Like everything in this world, trends are seen throughout styling over the years. Whether it’s the clothes worn or how they were designing cars, you can usually look at something and tell what era it’s from. For many years chrome or heavy metal bumpers were the norm on all cars. These bumpers had no plastic and you could usually polish them up if they ever faded over the years. In the late 1970’s-late 90’s rubber and plastic found its way onto bumpers more and more until modern times where a bumper is made 90% of plastic. With cars from the late 70’s through the 90’s now becoming “classic cars” more people are turning to restoring or refreshing them. This means trying to bring back a faded old black plastic bumpers or trim is a major issue on these cars that was never a problem with traditional “old car” restorations. I spent a good portion of my teens-late 20’s playing with European cars of that era and I found a handful of tricks to bring back the deep black finish on old plastic parts. Below is my short list of methods that actually work AND last (albeit some longer than others).
1. Heat- This is one of the cheapest methods, but one of the scariest. Old faded black plastic parts can turn almost white they get faded so bad. A lot of this is due to contaminants, tire dressing, wax, etc from years of use. By using a heat gun you can essentially heat and almost “reflow” the plastic and when it cools it stays a deep, matte black like original. I usually start by using 000 Steel wool and Low VOC Pre to go over the surface and remove any layers of “back to black” type products. Then once the PRE flashes off you can come back and turn the heat gun to a mid-range and slowly go over the bumper. I like to keep about 4-6″ from the bumper and you’ll see the bumper turn from a faded gray to a deep black slowly moving the heat gun as you see the bumper change shade. Once you go over the bumper you can always go back another pass, never let the bumper get so hot that it’s melting the plastic, keep it moving as soon as you see the shade of black change. This solution works well but does only last a season or two before the plastic will start to dull again. If you keep up with it the next time will be a quick job and can be done over and over again.
2. Dye- A very cheap, but messy solution is to go to your local department store and get yourself some quality Black Leather shoe DYE (NOT black polish). Kiwi offers a nice dye with a foam applicator tip that I’ve used on its own to dye trim and bumpers. Otherwise you can get some small foam brushes from the craft department and dip them in the dye and go over the bumpers or trim with it. I like to put it on fairly heavy and as it starts to run on the part you can use the foam brush to evenly spread it over the part until it is a uniform black. Ideally you should get an even coat on the first try. This dye is about the best out there for a cheap topical treatment for plastic. If you’re treating parts while on the car make sure you mask off any areas you don’t want dye on. It can be a pain to get off if it’s left to dry fully. I’ve found this treatment will last 2-3 years depending on the conditions the vehicle sees. This is only a “dye” so it is still to be treated as a temporary fix.
3. Plastic Paint/Coating– There are some higher end vinyl paints on the market that you can apply over the parts to give them a fresh new look, but you need to consider the look you’re going for as some of the spray-on plastic paints can leave a finish that is too glossy and looks like paint. Spray out a few test panels before you commit to an entire bumper or piece of trim. Longevity can be many years if you thoroughly prep the surface. Make sure you apply thin coats so you don’t fill the textured surface that most of the parts of this era had.
4. Plastic Resurfacer– If there ever was an end-all to restoring black textured plastic parts this is it. Plastic Resurfacer chemically does a similar thing as a heat gun by reflowing the surface of the plastic and it essentially “injects” new black resin into the plastic surface and brings it back to a like-new condition. This is about as permanent as it gets and it is the best of all of the other solutions mentioned above. Make sure you mask off all areas surrounding the area you’re treating. We like to apply 1-2 light coats and let it dry/cure overnight. Once it is finally cured you can wash it and use the car just like new. Give it a try you won’t be disappointed!