As often as we discuss wear and tear on the various mechanical (and sometimes electrical) components that make up our cars, it's also common for more cosmetic elements to need a little TLC, too. One part that we may not think about all that often is the headliner, which is the official name of the material used to line the inside of your car's roof. While it may not be as important as the engine, transmission, and so on, it does provide some temperature insulation and reduces noise somewhat.
Whether age and use catches up with it or you just don't like how it looks, there may come a time when you feel the need to rip the old one out and put in a new one. And if that happens you have two choices: Take your car in to have the headliner replaced professionally, or handle it on your own.
Replacing the headliner is a relatively straightforward process with a lot more wiggle room than something like engine maintenance, oil changing, and other common repairs, which makes it a much more reasonable DIY prospect (though not necessarily a painless one). However, you can pay someone else to do it for you if you don't have the time or patience for it.
Replacing a headliner at a garage
Getting your car's headliner replaced at a garage should boil down to bringing your car to a service station or garage, letting them know what you want, getting a quote, waiting for the job to be done, and paying your bill. Though if you're familiar with taking your car into a mechanic you can expect a similar "flow" to the process.
Depending on the garage and the number of jobs ahead of you (as well as their complexity), you may have to wait a while to get your car back. Replacing the headliner itself shouldn't take terribly long, though. You just need to decide whether or not you're okay with waiting however long for your turn to come up (this, again, will depend on the garage and its current workload).
You could also face more of a delay based on the model of car you're replacing the headliner for, the kind and amount of material being used, and the age of the car itself. Headliners in newer cars are (generally) easier to replace due to their construction, while older cars will probably require a bit more effort. Similarly, replacing the headliner on a car that's been out of production for several years — particularly if the company itself is no longer around — will probably require some compromise when it comes to finding material that matches the original fabric or interior colors.
Replacing your own headliner
Taking care of this yourself gives you a bit more leeway since you can handle it at home, but you'll have to do all the physical work yourself, as well as get ahold of the necessary equipment and replacement materials. To start:
- Pry off the trim and remove any other items (lights, panels, etc) covering the headliner.
- Locate any clips holding the headliner board in place and unclip them, then slide the board out of the car and lay it on a flat surface.
- Peel the fabric and foam off of the board, then use a tool like a wire brush, scrubber, or scraper to gently remove any remaining excess foam bits. If the foam isn't being replaced, just peel off the fabric instead.
- Lay the replacement fabric over the board, then fold it in half and apply adhesive to both the board and the underside of the fabric.
- Stretch the fabric adhesive side down over the board and smooth out any wrinkles. Then fold the other half of the fabric back and repeat the process of adding adhesive and laying it back down.
- Give the adhesive time to dry (check the directions for drying time), then trim off excess fabric and cut the necessary holes in the material for lights and other accessories.
- Slide the headliner board back in place and reattach the trim and accessories.
Make sure to use very strong adhesive, otherwise it may not hold for very long.
Professional vs at-home replacement costs
As you might expect, replacing your car's headliner on your own will save you money. Possibly a couple hundred dollars (or more), depending on factors like the make and model of your car, whether it's a small sedan or a luxury vehicle, whether you or the mechanic need to use a factory-supplied replacement kit (which can cost more), and how long it may take a garage to finish the job.
Looking at very basic estimates and averages (again, a lot of factors come into play here), you can expect to pay roughly $200 to $400 or more to replace your own headliner – plus any additional items you may need to buy like equipment, adhesive, etc. Whereas you're more likely to spend around $400 or more, up to the $1500 realm for larger or luxury vehicles, if you have a garage do it for you.
You also need to consider your own comfort level and time if you plan to replace the headliner yourself, because that cost estimate could potentially double if you aren't able to get it right the first time and need to buy more material and repeat the process all over again. Though even then, if you're looking at a $1000+ bill to hand it over to a professional, you'll probably still save some money if you have to do it yourself more than once.