Refreshing interior parts on a budget? Try flexible interior paint in a spray can

Sometimes good enough is more than you’ll ever need. Perhaps you don’t want a concours quality restoration. And finding that impossibly rare interior part in a junkyard? We know if you ever find it, chances are it’s been beaten down to a condition worse than what you currently have. So you have to get creative.

Using a flexible color coating on vinyl, plastic, leather and even carpeted surfaces is affordable, easy to use, and a no brainer on low-traffic areas too: durability never comes into question if nobody ever touches it.

I’ve used SEM Color Coat products on at least six vehicles, and I’ll stop short of saying they were all smashing successes; they made the car better than it was before!

old faded trim piece
Sajeev Mehta

It’s a simple process: remove the affected part, take it to an auto body paint jobber (i.e. the local businesses that support body shops) and ask for a color matching chart (for interior paints) to ensure you get the closest possible match. As you let the light bounce off the chart and your part to confirm the closest match, ask if they will custom mix paint—but don’t be too disappointed if they say no.

Once you have the paint, remove all traces of dirt and oil from the panel. SEM has specific recommendations and for an adhesion promoter before laying down color. Both steps grow exponentially more important as the interior parts in question find themselves in higher-traffic areas.

trim piece with color coating applied
Sajeev Mehta

With the part cleaned of all dirt and oil, and with a bit of adhesion promoter sprayed as a base coat, treat the color coating as you would any other aerosol can: start with a light coat and apply slightly heavier coats after the previous one dries.

I also recommend getting a spray can grip with a trigger (seen in the first picture). They’re a lifesaver when working on larger panels.

The end result? The color match on the red panels of my 1988 Mercury Cougar XR-7 is good in anything but the harshest light, which is only a problem on the A-pillar trims. Even then, the end result is lightyears ahead of the faded originals.

The blue color match for my 1989 Lincoln Continental Signature Series (the most pointless, looniest restoration I’ve ever done—more on that later) came out better than expected: It’s a perfect match! Pictured above is the seat belt/B-pillar cover which is rarely seen, but other items like the felt-flocked pillar covers and the JBL speaker covers embraced the color in a very visible part of the vehicle.

car audio trim covers with color coating
Sajeev Mehta

Ah yes, it was a simpler time when fabric-intensive speaker grilles flaunted branded logos for everyone to see on their parcel shelves, and not today’s etched metal panels on front doors.

carpet floor mats laid out on green lawn
Sajeev Mehta

I was so happy with the result that I bought several more cans of SEM Shadow Blue and went to town on the mouse-fur trunk panels: the end result isn’t perfect, but it’s far better than the perpetually depressing shade of dark gray. And it’s a fitting homage to the color-matched trunk to the first Signature Series Lincoln made nine years before. Yeah, let’s go with that. 

It doesn’t matter which car I’m restoring; I’d love to have access to the best things on the planet, but much like the smartphone inspection camera, using a color coating on interior parts is both good enough and more than I will ever need.

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