Restoring Old Leather Steering Wheel

If your leather steering wheel is looking tired — a little shiny, white grime in the grain — and just won’t clean up, it may be time to refresh the leather.  Colourlock makes a kit that is easy to use and very effective at bringing the leather back to near original condition. You’ll just need a stiff cleaning brush, some towels and masking tape in addition to the kit. Allow 30-60 minutes from start to finish.

Start by masking-off any plastic trim and clean with a brush. As you work your way around the steering wheel, look for deep scratches or other imperfections in the leather. If the steering wheel isn’t hasn’t been terribly neglected, a good cleaning maybe all you need.  It this case, it needed the full treatment.

The next step is to remove any remaining grease, oil or conditioners before refreshing the surface color.  Usually shiny leather is a sign of grease and oil build up from the years of grubby hands grasping the wheel. Wear gloves and use leather spirit to remove any remaining surface contaminates. This will leave the leather very dull looking. 

Lightly sand the leather to increase surface adhesion and reduce areas of shine. Take care to avoid the stitching. Carefully sand any rough spots, scratches or other surface imperfections. Clean again with leather spirit. At this point you may be thinking, “What have I done?” but carry on.

Start with areas of the heaviest sanding and apply the Colour Fresh according to the instructions. Use the sponge to apply with a dabbing motion. Apply in sections and use a heat gun or hair dryer when complete with each section. As soon as you see the dye change to a dull sheen, it’s dry to the touch. Apply two coats to the entire steering wheel. Areas of heavy damage or more sanding will likely need additional coats. 

Allow to dry overnight and apply a light coating of UV protectant. Let it soak in and then buff it to a dull sheen. Now stop eating in your car.

Junkyard Seats

Have you ever been tempted by a set of leather sport seats you find at the pick-yard? We decided to find out if it was possible to refinish them well enough to that you’d want to put them into your daily driver. Once you find a potential set of seats, be sure to check the foam for dampness and mold. If you have anything more extensive than surface mold, then you probably want to look elsewhere.

We found a set of leather sport seats from a 2008 335i. The surface leather was dirty and a bit moldy, but nothing too bad to consider. Most of the damage to the seats came once the car was junked and parts started to pile up in the interior. You also want to check the seat electronics to make sure everything works before spending a lot of time refinishing the leather.

To refresh the leather you’ll need the following: Colourlock Refresh Kit; a stiff brush; some clean towels; and a leather sanding pad.

Start by inspecting the seats to find the areas that need the most attention.  In our case it was the driver’s side bolsters. The center of the driver’s seat was damaged by a spill. Other than smoothing the area by sanding, there isn’t much we can do without some liquid leather.

Clean the seats thoroughly and wipe dry. Carefully sand any heavily damaged areas, taking care to avoid stitching. Apply the leather fresh by dabbing with the included sponge. Work one small area at a time. Use a heat gun or hair dryer to set the dye. Let dry over-night and apply the UV protectant. 

Daily driver on the track?

I often hear from my non-track friends, “I want to go to the track, but I don’t really have a track car.” Well here’s a video of me driving my daughter’s 2009 BMW E90 328i automatic with all-season tires. Sure it’s 10 seconds off the pace of my track car, but what a hoot. So, yes, take your daily driver to the track.

Learning vinyl wrap

One thing I really don’t like on the E90 3 Series cars is the “soft touch” plastic coating used on the interior plastic bits. It should have been called “don’t touch” for how easily it is damaged.

I wanted to fix the steering wheel trim which looked like this:

So I ordered some 3M vinyl wrap and went to the junk yard to get something for practice. I found a good candidate from a 2006 325i.

It was in much worse shape than ours. Perfect. I took off the thumb switches and ran it under hot water to remove the rest of the coating. After much rubbing, it looked like this:

Once dry, I placed it on a piece of vinyl and started to stretch and shape it before wrapping the edges and heating it with the heat gun.

The vinyl film is fairly forgiving and as long as you don’t catch a sharp corner, you can really stretch and manipulate it for a good fit. This type of film is applied dry and the adhesive isn’t activated until pressure is applied.

I was really happy with the results so I went ahead and pulled the piece on our car. Start by carefully removing the airbag. I used a Torx 20 screw driver to release the springs on both sides. And set the airbag out of the way. (Don’t unplug it unless you’ve disconnected the battery for at least 15 minutes.)

The panel can now be removed by first removing the three T-20 screws from the back of the steering wheel, and then the two T-20 screws holding the thumb switches in place.

If you have the sport steering wheel, you also need to remove the silver trim by removing four more T-20 screws and carefully undoing the catches. I then used the water method to remove the coating.

Vinyl was applied the same way, only this one was much quicker having done it before. Then the trim was reattached. Installation is the reverse of removal.

It looks great and there’s no more peeling paint by the thumb switches. (And yes, it was raining when I took the picture so the spots you see are rain drops….)

The vinyl wrap was $16 on Amazon for a 1×5 foot roll. The test trim piece was $4 at Crazy Rays. I had wrap left over so i covered an old trim piece that goes around the shift selector too.

So what did I learn? If the soft touch paint is peeling, it will probabably wash off—you don’t need to sand or use solvents to get it off. If you plan ahead and keep things clean, vinyl is pretty easy to work with. I can see how an extra set of hands would help with larger pieces. Heat can be your friend, but don’t over stretch.

Scratch Removal

Taking advantage of the unusually warm weather over the holidays to take on some of the paint defects on the X5. This post shows how to tackle a deep scratch and bad touch-up paint job.

When we got the 2013 X5 in 2017, the dealer had attempted to hide a deep scratch with a thick coat of touch-up paint. We used Blob Eliminator to safely remove the touch-up paint first, then compounded and polished the hood to see what we had to work with. A good tip when trying to figure out whether a scratch is just through the clear-coat or goes into the paint layer, is to spray some water and see if the scratch disappears. If it does, then it’s in the clear-coat. These scratches appear to just be in the clear-coat.


Since we’re using this hood for our long-term Bead Maker test, I wanted to see if I could completely eliminate the scratch before sealing the paint. This video shows that process.