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A lot of dashboards are given a soft-touch finish with vinyl to make them look sleeker than normal plastic. However, in some makes and models, these vinyl covers tend to melt under high temperatures.

In 2015, Toyota and Lexus started customer support programs to replace around 3.5 million dashboards that had cracked, melted, or emitted unpleasant odors in high heat and humidity. These programs involve repair and reimbursement, although coverage will vary depending on the vehicle’s year, model, and purchase date.

More than just an aesthetic issue, melted dashboards can be a hazard. They become shiny, which can create a glare on the windshield and impair your vision. The odor they emit can also make you and your passengers sick.

Because they are sticky, they also trap dirt, dust, and gunk.

car dashboard
A melted dashboard can become shiny and create glare on the windshield, which could impair your vision.

If you have a sticky dashboard, find out if your vehicle is covered by a repair or replacement plan. If you are not eligible for any program, you probably want to know how to safely resolve the problem without ruining your dash or depending on costly repairs.

The process below should get you some quick and easy results, but first, let’s discuss why this happens and how you can prevent it from happening again.

What Causes a Sticky Dashboard?

To be clear, dashboards are not supposed to melt. If yours does, it is considered a defect and may be eligible for replacement or repair by its manufacturer. If you have a sticky dashboard on your hands, it pays to understand how it came about—not only to prevent it but also to extend the life of your dashboard.

Here are some common reasons why a dashboard would melt:

Excessive heat

Leaving your car out in the sun for too long can cause its dashboard cover to melt, which makes it sticky to touch. If you don’t have a garage and frequently have to park in an uncovered spot, it might be best for you to get a sunshade.

Your car’s age

Even if you use a sunshade, it might not be enough to keep your dashboard from developing a sticky residue on the surface. If your car is old, its interior panel’s vinyl layer may naturally strip off over time. If this is the case, you may still be able to clean it using the guide below.

How to Clean a Sticky Dashboard

Before you start gathering cleaning materials and following the steps below, determine if your vehicle’s dashboard is eligible for replacement. Some makes and models may be qualified for free repair or replacement of the defective dashboards.

cleaning dashboard of a vehicle
Make sure to wring the cloth to get rid of excess water.

If your manufacturer offers either of these options, that should be your go-to solution. However, if you really want a quick fix, you can follow this detailed step-by-step process on how to remove sticky residue from your dashboard:

Materials Needed:

  • Swabs of cloth
  • Warm water
  • Soap
  • Soft bristle brush
  • Vinyl upholstery cleaner
  • Plastic scraper (in extreme situations)
sticky dashboard spray bottle
Spray the new piece of cloth with a mixture of warm water and soap, and wipe the dashboard.
  1. Remove all of the items on your dashboard

    Remove all dashboard accessories to prep for the cleanup process.

  2. Wipe the surface with a piece of cloth

    While this may be difficult to do as it may leave cloth fibers on your dash, this is a necessary step in order to remove any large chunks of dirt and debris that may have accumulated on the sticky surface.

  3. Create a solution of warm water and soap

    Stir the mixture until it’s foamy. The solution doesn’t have to be an exact ratio. You can add soap liberally to the water.

     
  4. Wet a new piece of cloth in the soapy solution and wipe the dashboard

    Do this several times until the dash surface is no longer sticky. Make sure to use a different piece of cloth each time in order to ensure that the residue doesn’t transfer from the soiled cloth and back onto the dash.

    IMPORTANT: Wring the cloth to get rid of excess water as you might end up ruining your car’s electronic systems.

  5. Use a scraper

    If there is a lot of dirt and gunk on the dash, you may need to use a plastic scraper or anything flat that you can use to scrape the residue off without damaging the dashboard.

    If the problem persists even after scraping the dash several times, you may have to take your car to a professional detailer. After all, home remedies can only do so much.

  6. Allow your dashboard to dry

    Leave your dashboard to air dry, or use a paper towel and lightly pat down the wet spots.

  7. Apply a vinyl upholstery cleaner

    As a final step, use a vinyl upholstery cleaner on your dashboard. Make sure to follow the provided instructions on your chosen product.

  8. Rub a water-based, vinyl protectant on the dashboard

    Use a soft cloth to spread the solution. Do not rely on a silicone sealer because it can make the stickiness worse.

If all else fails, and you feel like you’ve exhausted all efforts in trying to save your dashboard, the best option is to purchase a replacement dashboard.

In some cases, you may also opt for a band-aid solution by installing a dash cover.

As previously mentioned, you may also want to have your dashboard detailed by a professional.

dash cover
You may use a dash cover as a band-aid solution. The best course of action is still to get a new dashboard if the current one can’t be saved.

Dashboard Repair or Replacement?

If the cleaning process we outlined above doesn’t do the trick, take your car to a professional detailer and have them assess the severity of your sticky dash problem. They will tell you if they are able to save your dashboard or if it’s time to look into replacing your dashboard.

If your automotive expert recommends finding a dashboard replacement, check if it’s one of the defects that your vehicle’s manufacturer can repair or replace for free. For instance, Toyota offered a no-questions-asked replacement until 2017 and extended its warranty for 10 years in response to the melted dashboard issue that affected many of its models. Lexus offered similar enhancements plus repair services.

Products Mentioned in this Guide

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic.

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Mike

Hi do you think this would work on steering wheels? Mine is sticky and tacky. On a 76 Corvette. Thanks Mike

Steven

Slightly leaking heater cores may or may not create a sweet fruity odor which also causes the inside of vehicle windows to appear coated with fine dust. Slightly leaking antifreeze from heater core may not cause the odor especially when not using the heater, but never the less can result in coolant oxidizing (ethelene oxide) leading to oddly and quickly ‘dusting’ of windows, also your lungs and nasal passages (that oxide is known to be carcinogens leading to lung, throat, nasal and brain cancers). Evidence of minutely leaking heater cores also may cause some dashboards and interior plastic parts to become slightly sticky, often mistaken or presumed to be from tobacco smoke. In hot arid areas, vehicles may seldom if at all, use the heater setting and only use the AC and fan. So the telltale sweet and fruity odor isn’t readily detectable (until using the heater). The odor is nearly undetectable when using only AC and fan. The leak’s tip off may likely result in coolant level being found unusually low. Lastly, for arid areas, the ‘dusting’ residue of ethelene oxide on interior windows, is greatly reduced by not setting AC to recirculate cabin air and instead using outside air (another tip off).

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