up their hair, including using duct tape and injecting adhesive with a hypodermic needle through the hanging fabric. The only viable choice is to drive directly to a professional upholstery shop.

The time-honored technique for installing a new headliner into a traditional vehicle with a fiberglass headliner board is relatively simple. First, remove all of the stock fixtures that are installed through the headliner fabric and headliner board into the ceiling—dome light, clothes hangers, air vents and pillar covers—so the headliner board can be dropped from the ceiling. Then the tired headliner fabric is peeled off the board. The board is scraped clean of the old, dried adhesive. Fresh spray adhesive is applied generously to the headliner board, and new headliner fabric is bonded to the board. The ceiling fixtures are re-installed and the new headliner board is secured.

Sounds easy when you say it fast, huh? Well, upholstery shop owners know it isn’t that easy. The more fixtures through the headliner into the ceiling, the more difficult the installation becomes.

To prove the point, Aaron Aguirre of Bud’s Upholstery in Long Beach, Calif., takes us through a headliner replacement in a 1996 Chrysler Town & Country minivan, a vehicle blessed or cursed­—depending on your point of view—with numerous ceiling fixtures.

Headliner replacement: start to finish

Photo 1. Photo by Marshall Spiegel.Photo 1a. Photo by Marshall Spiegel.The headliner began to fall just to the left of the driver’s head position. The owner brought it in for replacement immediately, before it got worse. Inset: At 15 years old, the 1996 Chrysler Town & Country was still in good shape when it arrived at Bud’s Upholstery for a new headliner.

Photo 2. Photo by Marshall Spiegel.Trimmer Aaron Aguirre begins the job by removing the passenger side sun visor, a deluxe fixture fitted with a light that also required disconnecting the electrical wiring. Aguirre then removes the stock overhead console, which is also fitted with lights to further complicate the job by requiring that the wiring be disconnected. He then removes the stock plastic covers on the front columns.

Photo 3. Photo by Marshall Spiegel.After removing the fixtures on both sides of the ceiling, Aguirre has the fiberglass headliner board free and ready to remove through the rear hatch of the vehicle.

Photo 4. Photo by Marshall Spiegel.The headliner board is placed on a work table, fabric side up, so that the fabric can be peeled off and the old glue scraped away. Before stripping off the fabric, Aguirre must remove the air vents that are fitted into the headliner board.

Photo 5. Photo by Marshall Spiegel.He then begins peeling off the old headliner fabric. Aguirre’s technique for removing the fabric from the headliner board is to first carefully peel the fabric away from the edges of the board. He manages to peel the old fabric off the board in one piece, leaving no slivers.

Photo 6. Photo by Marshall Spiegel.He then begins scraping the dried old glue off the board. He vacuums the dried adhesive off the board and blows off the residue with a power air hose.

Photo 7. Photo by Marshall Spiegel.Photo 7a. Photo by Marshall Spiegel.The next step is to unroll enough foam-back fabric to cover the headboard, and then carefully trim the fabric to cover the headliner board.

Photo 8. Photo by Marshall Spiegel.To bond the fabric to the board, Aguirre first sprays adhesive on half of the board and the corresponding half of the fabric. Then he applies adhesive to the other half.

Photo 9. Photo by Marshall Spiegel.After gluing both sides, Aguirre carefully smoothes the fabric to the board until it is permanently bonded.

Photo 10. Photo by Marshall Spiegel.He then trims the fabric to cover the board exactly at the edges and to match the openings in the board for the fixtures installed through the board into the ceiling.

Photo 11. Photo by Marshall Spiegel.Photo 11a. Photo by Marshall Spiegel.When he is satisfied that the board is properly covered with the headliner fabric, Aguirre puts the board back into the interior of the vehicle to install it. Beginning with the dome light, Aguirre reinstalls all of the ceiling fixtures and reconnects the electrical wiring. He then gets the headliner board in permanent position flush to the ceiling, and reinstalls the stock plastic pillar covers, the visors, the overhead console and all electrical wiring. Then the lighted air-vent fixtures with grab handles are reinstalled.

Photo 12. Photo by Marshall Spiegel.As Aguirre completes the finishing touches of the installation, here’s a good look at the Town & Country’s flawless new headliner.


Comments are the opinion of individual posters and do not reflect the views of Upholstery Journal or Industrial Fabrics Association International.

  • Rafael Marquez

    I need this done to my T&C

    I just bought a 98 Town and Country with a sagging headliner. How much would something like this cost?

  • Pascal

    Advertising on your car

    Hey guys and gals, If you're like david and see a lot of sagging headliners put a few plastic letters on the side of your car announcing you do the service. I'll bet you they'll start calling in no time. I did the same with antique restoration and drove through the more wealthy areas of my city and klabang more work....!!

  • Jeff Nolan

    Headliner Replacement Installation Method

    A great article indeed! Having your headliner replaced is an important safety concern. Most people wait too long before finally getting a new one. I think it is because they don't know what a headliner is much less where to go to get it replaced. I think that the consumer is slowly starting to become educated and are more familiar with the service, but I still see so many on the road.

  • David Banister

    Good article to help show that it's not as simple as people think. However, it,s not the glue that releases but the backing on the headliner fabric  deteriates and then the faric and backing start to separate and thus the sagging. Thanks  

  • Jack Carr
    Jack Carr

    How about dealing with airbags

    With many of the new cars having airbags installed in/above the headliner, how do upholsterers deal with the newer vehicles


Submit a Comment

Required. Will appear next to your comment.
Required. Will not be displayed on site or used to send unsolicited messages.
If applicable. A link to your site will appear with your comment.
Optional. Will appear in bold type above your comment.