If you are working on you car stereo or security system, you will most likely have to remove some panels, consoles, trim rings, etc. Factory panels are not always easy to remove. If you break a panel, you will regret not being careful. Dealers charge a fortune for parts.
Before you even think about pulling on a panel, make sure all the screws and other fasteners have been removed. If you can’t figure out how to take a panel out, get help. Borrow a manual for your car at the library, ask a car stereo shop in your area or ask a local car dealer.
If the car is out in the cold, panels tend to get hard and brittle, and may break easily, particularly in old cars. Try heating the panel(s) up before you remove them with a hair dryer or heat gun.
Most panels are mainly held in place by screws, snaps, other panels that overlap them, and any combination of the three:
Radio Trim Rings
To make cars cosmetically appealing, manufacturers hide screws behind “dummy plates” and electronic controls. In many cars you have to pull out clocks, hazard light switches, defroster controls, etc., to get to the screws that hold the panel. If you need to remove a switch or instrument in a panel, don’t just insert a flat screwdriver on the side and pry. This will bend and scratch the panel. Try pulling the desired part with a hook. If you have no other option than to pry, place a cloth on the screwdriver to prevents scratches.
Many radio trim rings use snaps, either by themselves, or in combination with screws. Double check to make sure you did not miss any screws. Pull evenly on the panel, either using a panel removal tool, or a hook. If the piece is too tight, there might be a screw somewhere you might have left out. In many cases, such as most Hondas, you don’t even need to take the trim ring out at all to get to the radio, just remove a couple screws that hold the radio from behind.
Relatively easy to remove. Ninety-nine percent are held in place by bolts and/or screws. First, take all the stuff out of pockets, boxes, compartments, ashtrays, etc. Remove all visible screws. If the console does not pull out, search for hidden screws. Many cars (especially European) use a piece of carpet to cover up screws. Cars such as Mercedes Benz have screws hidden under the ashtray. The parking brake is a common obstacle. In some cars you might have to slide the front seats all the way back and recline them to get the console out.
Some people remove the whole dash to hide alarm components, and access electronic devices in the car. These people are experienced. Removing a whole dash takes many hours and patience. If you are not careful when reinstalling the dash, wires might get pinched and you might smoke something. Remember that the electronics around the dash control the main functions in your car, so you can’t never be too careful here. Most cars have a clip that has to be pulled out in order to remove the speedometer cable from the instrument panel. Before you take anything apart, unhook the car’s battery (this is good practice when you are working on your car in general). Find hidden screws and bolts by “peeling” off panels. Unhook electronic components and harnesses as you go along. Mark things if necessary for reassembly.
Most front seats are held by bolts and nuts. Some cars have extra brackets or seatbelt anchors that must also be removed. Many newer models have pieces of plastic or carpet over nuts and/or bolts holding the seats for cosmetic reasons. These pieces can be easily removed using a panel removal tool, or taking screws out (if they have any). Before you pull the seat out, be careful to unhook any wires plugged up to the seat, and take extreme care not to scratch anything while you take the seats out of the car. To make life a bit easier when remounting the seat, first slide the seat all the way up, remove the bolts on the back. Slide the seat all the way back, make sure the seat is locked in position, and then remove the remaining bolts at the front.
Rear seats are fastened in many different ways. On most cars, the base part of the seat is held in place by a metal snap going into a hole. To remove, pull on the front of the seat. Some cars have a metal or plastic tab that has to be pulled, pushed, or moved to the side, while pulling on the front of the seat. Other cars, mainly German, use bolts or screws in the front to hold the base of the seat. Many American car seats (GM) have a hook that fits into a metal brace. To remove the bottom part of the seat push hard towards the back and then up. Most Hondas use a bolt (10MM) on the back part of the seat between the bottom part of the seat and the back support (towards the middle) that has to be removed. Then the seat can be pulled up from the back. Before you pull on a seat, try to analyze what is holding it. Most seats do not need a lot of force to be removed, they all have a trick.
The back support on the rear seat is a bit more standard in the way it is fastened. At the top, there are 2, 3 or 4 pieces of metal that go into a hole. There are 2 or more bolts that hold the backrest at the bottom. Once you have removed the bottom part of the seat, take the screws or bolts out, and slide the back rest up and out. On a few cars you have to remove the rear deck and other side panels out first. If you can’t figure it out, remove the panels in the other side of the backrest (trunk) and examine carefully how the seat is fastened.
A bit harder to remove than the rest of the panels in a car because they house window cranks, buttons, mirror controls, speakers, etc. Some cars even have seatbelts built in the doors. The first step is to remove all the screws on plain sight. Look for screws hidden behind speaker grilles, power window/lock/mirror controls, ashtrays, interior light covers, dummy plates, etc. Windows all the way down help a lot during removal and reinstallation.
If your car has manual windows, use a crank clip removal tool to get the clip out. Pull the crank out. Since clips holding the cranks are small and thin, they tend to fly away and get lost. Some cars (mostly VW) hold the crank in position with a bolt, hidden behind a plastic cover. Other cars (i.e. old AMC and Cherokees) use a crank that snaps in place. Once you have removed all the obstacles (in some cars such as Isuzu this even requires removing the speakers), try to see how the panel is ultimately held in place. There are two basic systems:
– Snaps (most cars, especially imports), which are best taken care of with a panel removal tool. Sometimes snaps break from the panel and stay on the car. Remove them from the door with a panel removal tool, and reattach the snaps to the door panel before reinstallation. Once you get everything loose, most panels need to be pulled out at the bottom and then up.
– Hooks (some Fords, i.e. Thunderbird and GM, i.e. Camaro), in which the panel has to be pulled up first and then out.
Rear decks are not fun to take out. Most involve removing the back seat and backrest, side panels, seatbelts, speakers, etc.
The best way to remove a rear deck is to follow these guidelines: Remove snaps using a panel removal tool. Remove third brake light casing, if necessary. Remove other obstructions such as speaker grilles, speakers, seats, panels, seatbelts, etc.
Manufacturers do not take much time trying to hide screws and snaps on the trunk/hatch. That makes trunk panels fairly easy to remove. Most are held by snaps, screws, or a combination of both. Again, the procedure is to remove any visible screws and snaps. Search for hidden screws under dummy plates, access doors and light bulb covers. On some hatchbacks, speaker grilles, speakers, seatbelts, even the back seats need to be removed to clear the way for the panels to come out.
Probably the easiest to remove, due to their small size. Most manufacturers use bolts and/or snaps. In some cases, such as old BMWs, the speaker grilles hold the kick panels. The most annoying obstruction is generally the hood latch popper.
Repairing broken panels
Even the pros break a panel or a snap every once in a while (professional installers are very good at repairing broken panels). If you cracked a panel, there might still be hope. A hot melt gun is a must have here.
Since most panels are made out of plastic, it is fairly easy to fix cracks and breaks. One of the best techniques is to cut a piece of metal from a paper clip, and dig it in the plastic for support. Here’s how to do it: First place the panel to be fixed upside down on a flat surface (over a cloth, so that it does not get scratched). Cut a piece of metal from a paper clip (about an inch long or so). Place the piece over the crack (again, on the back side of the panel) and hold it in place with a flat screwdriver or pliers (NEVER with your fingers). Use a soldering gun to heat the metal, applying a bit of pressure so that the clip melts its way in the plastic as it gets hot. It is better if you start on one side, and then work your way to the other side of the crack, don’t try do it all at once. Be very careful not to push the clip all the way through to the other side of the plastic, you don’t want anything showing on the front side of the panel. It is highly recommended that you practice a couple times on a piece of scrap plastic before you attempt the actual panel. When you are done with the soldering gun, clean the tip with a wire brush. The left over burnt plastic will not let it hold solder very good.
Another technique, which can be used in addition to the one previously mentioned or by itself, is to use a hot glue gun and pieces of either plastic or wood: Prepare the panel in the same way as before, but instead of placing a clip over it, spread some hot melt over the area, then place a small piece of wood or plastic, and add some more hot melt. Let cool down a couple minutes, and add glue on top as many times as needed. Make sure that the panel will fit in the car before you do this. Hot glue can also be used to attach broken snaps, and to build custom panels.
If you do break a panel and can’t fix it, try a junkyard before you go to a dealer.