One thing that can always ruin the look of a freshly detailed car is where the black plastic trim areas of the bodywork have faded. These areas which were once a deep black color when they left the factory, change to an old and tired looking grey(sometimes almost white) color over time. As with any exterior car features, it’s exposed to the elements and is therefore prone to fading at some point in the vehicles life.
You could spend hours and hours detailing a car, but if there are faded plastic bits on the exterior, it will never look as good as it potentially could. Deep black looks smooth and clean and will provide the contrast against body panels that makes your paintwork pop, this is why it is important to keep on top of these areas if you want to keep your car looking at its best.
In this post, we will discuss why the black plastic parts of the bodywork fade over time and take a look at some products which can easily bring their appearance back to life with the least amount of effort.
Let’s take a look!
Why Does Black Plastic Trim Fade?
Fading trim is almost inevitable for any car owner if they have not taken the correct steps to protect it ( which we will look at later in this post)
Plastic contains oils. Over a period of time time, those oils degrade which in turn leads to the plastic deteriorating. Unlike paintwork, plastic trim pieces don’t have a protective clear coat. So, without this layer of defence, it will always be more susceptible to damage from the elements.
The main causes of damage to car trim are UV rays from sunlight. These harmful rays dehydrate the plastic and degrade it.
If the plastic has been affected by ultraviolet rays, you may notice
- Chalky appearance
- The component surface becoming brittle
- A color change on the surface of the plastic
Another cause of fading trim is exposure to harsh weather combined with other contaminants from the road. As your drive your vehicle, surface water which can contain grime and other materials can get thrown onto the surface of the plastics.
Over time, this also harms their appearance.
So now that we know the causes, what are the methods we can use to fix this issue, and how can we prevent it from re-occurring in the future?
How To Permanently Restore Black Plastic Trim
There are several different ways in which black plastic trim can be restored and its appearance brought back to an acceptable standard. It all comes down to personal preference with the methods that can be used, but some ways are undoubtedly more complex than others.
The Hard Way (Not Recommended)
These methods I don’t personally recommend for restoring the appearance of black plastic trim, yes they may work to an extent but for the average detailer or enthusiast looking after their own vehicle, they are just not practical. I won’t go into too much detail but these include:
Restoring the trim with a heat gun
In theory, it is possible to restore the appearance of the plastic by using a heat gun. By gently heating the plastic, you’re bringing out the oils within the material, restoring the color.
I have a few issues with this approach and generally don’t recommend it to anyone.
- Not everyone has access to a heat gun
- It takes more time and effort compared to some other methods we will look at below
- Plastic trim pieces generally only last a handful of treatments before going permanently grey. This makes sense; after all, there’s only so much oil to be drawn out.
- I personally never want heat near my paintwork
- You could potentially warp the plastic if you are not careful.
Based on these five points alone I am not a fan of this method.
Repaint/Dye the Trim
Instead of restoring the plastic itself, an alternative is to simply paint over it with a fresh coat. Although this is a long-lasting solution, it is not very practical for most car care enthusiasts for several reasons
- Finding the right color match can be time-consuming and expensive
- The appearance doesn’t always look completely flat, depending on the quality of the work done
- Generally need to remove all the trim parts from the car before painting
- Trim will need to be perfectly clean and decontaminated before painting
- Not something you want to undertake unless you have some experience with painting parts
The Easy Way (Recommended)
Although the two solutions I have outlined above will work to an extent, they are not the most practical methods for achieving the desired outcome. Modern-day detailers don’t have time for messing about removing the trim from a car and waiting for a paint job to dry.
Luckily in 2021, several products will drastically improve the appearance of black plastic trim with little to no effort and are completely risk-free.
Let’s take a look at some of the products that can help you get that deep black look back on your trim.
Best Trim Restorers/Coatings for Your Car
Trim restorers and coatings are great products to have at hand which can provide excellent results from just a few minutes of work. Good quality plastic restorers will be absorbed by the plastic and break down the oxidation that causes the lightened and grey look.
They will nourish the plastic and last a good amount while providing an even finish, like that of new plastic.
Below are some of the products which I have used or recommend for treating your cars trim.
Most of the regular readers of this blog will know that I am a huge fan of Carpro PERL.
CarPro PERL is a water-based silicone-oxide all-purpose dressing from CarPro. The name PERL is an acronym meaning Plastic, Engine, Rubber and Leather and it’s capable of dressing all of these surfaces, with minimal shine whilst providing UV protection.
PERL is a fantastic product to use on black plastic surfaces and can be applied extremely quickly and very easily. PERL comes with a slight trade-off because it is not a “permanent” solution and you will have to eventually re-apply it to the trim, however, it is so easy to use and versatile I always recommend it as a quick-fix solution for restoring plastics.
If you want to learn more about PERL you can check out the full DriveDetailed review and guide here
Gtechniq C4 Trim Restorer
With proper preparation of the trim, C4 by Gtechniq a trim restorer which is definitely worth considering. What makes C4 slightly different to using something like PERL, is that C4 actually forms a bond with the plastic and can leave results that last up to 2 years before another application is needed. The coating swaps part of its molecular structure with the surface molecules of your car’s trim.
Although you get much longer-lasting results than if you are using a product such as PERL, the trade-off is that it is slightly more complicated to apply the product and the preparation is extremely important to ensure a proper chemical bond with the plastic.
Using this product requires some additional steps and care to be taken, but the result can be fantastic when used correctly.
The Last Coat – CeraTrim
A relatively new trim product to the market is Ceratrim from The Last Coat. Similar to C4 above, this product will form a sort of bond with the plastic on the vehicle.
“CeraTrim is no mere dressing or stain. It is a true ceramic coating that will give your trim surfaces superior hydrophobic and self-cleaning properties and will protect your trim for the long haul under any driving conditions while restoring them to a newer appearance”
Along with its strong restorative properties, CeraTrim will provide lasting protection against UV rays and external contaminants thanks to its “Ceramic Properties”.
Any of these products listed above will adequately restore the appearance of black plastic trim. Which is the “best” product will be down to your personal preference.
Find a product that works well for you and stick with it.
Trim Restoring Tips
- Apply a trim restorer indoors or in a sheltered area if possible, you don’t want to be caught in a rainshower mid-application which would result in the product not getting sufficient time to dry/bond to the plastic.
- Make sure the trim is clean and fully decontaminated before applying any product to the surface.
- Use small handheld microfiber applicators where possible.
- Avoid getting any product on the paintwork as it may cause damage or marking if left to dry into the paint. Tape areas where the paint meets trim to ensure this doesn’t happen.
- Make sure you apply evenly to each section of the trim so you do not get any inconstancies in appearance ( eg one piece of trim could end up darker than another )
- Keep on top of applications and don’t neglect your trim for long periods of time.
The above information should be a guide on how to maintain the appearance of the black plastic trim on a vehicle. It should be noted that no solution is actually “permanent” and eventually the trim will need to be treated again at some point. How long it goes between treatments depends on the solution/product you choose.
The best strategy is to always keep an eye on the appearance of the plastics and act on them when needed. As with any other vehicle surface, it is important to keep it protected against the elements.
Have you any recommendations or tips for keeping trim looking good? Please let me know in the comments below!
Until Next Time,
About the Author – Darren O Hara
Darren is the founder of the DriveDetailed blog and is a keen detailing enthusiast living in the rainy south of Ireland. When he is not cleaning his car he is always researching ways he can improve his techniques and enjoys testing out out new products.
Darren currently drives an Audi TTRS and is a big fan of performance cars.
You can follow Darren on Instagram @darrenoharacork