How to Restore an Old Steering Wheel

How to Restore an Old Steering Wheel

With a little TLC, classic cars can stay in remarkably good shape. Unfortunately, the vintage plastics and composite materials once used to make steering wheels have a tendency to shrink, crack, and crumble with age, which can detract from a vehicle’s overall value and visual appeal. The upshot is that with some strong epoxy paste and a bit of patience, restoring a steering wheel to its former glory is a relatively straightforward project.


[Edit]Dismounting and Cleaning the Wheel

  1. Disconnect your vehicle’s battery if it’s still hooked up. Before you get started, make sure your vehicle is safely parked and turned off completely. Pop the hood (or the trunk, as the case may be) and use a socket wrench of the appropriate size to loosen the nuts holding the connector cables to their respective terminals. Undo the negative terminal first, followed by the positive terminal.[1]
    Restore an Old Steering Wheel Step 1.jpg
    • The terminals of most automobile batteries are labelled for ease of identification—"+" stands for positive and "-" stands for negative. On batteries with color-coded terminal covers, red corresponds to positive, while black corresponds to negative.[2]
    • If you attempt to disassemble the steering wheel with the battery still connected, the horn may sound unexpectedly and scare you half to death.
    • Always disconnect the negative terminal first. Doing it the other way around can lead to sparking, which in the worst case scenario could cause the engine to explode![3]
  2. Remove the horn ring and mounting nut holding the steering wheel in place. Press down on the horn ring at the center of the wheel and twist it counterclockwise (left) to unscrew it. Use a suitably-sized wrench or socket to loosen the mounting nut beneath. Set both of these pieces aside somewhere you won’t accidentally misplace them.[4]
    Restore an Old Steering Wheel Step 2.jpg
    • The horn rings on some older cars are spring-loaded, so turn the ring slowly and keep one hand on it at all times to prevent it from shooting off and disappearing into the cabin of the vehicle.
    • It will be much easier for you to work on the wheel while it isn’t attached.
  3. Fit a wheel puller tool onto the center of your steering wheel. Make sure that the device is aligned with the now-open slot in the middle of the wheel. Slip the 2 included fixing bolts through the slots on either side of the body of the puller and into the holes in the face of the steering hub. Tighten both bolts with your wrench or socket by turning them clockwise.[5]
    Restore an Old Steering Wheel Step 3.jpg
    • Make sure the wheel is perfectly centered before you pull it off. That way, you can guarantee that it’s in the right position when it comes time to reinstall it.
  4. Tighten the tool's central bolt to remove the wheel from the steering shaft. Insert the third, larger bolt into the middle of the wheel puller and begin turning it clockwise, the same way you did the smaller fixing bolts. Applying gradual rotational force to the central bolt will cause the wheel to release from its seat, at which point you can simply slide it off.[6]
    Restore an Old Steering Wheel Step 4.jpg
    • In some cases, there may be an additional retaining nut behind the wheel that you’ll have to undo before you can finish removing it. Remove this nut the same way you did the upper mounting nut.[7]
  5. Wipe the wheel with a mixture of warm water and mild liquid dish soap. Wet a soft, lint-free cloth or paper towel with the soap solution and scrub the wheel from top to bottom to remove accumulated dirt and grime. When you’re done, saturate a second, clean cloth or paper towel with plain water and go back over the wheel to clear away the remaining soap solution.
    Restore an Old Steering Wheel Step 5.jpg
    • Place the cloth or paper towel in your palm and rotate your hand around the wheel as you go to make sure you’re hitting the front and back edges of the wheel, as well.
  6. Spray the wheel with a paint prep solution and wipe it down a second time. Lay the wheel out on a plastic tarp, canvas dropcloth, or layer of newspapers to work cleanly and efficiently. Wet one side of the wheel with the spray and buff it thoroughly with a separate cloth or paper towel, then turn it over and repeat on the opposite side.[8]
    Restore an Old Steering Wheel Step 6.jpg
    • Pull on a pair of rubber gloves before you start spraying. That way, the oil on your skin won’t be transferred to the wheel when you flip it over.[9]
    • Paint prep sprays can be found at any automotive supply store. They’re designed to cut through stubborn dirt, dust, and grime, as well as residue from leftover grease, wax, silicone, and polishing products.

[Edit]Building up Damaged Areas

  1. Use a triangle file to widen small cracks along the wheel’s outer surface. Fit one of the file’s angled edges into each crack and run it back and forth using a moderate pressure. This will give the crack a neat, even V-shape, making it easier to fill in with the epoxy paste that you’ll be using to rebuild the wheel.[10]
    Restore an Old Steering Wheel Step 7.jpg
    • You can pick up a triangle file at your local hardware store for around $10. They’re useful tools to have around, and can come in handy for a variety of repair and restoration projects.
    • A dremel tool will also work nicely to open up cracks, chips, gouges, and other worn areas.[11]
  2. Mix up a strong 2-part epoxy paste or putty. Most products come with separate containers of resin and hardener that form a thick, quick-drying paste when combined. Blend the components according to the instructions laid out on the packaging of the product you’re working with.[12]
    Restore an Old Steering Wheel Step 8.jpg
    • You’ll find a wide variety of epoxies and similar fillers at any hardware store, home improvement center, or auto supplier.
    • You’re free to use any type of epoxy that dries to a tough, durable finish. However, the product of choice for many car buffs is PC-7, which has been a staple of automotive restoration projects for over 60 years.[13]
  3. Fill in the damaged spots along the wheel with the epoxy. Dab the compound into the cracks and crevices using the same tool that you used to mix it. If your chosen product didn’t come with its own applicator, wooden popsicle sticks and flexible plastic putty knives can both serve as great makeshift spreaders. Be sure to overfill each area slightly, as most epoxies have a tendency to shrink a bit as they dry. [14]
    Restore an Old Steering Wheel Step 9.jpg
    • One useful technique for applying putty-style epoxies is to pull off small pieces, roll them into thin strips, and press them into the areas you filed out using your fingertips.
  4. Shape the epoxy until it matches the contours of the steering wheel. If you’re working with a paste, use your applicator to carefully distribute the compound and remove any excess, if necessary. Putties can simply be molded by hand. Take your time and work carefully. It’s important for the wheel to have a smooth, consistent finish all the way around.[15]
    Restore an Old Steering Wheel Step 10.jpg
    • Don’t worry about being too meticulous—you’ll be sanding the wheel down to a more consistent texture a little later on.
  5. Allow the epoxy to dry for at least 24 hours. Under normal conditions, the majority of epoxies will harden to a paintable consistency in about one full day and cure completely within two. Avoid handling the wheel in the meantime. Touching the fresh compound could cause it to lose its shape, ruining all of your hard work.[16]
    Restore an Old Steering Wheel Step 11.jpg
    • Set the wheel on a flat, stable surface draped with a tarp, dropcloth, or layer of newspaper as it dries.
    • Once in place, the epoxy will solidify and bond to the wheel, restoring its original structure.

[Edit]Sanding and Priming the Repaired Wheel

  1. Sand the wheel to an even texture using a high-grit sandpaper. Wrap the sandpaper around the edge of the wheel and glide it back and forth while applying light-to-moderate pressure. Focus on areas where the dried epoxy has expanded beyond the wheel’s outer surface. A good sanding will not only do away with uneven spots but also encourage your cover-up paint to stick better.[17]
    Restore an Old Steering Wheel Step 12.jpg
    • Any sandpaper in the 120-220-grit range will work well for this task.[18]
    • A rounded sanding block may make it easier to really dig into the wheel’s hard-to-reach contours.
  2. Switch to an extra fine sandpaper to achieve as smooth a finish as possible. Once you’re done with your preliminary sanding, repeat the process with a sheet of sandpaper in the 240-400-grit range. This will gently wear down the roughness of the dried epoxy and surrounding material, leaving the wheel almost as perfect as the day it came off the assembly line.[19]
    Restore an Old Steering Wheel Step 13.jpg
    • Afterwards, wipe the wheel with a damp cloth to remove the dust that’s been produced by all the sanding you’ve been doing.
    • Don’t skip this second round of sanding. If you do, your finished paint job may not have the smooth, glossy luster that you’re going for.
  3. Prep the wheel with an even coat of urethane-based automotive primer. For maximum efficiency and professional-grade results, load your primer into a high-powered spray gun. If one of these tools is outside your budget, you can also get the job done using an ordinary spray can. Hold your sprayer away from the wheel and wave it back and forth from various angles to coat the entire outer surface. Allow the primer to dry for about one full hour before proceeding.[20]
    Restore an Old Steering Wheel Step 14.jpg
    • Your neighborhood auto supply store should have a large selection of automotive paints and primers to choose from.
    • Strap on a facemask or respirator to avoid breathing in harmful fumes. It’s also a good idea to park your vehicle outside or open the door to your garage to make sure that your work space is properly ventilated.[21]

[Edit]Painting and Sealing for a Seamless Finish

  1. Spray on your first coat of paint and let it dry for at least 20 minutes. Apply your paint the same way you did the initial primer, positioning your sprayer at a distance of and moving it constantly. This technique will provide the optimum balance between depth of color and distribution.[22]
    Restore an Old Steering Wheel Step 15.jpg
    • Pick out a high-performance enamel or single-stage urethane automotive paint that will hold up to years of regular use. You’ll have no shortage of options when it comes to color.[23]
    • Remember to wear gloves to keep the color from staining your exposed skin.
  2. Follow up with 1-4 additional coats, waiting 20 minutes between each. Plan on using a minimum of 2 coats total (though most automotive experts recommend 4-5 total for best results). Layering multiple light coats, as opposed to a slapping on a single heavy coat, will guarantee maximum coverage without creating drips or streaks.[24]
    Restore an Old Steering Wheel Step 16.jpg
    • You may need to increase your drying time slightly as the paint continues to build up. If your later coats still look wet at the 20-minute mark, play it safe and give them 5-10 extra minutes. This will reduce your chances of seeing imperfections in the top coat.
  3. Apply 1-3 coats of clear sealant to protect the new finish. Hold the can of sealant away from the wheel and everywhere that you’ve applied new paint. Allot at least 15 minutes of drying time between coats. Once the final coat cures completely, all that’s left to do is remount your steering wheel and marvel at how new it looks![25]
    Restore an Old Steering Wheel Step 17.jpg
    • Choose a sealant that’s formulated specifically for use on automobile parts and accessories, or the particular type of paint that you’re working with.
    • Don't forget to reconnect your vehicle's battery upon concluding your project. This time around, start with the positive terminal, then attach the negative terminal.[26]


  • At its core, restoring a vintage steering wheel is essentially just like any other painting project: first you’ll strip, then you’ll prime, and, last but not least, you’ll slap on your paint.
  • Browse Internet forums, auto restoration blogs, and similar resources for more specific tool and material recommendations, as well as some friendly advice from experienced grease monkeys who have already been around the block a time or two.


  • The methods described here won’t work for newer leather-wrapped or rubber-coated steering wheels, unless you’re willing to remove the old covering entirely.

[Edit]Things You’ll Need

  • Adjustable wrench or socket set
  • Wheel puller tool
  • Warm water
  • Mild liquid dish soap
  • Spray-on paint prep solution
  • Rubber gloves
  • Lint-free cloths or paper towels
  • Plastic tarp, canvas dropcloth, or newspaper
  • Triangle file or dremel tool
  • 2-part epoxy paste or putty
  • Plastic tarp, canvas dropcloth, or newspaper
  • 120-220-grit sandpaper
  • 240-400-grit sandpaper
  • Urethane-based automotive primer
  • High-performance enamel or single-stage urethane automotive paint
  • Spray-on clear coat sealant
  • Rubber gloves
  • Facemask or respirator
  • Painter’s tape
  • Wooden popsicle stick or flexible plastic putty knife (optional)
  • Contoured sanding block (optional)
  • High-powered paint sprayer (optional)


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