The best way to restore plastic trim - Lithium Auto Elixirs

by Summit Mann on October 18, 2022

If you look hard enough just about every car in the world has some sort of plastic trim integrated into the exterior design. Whether it is put there to save money in the manufacturing process or for a texture change, design element, or pure function. Plastic has become part of the design process of just about every manufacturer on the planet and where you find plastic you will find fading and discoloration. However, let's face it plastic is a highly practical material for countless applications, with its downside being it susceptible to the elements. Particularly U.V. Rays, heat, and road salts. Therefore, it is super important that you show the same sort of love and affection that you would your paint or leather seats. Because nothing is worse than a beautifully clean and well-maintained paint job that is brought down to average by faded or discolored black plastic




In this little rambling that we affectionately call "Our Blog" we are going to explain why plastic goes bad in the first place and what you can do to both prevent its early demise and bring it back from the dead - if neglect has already been inflicted.  We are also going to tell you from experience cause and effect from different techniques used to fix it. 

 Why Plastic Trim fades and discolors:

Plastic contains lots of oils and plasticizers which are very vulnerable when it comes to heat and Ultraviolet rays. Oils and other ingredients made to produce plastic will evaporate, leach off and fade if not well maintained. Once the key elements start to diminish and deteriorate they are replaced by oxygen molecules, once this happens plastic starts to look white and faded. Followed by drying and cracking.


Good ways to maintain plastic trim: 

Keep it clean. Just like heat and U.V. Rays, salt, mud, road grime, and other pollutants contribute to the early demise of plastic. Salt, in particular,  will cause color fading and oxidation. When such things occur, get it washed off as soon as possible even if it is just a quick hose-off - it is better than nothing. Also, it is important to remember that plastic is super soft and scratches easily (a little survey of the obvious for you) however, that being said, remove all the large mud deposits and road grime with a hose before making direct contact with a washing mitt. Once the plastic is clean you can apply a silicone-free conditioner that will moisturize the plastic and keep it hydrophobic.


Things you should not do to fix your plastic trim: 

There are lots of hacks and internet antidotes on the best ways to restore and repair plastics. Our favorite ones (to hate that is:) are the people who say "hit it with a blow torch or I fixed mine with a Heat gun". One person actually commented on our post that: "we were crooks and that he fixed his bumper for free- by pouring gas on it and lighting it on fire" however don't worry he did preference for this technique to work effectively you needed to extinguish the flames quickly"  The thing we love most about this is: it is actually the worst thing you could ever do to your plastic, yet the people who make these comments come across "that anyone who actually might spend a buck to fix something correctly must be a sucker" Pretty sure it is the same FaceBook Group that post about saving money on car washes by using a 'Driveway broom and some dish soap". Yes, there are lots of ways to get things done. However, there are also right and wrong ways as well.  Also if you can avoid it (which you can) do not use products that contain black dyes in them. As these dyes wear differently in certain areas, mainly the sections of your trim or bumper that might be more exposed to sun and water than the rest. It has been our experience that after a few weeks the dies have disappeared in some areas and remained in others and the plastic looks "blotchy and weird". We have also seen some more budget-oriented folks use vegetable oils and other similar lubricants. Although if you are going to abuse your plastic that is definitely the most benevolent way to do it. 

So in a nutshell let's stay away from this which may seem easy and cheap, however, hurt more in the long run. 

 Excellent ways to restore plastic trim:

The first thing a good formulator does is - identify the problem and theorize as accurately as possible the cause and effect of the above-mentioned issue. Once the cause is identified then one can reasonably deduce the best method for moving in a direction which will reverse the symptom and or eliminate the issue altogether. However, there is rarely a cure as time and nature take their toll no matter what. So if we cannot find a cure we look for an efficient way to slow down time. So this takes us full circle - back to: What causes plastic trim to discolor and fade in the first place?

In Summary: 

There are plenty of things you can put on plastic that promise to keep it looking good. However, as in everything, some choices are better than others. We recommend you start by taking care of your plastic while it still looks new, as they say, "an ounce of prevention is worth a new - a new bumper"  At least that is how we remember it going. The important thing is to use products that have ingredients that align with the issues- which are U.V. Rays, Pollutants, and extreme conditions. Try to avoid petroleum-based products as they often break down the natural oils in the plastic and cause more damage in the long run. Keep your plastic clean. 


Written by Josh Crawley of Lithium Auto Elixirs


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