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refurbishing old cracked steering wheels


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My 1940 Lincoln Zephyr has a what seems to be a plastic like steering wheel which has seen it's better days. It's all out of shape and cracked and pieces are missing. Some gaps up to 1 inch wide around the horn area.

I have heard that Bondo will do the trick. It must be applied in several applications. Sanding in between. Does anyone out here know of a tried and true method of restoring broken / craked steering wheels. I'd like to try to restore it myself. I'n not looking for 100 point vehicle, just something I can use and be proud of. A purist will know, the only thing is, I don't know any. Thanks for any information.

Skip

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I am fortunate, in that my cars steering wheel is still solid, but I have given some though to this problem before. I would think that using epoxy might be a better choice. The amount of damage to the steering wheel would depend on the method used. Possibly some tape could be used for covering the missing areas, and as you mentioned with Bondo, it might have to be done in steps. It would also probably be best if the steering wheel were removed before this is attempted. The one possible problem would be the problems associated with bare epoxy exposed to the suns rays over time. Most (not all) can degrade if not painted.

Here is how I would attempt this. First, remove the steering wheel. Clean the existing steering wheel as best as you can. Turn the SW over (horn button facing down) and where there is a section missing, take a piece of tape and tape around the wheel section, with the tape covering at least 3/4 of the wheel, with the tape ending at the back of the SW. Pour (apply) the epoxy from this open back space until it is level with the ends of the tape. I use epoxy all the time, and I have some syringes (purchased at the local animal feed store) that I use for injecting the epoxy into tight spaces. With this method, you could actually fill in maybe 90% the first time. Once hardened, when the tape is removed, on the front part of the repair, there should be a perfect seem with the existing parts of the SW. To fill in the remainder of the repair hole, put the SW on its side, and cover the small remaining hole with the tape, only leaving the very edge of the hole uncovered. Fill this up the remainder of the way, and when hardened, remove the tape and sand the epoxy smooth to match the SW edges.

Remember, I have never tried this, but I do think about different problems from time to time, and try to come up with a method to repair things in my head. I would not recommend the think epoxy paste, but a liquid that can be poured (or dripped) into the open section.

Here is a link to the place I have been buying my epoxy for years. They even have a 2-part type of rubber, but I don't know how that works, because I have never used it before.

AeroMarine Products - Epoxy Resin, Urethane Foam, Silicone Mold Making Rubber

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There is a great description of repairing and restoring your steering wheel in a book by Cars and Parts called Practical Auto Restoration, The Resurrection of Vicky, a 1955 Crown Victoria. They mention a book by Jack Turpin called "Steering Wheel Restoration Handbook". Maybe it is still in print, but the book on the 1955 Crown Vic has some pretty detailed information and photo's of it. The book was printed in 1988, by Motorbooks International Publishing. Hope this helps.

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It is inevitable the rest of the "plastic" will break off gradually. It's my understanding this was a soybean product type of plastic. As Bofusmosby stated, I have used Epoxy on my GM wheel. It was the mix type and not very fluid, so it was workable by hand. The largest gap I had was approx 1/2", and was able to form (somewhat) as I filled in the gaps. I used epoxy, anticipating, future break-off, because it was a glue and sandable, and would bind the existing plastic to the wheel. I had removed the wheel for ease of access. Painted it as close to color as possible.

I understood this was an untested idea, and the epoxy could be removed for a future wheel resto. I've put some good cranks on the wheel since I did this (approx 11yr's), no, I don't have power steering! The only hairline cracks to show up are in the paint, assuming the plastic underneath is still shrinking. To-date, no additional loss of plastic has occured. I have acquired a restored wheel, however, since it's a work in progress, I leave it on. Note; paint doesn't feel like plastic when driving.

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Thank you for the responses.

I already have the SW off and I tried to correct it back together (clamps), then I realized it had shrunk into the position it is in now. At first I thought it had bent the actual wheel but spaces had opened and moved away from themselves. I guess sitting out in the open Texas air for 40 some years helped it.

Most of the wheel is there, just a few sections are missing, mostly around the center.

I like the epoxy method. The epoxy I have used in the past bonds real well and gets hard and can be sanded real smooth. With something??? for a touch of color and a skim coat over the entire wheel, it maybe, probably, could be smoothed out to have that natural feel. Ya think? What do I have to lose? thanks. Now it's coarser than a three day old beard and doesn't have a feel of anything I'd want to touch for long. Gritty, real gritty, beyond coarse.

It'll be a few weeks before I get back down to retrieve the wheel, then I can bring it home for some relaxing garage time.

Skip

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Restoring steering wheels has come up before. Using Kwik Poly is suggested as it is very fluid and can be tinted with dry pigments. Use masking tape around areas to be filled as if it were a dam. If you create two batches of differant colors and time the mixing right, you can do base color and accent color swirls or any combo needed. This article shows the result of accents in photogragh 2:

http://www.metroccca.org/tech_articles/tech_07_winter.pdf

Kwik Poly can be sanded and buffed so you don't get that "paint" feeling on your hands. The colors are embedded in the material.

Kwik Poly: Home Page

Chris

Edited by Friartuck (see edit history)
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I agree about tinting the epoxy to the correct color when mixing, but most epoxys degrade in direct sunlight over time. Thats the only reason I didn't mention this in my other post. I have used various colors to tint the epoxy when mixing, but never on something that would be in direct sunlight. They may make an epoxy the will hold up under the ultraviolet rays, and if so, I totally agree about the tinting while mixing up a batch.

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I caught a TV show, which I can't recall off the top of my head right now, but it covered the restoration of a steering wheel with cracks and splits up to a quarter inch. As I recall they did use epoxy to fill the cracks and sanded the entire wheel filling small gouges with spot epoxy putty. When the wheel was all sanded to a final finish they primed it with an epoxy primer and then painted it with automotive paint. After buff and polish it looked like brand new. I'm thinking this takes car of any UV concerns while maintaining a proper original feel under hand when driving it. In the end I thought it was amazing.

Just more food for thought. Scott...

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I guess, because there are several types of product used to make steering wheels, different approach's should be considered. The old "plastic" type, hard rubber plastic coated and the newer plastic. When Scott mentioned all that sanding, I realized that wouldn't work on my SW,tho I did sand the epoxy. When I hit the old plastic with sand paper ( I'm not a gorilla), it would flake/chip like glass, flea bites. The hard rubber type would handle sanding better, I think? Wonder what vintage wheel they worked on. The resin coating mentioned sounds pretty good, stripping the paint would be interesting enough to check on the deterioration, and what effect the stripper might have.

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I guess, because there are several types of product used to make steering wheels, different approach's should be considered. The old "plastic" type, hard rubber plastic coated and the newer plastic. When Scott mentioned all that sanding, I realized that wouldn't work on my SW,tho I did sand the epoxy. When I hit the old plastic with sand paper ( I'm not a gorilla), it would flake/chip like glass, flea bites. The hard rubber type would handle sanding better, I think? Wonder what vintage wheel they worked on. The resin coating mentioned sounds pretty good, stripping the paint would be interesting enough to check on the deterioration, and what effect the stripper might have.

Good comment!

Probably no one other than the professional steering wheel repair guys has even a remote clue about the nature of all the original materials used on early or even recent steering wheels and some may represent major adhesion issues for various fillers that could be used, just as some of those fillers might just attack the remains of original materials.

It is for certain removing all the dirt, skin oil, motor oil, dried mustard and ketchup from the cracks, chips, and breaks in the original material is difficult at best and that certainly affects just how good the repair will be. A good way to test to determine if the piece is clean enough to be repaired with some sort of filler is to pour a 50/50 mixture of Hydrogen Peroxide and Water into the area to be repaired. If a lot of foaming and bubbling occurs, it ain't clean enough to expect anything to stick to it.

As for removing paint use a spray remover that indicates it won't raise the grain or damage wood or soda blast. If a stripper won't hurt wood it probably won't hurt synthetic materials. Never use a petroleum/chemical based paint stripper on anything you are not 100% sure of what material it is, as you might just create a mess that cannot be overcome by anyone.

As for me, I'll let the pros do it. Somethings are just best left to those who really know what they are doing.

Jim

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The more that I thought about the program that I watched I know the steering wheel was either a mid 50's or mid 60's plastic steering wheel. And to clarify the point made on painting the wheel. The cracks in the wheel were first fixed with the epoxy putty then the complete wheel was sanded before it was completely sprayed with epoxy primer, sanded again and spot putty for any divits and one last light primer coat followed by the color auto paint finish coat. It was then cut/buffed and looked like new. I'm sure that it was a single stage but would believe that a two stage paint would work too, again just an opinion. Also, to be clear, this didn't cover an old pre WWI wheel, although it may work on that too but I would believe the original finish would be hard to duplicate, don't know. I personally would not be afraid to attempt a 50's or 60's steering wheel, but that's my opinion on what I feel that I could accomplish (right or wrong). Scott...

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You guys are way over thinking this. If you want the wheel exactly like original have it recast. Otherwise, glass bead the He** out of it til you reach solid plastic. Buy West System Epoxy and their microballoon filler and mix to a putty like consistency and have at it. Build dams or whatever if you need to contain the stuff. It can be mixed to a "no sag" consistency if necessary. When hard, file or sand to shape, primer and paint as you would any other automobile part. We've done maybe a dozen this way over the years and it works fine. You can also use fibreglas resin but it's way messier.

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Come on now, I'm not over-thinking this. I just tried to explain in detail about how I would attempt this, thats all. I use epoxy all the time, and to me, this would be the best fix. Just remember this, when a person takes a trip, there are any number of routes that they can take to get to the same destination.

Restorer32, I'm glad to hear that you have had good success with the epoxy repair. I guess my idea wasn't that far out in left field.:D

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Getting back to Skip's original question, The only way "tried and true" would be a recast. The consensus would be how pricy a recast is...500-700$. Mechanical parts would come first<<get it running>>. So our opinions of what "might work" in the near future were laid-out, to get by. It seems epoxy was the prevailing material, so far. Watching the cracks get bigger on my SW prompted me to try the stuff. The thought of driving with a bare ring of steel was my epiphany. Heck, if farmers can fix a cracked block with JB weld, why cant I epoxy my SW?

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Here is one system you might look at.

STEERING WHEEL REPAIR KIT-POR-15 Inc.

Eastwoods also sell repair kits.

http://search.eastwood.com/search?asug=steering+&w=steering+wheel+repair&p=Q&ts=custom

Seems pretty straight forward but I would think you would have to sandblast any exposed metal frame in the wheel to make sure there is no rust present

before you apply the epoxy or it will only start to crack again.

Edited by DavidAU (see edit history)
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  • 2 years later...
Here is one system you might look at.

STEERING WHEEL REPAIR KIT-POR-15 Inc.

Eastwoods also sell repair kits.

Eastwood Company: Search Results for steering wheel repair*inproducts

Seems pretty straight forward but I would think you would have to sandblast any exposed metal frame in the wheel to make sure there is no rust present

before you apply the epoxy or it will only start to crack again.

i am about to restore 2 wheels... Using a epoxy filler, primer and paint, then possibly a product called plasti-dip spray bomb..

i will post my results, but easily done... The biggest challenge is to decide which one to use :).. Solid plain black, or banjo style, as I have both...

YouTube instructions: KBS NuMetal - Epoxy Putty - Steering Wheel Repair - Part 1 - YouTube

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I've restored plastic and rubber-plastic (as I call it) steering wheels from the 40tys through the 70tys. Different materials are required depending upon the wheel. Bondo does NOT work at least for me it did not. I tried it and the wheels recracked around the bondo. I've used PC-7, JBWELD, dental epoxy, and POR-15 expoxy dependent upon the wheel I was restoring. I've also used laquer thinner to soften up hard plastic so the repair material would bond into the existing wheel. A Dremel tool would be useful for enlarging the cracked areas as would both round and triangular files.

I've restored over 50 steering wheels so I might be able to help you with yours. Currently I have 18 steering wheels in stock for 50tys and 60tys Volkswagens and Porsches, and some of these were restored 10 plus years ago. None have recracked. I also do my own repainting of the wheels.

If you are interested in asking me questions please send me a private e-mail.

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On this wheel I used an epoxy that hardens in water.

This makes it easier it get the dust out, and you can work it in with damp fingers.

The cutting into the cracks was a bit deeper than shown in the 3rd photo.

It has held up for over three years so far with no signs of cracking.

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For whatever it's worth, I went to You Tube and searched for "steering wheel restoration". They were a surprising number of hits. I didn't look at any of them, so I can't say for sure that a person would find much help there. I did note that some of them referred to using epoxy. In general I've found some valuable advice there in the past, but it can take a long time weeding through the useless crap that some people post just to impress themselves.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm guessing the steering wheel in our 1953 Chrysler is technically bakelite or something similar, certainly a resin-like plastic. The color is molded in and results in that unmistakable, foggy translucent look. I feel very fortunate that ours is perfect, without so much as a hairline crack. It was garaged and rarely driven for 40 years, which may play a large role in its condition.

So on the other end of the spectrum, any suggestions on protecting the portions of our wheels that are ok? In other words, what's the biggest threat... ambient temp on a hot day? UV light coming in through the windows? Or the natural oils on my hands being rubbed into the material?

I'd love to be proactive to keep it in good shape - and I'm considering keeping an elastic, perforated leatherette cover (or similar) on it most times, which could be removed when we're at shows, etc. Suggestions welcome.

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I am definitely no expert but my findings led me to some suggestions after I restore my wheel... Use cloth gloves (can be slippery thought), don't use covers as they trap moisture, possibly coat wheel with uv protectant found in aerosol cans in wood section of hardware store.... ... I would be interested in what more seasoned enthusiasts suggest.. Good thread to follow.

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CDN224, I've never tried a UV protectant spray as you mentioned. If it is compatible with the paint used then it is a good idea.

What I have done is to come back to the wheel after the paint has cured (I wait 3 days), wet sanded with 1,500 to 2,000 grit paper, and then applied a urethane clear top coat. The urethane clear I use has UV protectants in the mix.

I imagine base coat clear coat would work very nicely for steering wheels, and I expect to be trying this out this summer.

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  • 1 month later...

How I restored mine...

i cut away space for some welding, the spoke brackets were broken. I then sanded the whole wheel and used pilot holes within the area to be puttied. I used epoxy, Marine putty. JBL

filled, let dry 1 week... Sanded, now ill be sealing the wheel with primer / sealer ready for coloured paint (don't know what colour my interior is), then ill coat with a special UV clear coat that's like glass.

here is some pics of the putty... Ill put together a milestone album of the process.. Really easy to do.

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  • 6 years later...

Hi everyone, I'm new to this forum and I was wondering if you could help me with something. I have an old steering wheel (see photos attached) that I found in my gran father garage and I was wondering if you could help me determine for which car is it? I have noticed that 28 Chrysler has posted some photos of a steering wheel restoration that looks very very similar to the one I have. If you could please help me, it would be greatly appreciated. Many thanks in advance.

WhatsApp Image 2020-02-22 at 13.37.58 (1).jpeg

WhatsApp Image 2020-02-22 at 13.37.58.jpeg

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