Piston Slap: Gummy dash, sticky situation?

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2013 Nissan Altima Coupe Dashboard

Chad writes:

My wife’s ’13 Altima coupe with only 42K has developed the sticky dash. It’s very gummy and the dealer won’t address the issue. I know there have been some settlements in Florida, and here in Houston, Texas, the Mazda dealer replaced the gummy dash on my son’s ’09 Mazda6—which was well out of warranty—for no charge.

Any recourse on the Altima? If not, is there a home fix? At nearly eight years old, the Altima has been excellent.

Sajeev answers:

I’ve lost count of the number of Japanese cars I’ve seen/heard with gummy door and dash panels (even the often infallible Lexus) thanks to the hot and humid climate of our H-town hometown. That said, American automakers aren’t free from blame—the Dodge Ram, the GMT-900 trucks/SUVs, and late model F150’s in lower trim levels have serious dashboard problems. No matter the issue, this usually boils down to a failure in the plastic coating/additive (or lack thereof) causing either gumming or cracking.  But this won’t help you, so let’s get to it. 

Class action lawsuits are usually how owners get a pricey repair performed, preferably utilizing an improved part so it doesn’t happen again. I am surprised you received a dashboard replacement out of warranty from Mazda, as automakers aren’t usually in the business of admitting fault on such labor-intensive repairs. Considering Nissan’s current financial woes, I can’t imagine you getting this lucky (so to speak) again. So what should you do?

Replicate my efforts with 25-year-old Ford products after their interior polymers voiced a similar displeasure for Houston’s climate. Start with the least aggressive cleaners (Simple Green, rubbing alcohol, etc.) on a scouring sponge pad (the yellow + green sponge) and see if moderate pressure cleans it up.

I suspect it won’t because (after testing for colorfastness) I gave up and used carburetor cleaner. That stuff is nasty, but it’s a good last resort: Goo Gone, pumice-packed hand cleaners, WD-40, and even brake cleaner didn’t cut the mustard. Some even make a colossal mess that could seep into dashboard electronics. Thicker accumulations required multiple applications of carb cleaner, but the end result met my expectations.  It’s been at least 10 years since then, and the old Fords still look perfectly colored, uncracked, and free of that awful goo.

That said, automotive polymer compositions likely changed since the 1980s (possibly not for the better), so try all aforementioned cleaners in order of potency. And always test carb cleaner in an inconspicuous spot to ensure it’ll get the job done right. What say you, Hagerty Community?  

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