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How to repair separated C5 door panel armrest vinyl

Jerry_E

New member
Joined
Oct 2, 2004
Messages
4
Location
Sandy Springs, GA.
Corvette
1999 Black Beauty Vert.
I worked on my C5 over the weekend. Just a few little minor things but I thought that one of the things I did might be interesting and helpful to some others on the list or elsewhere now that C5's are starting to age a little.

The vinyl covering on both of my door panels had separated from the hard panel backing in the deepest part of the inner curvature at the arm rest area and along the horizontal back surface slightly above the arm rests. It had been this way for some time and I just got tired of looking at it with the rest of the car so nice. The rest of the door panels are perfect but the separated area at and slightly above the arm rests were unsightly. I had to do something.

I understand this is a relative common issue on C5's (more common the older they get) but I've never seen a fix posted anywhere so I thought I'd post my fix for this. It turned out really nice without having to replace the door panels and it doesn't look junky at all. Actually it looks better than new. It only took me a couple of hours at most, only because Black Beauty is my baby, the first Vette I've done this to and I went slow and extra careful. I could do the next one in half the time or less. Of course I did spend some time before that marshaling the everyday tools and supplies necessary to make the repair. Here's the deal:

1). I have the light oak interior, which is really 1/2 black and light oak color on the door panels, with the arm rests and above being the black part. Mid America Direct (and others) sell "arm rest covers" so I bought them in the light oak color (definitely Corvette taxed, but still a LOT less expensive than new door panels). They are made of what appears to be a fiberglass form, covered in padded vinyl, available in the most popular C5 interior colors. A perfect form fit and color matched to the rest of the light oak interior. They add a nice contrast and some depth. Snazzed it up without looking gaudy. They actually look like they belong. They stick on with some awfully sticky double sided tape and they feel like they'll never come loose now that they've set up a couple of days in the heat.

However, the big thing, and the reason for this post in the first place is that the accessory arm rest covers did NOT cover up the majority of vertical areas where the vinyl had pulled loose above the horizontal arm rest areas. I wouldn't have bought these arm rest covers just for the sake of having them but they allowed me to do a relatively economical repair that looks great that I otherwise couldn't have done (without buying complete new door panels which are a major expense).

2). Because of the availability of the covers, I was able to use a snap blade razor knife to slice the vinyl on the original horizontal part of the arm rests themselves. I sliced along the arm rests almost the full length of the arm rests, but not quite. Probably 8 to 10 inches long and a little short of the new arm rest covers. Then I extended the adjustable (flexible) snap blade knife and carefully and smoothly undercut the vinyl between the vinyl backing and the hard flat horizontal surface of the arm rest, following the slice I had made, until it reached the vertical backing of the door panel, where the vinyl was pulling loose. I had to make several passes until the entire horizontal surface was cut free. It is very important to use an extended flexible snap blade knife to carefully "cut" the vinyl backing (like a surgeon might do with a skin graft, if you can imagine that) rather than trying to tear it because the vinyl has a very thin (maybe foam?) backing and tearing leaves behind a rough surface and contaminants that will later show through the vinyl after the glue shrinks (previous experience, believe me!). Relatively careful smooth cuts using a flexible snap blade knife doesn't do this though. You don't have to be an artist. Anybody (except a klutz) should be able to do it.

3). Once the cutting and slicing is completed (ugh! Not easy to do on your baby) and you reach the loose backing area where the glue/foam/whatever has deteriorated, dried up and already separated/released, you'll need to carefully completely separate any other loosened vinyl in the depressed curvatures. You may need to carefully use something flexible like a small plastic 1 inch putty knife to help it along (No sharp edges). I used popsicle sticks and a flexile plastic putty knife that I had rounded the edges off of. No need to use force though because if the area is still that tightly attached, you shouldn't need to worry about it. The trick is to get all the loose area completely and evenly loose in the deepest part of the curved depressions so that you can get to it to glue it.

4). I then cleaned the backing areas that I could get to that were to be glued by vacuuming and brushing.

5). Next, I applied Weldwood (The Original) Contact Cement, the yellow stuff to all the backings, to the vinyl material and the hard backing. Do not use anything else! I've tried before. The original yellow Weldwood is the ONLY product that I've found that will do this fix! I used the following to apply the glue: a) a large hypodermic type needle/syringe that I bought at the dollar store. It held enough glue to do both sides, maybe 2-4 ounces. I replaced the needle with a piece of 5-6 inch long (fish tank) tubing so that I could be sure that I could get the glue all the way up into the vertical areas where I couldn't actually reach with my fingers (VERY sticky) or a brush. I also used a 3/4 inch wide artist brush that had approx 1 inch long soft bristles, to spread the glue around as best I could. I worked and massaged the wet glue into every possible crack, crevice and loose area, and I put it on heavy. They stuff shrinks like crazy as it dries over a few days and it is almost impossible to use too much, unless of course you use so much that it drips everywhere. That's too much. I didn't try to stick the two surfaces together at this point. In fact, because it is "Contact" cement, I pulled the surfaces apart as best possible to let it dry some and tack up. I let the glue sit for 15-20 minutes

6). Then, first I pressed the vertical surfaces of the glued vinyl tight to the hard backing and then the horizontal surfaces. After I finished and I was sure I didn't leave any area untouched/unpressed, I had anywhere from 1/8 to maybe a 1/4 of an inch gap in the vinyl on the horizontal part of the armrest where I made the original 8-10 inch slices - and it DID look nasty - BUT, no fear, that what the new covers I bought were for. I installed them and schazam, I was finished!
Be forewarned! It still looked like crap. The black vinyl areas of the door panels where I had to use to glue on the back side of the vinyl looked very lumpy and uneven. It takes at least a couple of days in the heat, and longer in cool weather, for the glue to dry and SHRINK enough for the lumpy, uneven and wrinkled look to go away. It has been only two days since I completed my door panel repairs and now it is virtually impossible to tell that any problem ever existed. Better than new.

The glue smell goes away after a week or so in warm weather, indicating it has fully dried and cured. This glue is SO good, it is doubtful if you will ever be able to pull it loose again, much less need to make this kind of repair (in the same area) again. The material will probably decompose first!

Not the first time I've made this type of repair but the first time on a Vette.

That's it. Hope I've helped somebody.
 
Joined
May 29, 2002
Messages
8,669
Location
Missoura Ozarks
Corvette
2012 💯 4LT GS Roadster
Thanks for the info...

...sounds like quite the repair, would ya happen to have any before & after pictures you could share?​

BTW - I see this is your 1st post: Welcome to the :CAC

Later . . . . . .
6 Shooter
 

Jerry_E

New member
Joined
Oct 2, 2004
Messages
4
Location
Sandy Springs, GA.
Corvette
1999 Black Beauty Vert.
I've been lurking, just haven't posted so far. No before or during photos. Never planned it as a written project. The post just came about as an outcrop of the repair. It went so well that I thought somebody might be able to use the info. I've attached photos of the appearance afterwards.
 

LT4man

Well-known member
Joined
Jun 25, 2003
Messages
2,214
Location
Chicago
Corvette
96 Collectors Edition LT4
Thanks for the great write-up and pictures. Chevy should have made the armrests in that color to begin with. Now you have a one-of-kind interior!

SAVE THE :w
 

wishuwerehere82

Well-known member
Joined
Sep 6, 2003
Messages
2,314
Location
Rochester, NY
Corvette
Red '82 Coupe,Sebring Silver '98 Coupe
Thanks Jerry E. !
I have used Weldwood to reglue vinyl door panels back on before and it works great as long as you get the panels aligned without touching them together.
A trick I found was to use wax paper in between the panels to keep them fron touching together while I fixtured and aligned them. Once the panels were aligned, I pulled the wax paper out from the leading edge and pressed the panels together as I pulled the paper out. The wax paper keeps the glue soft and stops it from drying prematurely.
 

Jerry_E

New member
Joined
Oct 2, 2004
Messages
4
Location
Sandy Springs, GA.
Corvette
1999 Black Beauty Vert.
The wax paper is a great idea on a normal job, and I'll file that one away for later, but I'm afraid it won't help too much with this particular project because the area one is working in it so small, tight and confined. There simply is no way to utilize wax paper on the vertical/upright surfaces and in the curvatures where the majority of the vinyl typically comes loose. You will have a heck of a time getting a piece of wax paper in there in the first place. I could hardly get anything in there other that a Popsicle stick a very narrow putty blade, the small artist brush I used to spread the glue with and the small piece of fish tank tubing (affixed to the syringe) that I used to squirt the glue in with. Even if you were able to get wax paper in there without doing more harm than good, it is not necessary. Weldwood is "contact" cement, meaning that is sticks on contact after it dries to a tack, and it holds that "tack" time for quite a while.

What I did that worked was to simply squirt plenty of the Weldwood contact yellow glue into the cavity between the separated vinyl and the hard backing, pressed everything together and then used the 3/4" artist paint brush to spread and move the wet glue around. Then I massaged it around from the top surface (not glued) side of the vinyl to insure that every crack and crevice got glue spread into it. Then I pulled the vinyl away from the hard backing as best possible to let air get in to help things dry to a tack. In some places it is simply not possible to separate the two surfaces hardly at all, but that doesn't matter because this glue shrinks so much, after you've massaged it in and smoothed it from the top surface of the vinyl material, and after it has dried and shrunk over a couple of days, if you did all else correctly, it looks great!

Thanks for the great idea for other applications though!
 

KANE

Moderator
Joined
Mar 2, 2002
Messages
3,244
Location
KY
Corvette
Dark Blue 1982 Trans Am(s): Polo Green 1995 MN6
On the C5 I owned, I had the same issue.

I went the other way- so to speak- from the plastic panel back side. I used a Dremel to carefully cut the plastic around the area and then used Great Stuff to build a surface and to re-adhere the vinyl to the plastic. Looks awesome from the side you see; looks like a small surgical scar on the plastic back you don't see.

The only thing to keep in mind...if the vinyl is really stretched out, it could appear lumpy.
 

Jerry_E

New member
Joined
Oct 2, 2004
Messages
4
Location
Sandy Springs, GA.
Corvette
1999 Black Beauty Vert.
Yes, I first tried doing it that way a couple of years ago when the problem first started to appear. First, it was a LOT more work and second, I couldn't get access to all the areas where the vinyl was separated without tearing off and tearing up much of the Styrofoam insulation on the panel back. Because I couldn't get glue evenly to all the areas, it still had loose cavities/separated vinyl and they just got worse over the next two years. I'm telling ya that doing it the way I did is defiantly the trick way to make a cosmetically nice permanent fix. It looks virtually as good as new now, plus I've got nice looking, contrasting color arm rest covers now.
 

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