A dingy or cracked steering wheel detracts from the visual appeal of your classic truck. Purchasing a new one is expensive, but with a little time and effort, you can restore your original steering wheel to its former glory.
Begin by coating the entire surface of your steering wheel with linseed oil and allowing it to soak in. This softens the leather so that it is easier to work with later.
Table of Contents
1. Remove the Steering Wheel
Steering wheels are the primary connection between you and your vehicle, allowing you to maneuver your car through a variety of road conditions. However, constant use can cause your steering wheel to crack or become difficult to turn, reducing its performance and safety. Luckily, there are a few easy ways to repair or replace your steering wheel and restore its functionality.
Before you begin work, disconnect the negative battery cable to prevent electrical short circuits or airbag deployment while working on your steering wheel. Then, park your car on flat ground with the front tires pointed straight ahead to avoid damage while removing the wheel.
Next, remove the horn button and any other steering wheel controls for your car’s audio system or cruise control. Then, use a socket and ratchet to remove the steering wheel nut. Once you’ve removed the nut, use a screwdriver to pry away any cosmetic material that may be holding the wheel in place.
After the wheel is removed, apply a thin coat of Loctite Blue to the mounting bolt. This will ensure that the bolt stays securely in place and doesn’t come loose while driving the car. When reinstalling the steering wheel, carefully feed the wiring through the hole and line up the splined bolt with its indicated mark on the shaft of the column. Finally, screw the nut back on, tightening it to the manufacturer’s recommended torque specifications.
Lastly, replace the wheel and test the new alignment by driving around a bit to make sure everything lines up properly. You’re now ready to go on your next road trip with a restored and dependable steering wheel! Just be sure to check your power steering fluid level and add some if needed.
2. Remove the Leather
Steering wheels made from a variety of materials, such as leather, chrome, and plastics, show a lot of wear and tear over time. This detracts from the overall appearance of your classic car, and a new steering wheel can be expensive. Fortunately, restoring your old steering wheel is not as difficult as you might think.
The first step is to remove the leather cover from the steering wheel. This may require a pin puller or some penetrating oil (if the wheel is older). You will also need a piece of masking tape to mark the line where the leather cover’s inside edge meets the steering wheel’s outside edge.
Next, the leather must be cleaned thoroughly. Use a leather cleaner solution, and be sure to rub the entire surface of the wheel. Then, using a cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol, lift any oily stains that have penetrated the leather. Be careful not to saturate the rag, as too much rubbing alcohol can dry out the leather and cause it to swell.
Once the leather is clean, it’s a good idea to sand it lightly with 600-grit wet/dry sandpaper. It is important to remove any splinters or rough spots from the leather so that it can be smoothed and dyed. If the wheel is very rough, you should use finer grit sandpaper such as 1000 or 2000 sandpaper to get the best result.
If the steering wheel has cracks, pouring some water-activated urethane glue into it is a good idea. This will foam and expand to fill in the cracks, and it’ll be hard to tell where the cracked areas are once they’re cured.
3. Remove the Rubber
Over time, the rubber and plastic materials that cover a steering wheel often show signs of aging and wear to the point where they become a hazard for your hands or simply detract from its visual appeal. The alternative is to purchase a new steering wheel, but this can be quite expensive compared to the do-it-yourself option of restoring an old one.
Whether the wheel in question is leather, a plastic or a rubber composite material, there are several steps that can be taken to clean it and make it look like new. A good starting point is to remove all the accumulated gunk that is usually found on such surfaces, which can be done using a mild liquid dish soap and water solution, followed by saturating a cloth or paper towel with a specialized leather prep agent (such as Leatherique Super Prepping Agent) and rubbing over the entire surface of the wheel to break down silicone sealers, petroleum distillates, and waxes.
If the wheel is particularly badly damaged or has a peeled surface that doesn’t come off through cleaning, it may require a more intensive sanding process. Wet/dry sandpaper can be used to lightly rub away the gunk and smooth out the surface, starting with 600 grit and then moving on to 1000 grit. A good finishing touch is to use a fine-grit wet/dry sanding block soaked in Leatherique Super Prepping Agent to gently buff the wheel, again focusing on any areas that are especially heavily damaged.
If there are any black scuff marks left over from the rubber, the all-purpose lubricant Rubber Off can be used to wipe them away. It works wonders for removing the kind of black scuff marks that are normally caused by the rubbing of gloves against the wheel over time, and it’s very easy to apply and remove with a microfiber cloth.
4. Repair the Cracks
Over time, UV radiation from the sun can deplete the elastomers used to make rubber or plastic steering wheels, and that often leads to cracking. This is a serious safety hazard, so it’s important to repair these cracks promptly, but it can be tricky because the cracked surfaces are usually uneven and require some leveling. Fortunately, there are kits available that can help you achieve the desired results, and it’s also easy to fix these cracks using the following techniques:
First, wash the wheel with a heavy solution of dishwashing detergent and water to remove any grease or oil. You can use a soft, lint-free cloth or paper towel to do this. Once the wheel is clean, dry it thoroughly. Now that the surface is dry, you can use a triangle file or Dremel-style tool to “V” the cracks, creating a flat area for filler to bond to the steering wheel’s substrate.
You can then apply the body filler (or epoxy putty) to the surface, smoothing it with a wet finger as you go along. After the filler dries, you can sand it down with 320-grit sandpaper, then clean it again with Cleaner Degreaser to remove any remaining grit.
Once the sanding and cleaning are done, you can apply your chosen sealant. Most auto restoration enthusiasts prefer POR-15’s Urethane Clear Coat, but you can also use automotive enamel or other products that meet your preferences.
If you’re looking for additional information, browse Internet forums and other similar resources for more specific tools and materials recommendations and friendly advice from experienced grease monkeys who have already been down this road a few times. However, remember that these methods won’t work for leather-wrapped or rubber-coated steering wheels unless you are willing to remove them completely.
5. Reinstall the Steering Wheel
A sagging steering wheel isn’t just an eyesore, it can also be a safety hazard. It may cause you to lose your grip on the wheel, leading to distracted driving or even a loss of control. So, if your steering wheel looks worse for wear, it’s time to replace it.
Some drivers choose to change their steering wheels for aesthetic reasons, while others might want a more ergonomic design or added features like audio controls or paddle shifters. Regardless of why you’re replacing your steering wheel, it’s important to prepare before beginning the process. You’ll need the following tools and supplies:
Socket wrench. This will help you loosen and remove the nut that secures the steering wheel to the column. Steering wheel puller. This tool will allow you to safely detach the old steering wheel without damaging your car’s column. New steering wheel. Be sure to check that it’s compatible with your vehicle’s make and model.
If your new steering wheel comes with a horn button or other switches, it’s a good idea to clear any engine or airbag codes that could be triggered by the replacement. You’ll also need to connect the airbag if your vehicle has one.
A custom steering wheel cover is a great way to give your truck’s interior a fresh look while improving its grip on the wheel. These covers come in a variety of materials and are designed to fit the steering wheel perfectly. Most include heavy-duty nylon lacing, sewing needles, and detailed instructions for installing them. It’s a relatively simple process and can be completed in about an hour. Just be sure to follow the installation instructions closely, and don’t miss any holes!