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More and more cars are being built with plastic trim in the high impact areas such as fender arches, rocker panels, bottoms of bumpers, tops of pickup bed rails, etc…
This plastic is great for taking abuse and being easy to replace without worrying about paint color matching. However…
The plastic used on car, truck, and motorcycle trim is highly susceptible to degradation from the sun, heat, and other elements which I discuss in my article Guide to Cleaning and Detailing Trim and Molding.
There is no doubt you’ve seen the faded and chalky grey plastic on many of the daily drivers around town. This doesn’t have to be your reality if you use a quality trim restorer. My favorite is Solution Finish but there are a couple to consider and many to disregard as I’ll discuss below.
Top 5 Plastic Trim Restorers:
|Solution Finish Black Plastic & Vinyl...||389 Reviews||Check Price|
|Gtechniq C4 Permanent Trim Restorer 15...||41 Reviews||Check Price|
|TriNova Plastic & Trim Restorer - Shines...||1,384 Reviews||Check Price|
|Meguiar’s Ultimate Black – Trim...||1,068 Reviews||Check Price|
|CarGuys Plastic Restorer - The Ultimate...||1,040 Reviews||Check Price|
Why Should You Buy a Plastic Trim Restorer for Your Car?
So why bother with a plastic restorer? Mainly because the “like new” look of restored plastic looks much cleaner than faded, cracked, ashy grey plastic.
When there are such simple solutions to this common problem there really isn’t a good reason not to restore your trim.
Outside of just looking better, and subsequently increasing the perceived value of your vehicle, good plastic restorers also condition the plastic which prevents brittleness and cracking later.
What Makes a Good Plastic Trim Restorer?
A quality trim restorer will do more than just dye the plastic or sit on top, both of which are superficial, temporary solutions to your problem and will wash away in the slightest rain.
Instead, quality plastic restorers will be absorbed by the plastic and break down the oxidation that causes the lightened and ashy appearance. They will nourish the plastic and last a good amount of time, at least several months. They will also provide an even finish, like that of new plastic.
As you’ve probably guessed the cheap plastic restorers don’t accomplish this. They are usually just a dye, leave behind a sticky residue that attracts dust, leave a blotchy finish, and last a short amount of time.
In short, cheap plastic restorers aren’t worth your time or money.
What Will Plastic Restores NOT do?
The unfortunate reality is that plastic restorers are not permanent fixes. They will fade over time and will degrade fast in rainy environments. You can slow this process down by using a plastic sealant or protectant.
The best advice I can give on plastic trim restores is to apply it more often than it’s advertised to last. Pick something that’s easy to apply so you can make it part of you maintenance routine. Mike Phillips from Autogeek puts it best, “Find something you like and use it often.”
If you want as permanent of a solution as you can get then you’ll need to consider painting your plastic trim. This works great on non load bearing surfaces (trim you’ll step on or set things on) like wiper cowls, bumpers, wheel well arches, etc…
The process I use to paint trim is to first clean it really well, then wipe with a wax and grease remover, then spray an adhesion promoter, and finally paint with a flexible primer and satin paint meant for exterior use.
If you don’t have time for this then a plastic restorer followed up by a trim protectant as part of your routine details is your ticket.
Solution Finish – Black Plastic & Vinyl Restorer
- SOLUTION FINISH BLACK TRIM RESTORER: This restorer solution...
- ULTIMATE PROTECTION FOR YOUR CAR'S EXTERIOR: Solution Finish...
- RESTORE BLACK PLASTIC OR VINYL: In addition to restoring...
- LASTING PROTECTION: Solution Finish guarantees a...
- BUY WITH CONFIDENCE: We assure your complete satisfaction,...
- Easy to apply
- Last several months to over a year
- A little goes a long way
- Darkens to a nice satin finish
- Can stain clothing
- Has fumes before drying
Solution Finish is a great plastic restorer that restores dark grey and black plastics back to a dark, rich, deep finish without the greasy wet look of cheap restorers.
Unlike cheap dyes Solution Finish can be used on black as well as grey plastic. Just know that on grey plastic it will turn it a couple shades darker, not necessarily a bad thing.
Solution Finish doesn’t merely sit on top of the plastic, it is absorbed and breaks down the oxidation within the plastic. It also nourishes the plastic which gives it that rich, deep black color.
The best part is Solution Finish is easy to apply and requires very little. A tiny 1oz bottle could easily treat an entire Avalanche, the king of plastic trimmed vehicles. It also lasts a really long time compared to most other trim restorers, as much as a couple years if you apply a sealant afterward and park in the shade when possible.
The only downsides of Solution Finish are that it will stain clothing and skin when it’s wet and does produce fumes before drying. To be honest though, this is going to be a common problem with most plastic restorers. These problems disappear once it’s dry.
Gtechniq C4 “Permanent” Trim Restorer
- Strong UV absorption filter.
- Chemically bonds with trim surfaceto ensure maximum...
- Can last up to 2 years.
- Easy to apply
- Last several months to over a year
- A little goes a long way
- Darkens to a nice satin finish
- Contains UV inhibitors
I put permanent in quotes myself because no trim restorer is permanent, which I’ve hopefully beat into you by now. Gtechniq C4, however, does last much longer than usual.
The longevity comes with a price though. It’s likely you’ll need to use at least two coats to get a durable, even finish which means one 15ml bottle is likely only going to last you one vehicle if own something plastic clad like an Avalanche. You’ll need to purchase a couple bottles if you want to maintain the coating throughout the year to keep it looking perfect.
If you’re a professional auto detailer this is the type of product you would want to use to prevent your customers coming back in a week upset that their trim looks terrible after it rained. Manage expectations up front, though. It’s important your customers know that nothing short of painting will last forever.
That being said, with proper prep, this is definitely a proper trim restorer worth considering. Since it’s not a dye you can use it on any color of trim that you’re hoping to darken, this includes trim, weather stripping, plastic mirrors and cowls, air boxes, battery covers, and hoses.
Trinova Plastic & Trim Restorer
- Ultimate Plastic & Trim Solution - TriNova's Plastic & Trim...
- Advanced Protection, Rain or Shine - This gel provides...
- Prevents Surface Aging - Natural elements can dull and...
- Streak-Free Formula - Unlike other trim products which are...
- Free Applicator for Quick & Easy Application - TriNova has...
- Shines and darkens surfaces
- Repels water, dirt and salt
- Prevents fading and cracking
- Safe for on plastic, vinyl, rubber and other outer surfaces
- Doesn’t last as long as solution finish
- Needs a long time to dry else it will streak in the rain
Another option for a trim restorer is Trinova Plastic and Trim Restorer. Much like Solution Finish it darkens the plastic rather dying it so it can be used grey as well as black trim.
This product has an oily consistency that makes it easy to spread out for an even finish. Since it’s a topical solution it also helps repel water and other contaminants.
It’s important to note that you need to prep the trim really well by washing away any dirt and oils. Since it’s a topical solution it will wash away and streak quickly if it’s applied to a dirty surface and isn’t left to dry fully before being exposed to rain.
Another important note is that it may take multiple applications to provide a durable, even finish.
Meguiar’s G15812 Ultimate Black Plastic Restorer
- BLACK PLASTIC RESTORER: Gives your non-painted exterior trim...
- TRIM GLOSS: Creates a rich darkness and shine that lasts for...
- DURABLE PROTECTION: Breakthrough clear coat UV protection...
- FAST DRYING: Non-greasy formula dries fast and doesn't...
- VERSATILE USE: Ideal for all exterior plastic, vinyl and...
- Darkens surfaces to a matte finish
- Readily available over the counter
- Contains UV blockers to help protect plastic
- Doesn’t last more than a few weeks
- Requires extra elbow grease to work into plastic for an even finish
I’m a big fan of Meguiar’s products. They’ve actually managed to create useful enthusiast grade products and make them available to everyone. It used to be if you walked into a big box store or automotive store your only options were Armorall or some no name snake oil product. Now you actually have useful options.
Meguiar’s Ultimate Black Restorer is no exception. While it won’t last as long as a product like Solution Finish it is readily available and provides acceptable results.
Provided you clean the trim really well, including degreasing it, and let the product dry fully, Ultimate Black Restorer should last you a good few weeks, even in the rain. Followed up with a plastic sealant it can last even longer.
It may take a couple applications and some elbow grease to work the product into the trim to an even finish. To be fair, I’d rather use a product that took a little work to apply but lasted than one that was super easy and washes away the first time it rains.
As long as you manage your expectations (understand it’s not a permanent fix or even a long term one) then this product is worth consideration if your budget is tight.
CarGuys Plastic Restorer
- - RESULTS THAT LAST! - Are you tired of wasting time and...
- - SURVIVES RAIN! - Does this sound familiar? You spent all...
- - NO MORE OILY MESS! - Do you hate all the oily, greasy gel...
- - NO HARMFUL CHEMICALS! - Buyer beware! Some of the most...
- - WHAT IF I'M NOT HAPPY? - We believe that this stuff is the...
- Not a dye
- Darkens all colors of plastic
- Contain UV inhibitors
- Money back guarantee
- Attracts dust
- Doesn’t last as long as it claims
CarGuys Plastic Restore is a lot like Meguiar’s Ultimate Black Plastic Restorer except it leaves behind a sticky finish that attracts dust, costs more, and isn’t as readily available.
While it does work to darken plastics it just doesn’t last any longer than most other plastic restoration products.
On the bright side, they do have a guarantee so if you try it out and it’s not what you expected or doesn’t work for you (not all plastics react the same to all plastic restorers and there are hundreds of plastic formulations) you can contact them for a full refund.
If you’re willing to make applying a plastic restorer part of your detailing routine then you’ll be satisfied with almost anything on this list. How long you desire between re-applications will determine which one you pick.
Personally, I don’t like having to do a full on detail every weekend when I wash my cars so I would opt for Solution Finish for it’s bang for the buck.
To be completely transparent, however, when dealing with faded plastic trim on non load bearing and non high impact surfaces I usually opt to just paint it and be done with it.
That said, painting is not for everyone and if you’re a detailer then painting your customer’s car is obviously not an option. For that Solution Finish and Gtechniq C4 are your only real choices provided you manage expectations from the start.