How To Restore Your Car’s Black Trim

Categories: Product Reviews

Modern cars aren’t built like in our parents and grandparent’s time. Long gone are the days of cars made of steel panels and chrome trim. Aluminum, composites, and plastic rule the roads now, and for good reason. Cars and trucks today lug around more equipment than ever before in a time of rising gas prices. Any weight saved also means better milage for the life of the vehicle. Which means plastic. Its advantages in weight, cost, design flexibility, and ease of manufacture are obvious. But as with everything in automotive design, there are tradeoffs. Plastic is not nearly as strong as metal, cracks instead of bends, and while it doesn’t rust, it does deteriorate given enough exposure to the elements. Which is why it’s important to know how to protect and restore your car’s black trim.

We’ve all seen what happens when a car spends too much time out in the sun. The plastic trim fades from that factory fresh, even black to mottled shades of gray. But it’s not just cosmetic, that fade to gray is a symptom of the Sun’s UVA and UVB rays breaking down the molecular structure of the plastic itself. Yep, the same ultraviolet rays turning your skin into tanned leather are drying out your car’s plastic and vinyl trim, making it brittle and prone to flaking and cracking.

However! Fear not, because the prevention for wrinkles and melanoma is the same thing that can keep your car’s plastic trim looking youthful and supple years into the future, Sunblock.

Mother’s Back-to-Black Heavy Duty Trim Cleaner Kit

Yep, it’s another product review post! There are many great products out there to address this need, but I always gravitate back to Mothers offerings. I mean, just look at that mascot. You’d have to hate apple pie and baseball to say a bad word against Mothers.

Anyway, this kit is advertised as hardcore restoration of old, dull, faded plastic trim. To my shame, I have just the job for it…


Don’t judge me. I’m between washes right now and it’s been raining a ton around here lately. Anyway, this is my personal car. It’s a 2008 Mustang Bullitt Edition. It’s 14 years old now and still among the sexiest cars in the city. Her name is Susan. But time makes fools of us all and the sun has really done a number on her plastic cowl grill covers. These parts run over $400 to replace, and pulling them out is its own pain in the ass. So, let’s take a stab at restoring them instead, right?


When you unbox this kit, here’s what you get. A bottle of gooey gel and a plastic bristle brush. If you’re a detailing nut like me you’ve already got detail brushes. If not, yay, free detail brush. The soft plastic bristles means it’ll be real handy cleaning all sorts of spots on your car, from the interior to the engine bay. Which, by the way, is the first thing you need to do. Give any trim surfaces you want to restore a thorough wash and rinse, then let them dry before you begin. You want all that bird crap and tree sap gone.

Moving on. You can see from the picture this gel is mostly translucent. It doesn’t have black dye or other cover-ups. It’s not like shoe polish, it’s a true plastic conditioner. Which means you need to throw in some elbow grease. It’s not visible with the naked eye, but all injected molded and extruded plastics have millions of microscopic pinholes in their surface, artifacts of the contraction plastic goes through as it cools. These pinholes grow as the sun deteriorates the molecular structure of the plastic.

Which is where the brush comes in. When the trim is as faded as this, just wiping conditioner over the surface won’t get the job done. The brush forces the gel deep into the scared surface of your trim to fill these tiny holes and restore the plastic. This may very well take more than one coating, so don’t get discouraged if the first application doesn’t deliver the results you want. If you ever really sunburned yourself and seen how fast skin devours that first layer of aloe, you’ve got some idea what’s happening here. Anyway, after brushing like you’re going to a dentist appointment, you can expect results like this.

I took these pictures two hours apart to let the conditioner really soak in and dry out, so you get a better idea of the end results. Not too shabby, right? Certainly better than blowing $400+ and an hour of wrench time replacing it. The same goes for the rest of your trim.

Looks a hell of a lot better, right? Here’s the thing, though. This treatment is just like waxing your car’s paint. It’s temporary and needs frequent reapplication. Just like sunblock doesn’t cure the skin cancer years on the beach already caused, you’re not really fixing existing damage, just masking it and preventing future damage from happening. So, make this part of your detailing routine and your trim will be looking as shiny and new as your paint for years to come.

Oh, your paint. Yeah, we should talk about that…

Final verdict? Firing on 7/8 Cylinders.