How to Polish Plastic Car Trim

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There are a few “tells” that hint at your car’s age. Rust is probably the most common way to tell that a car is reaching the end of the road (literally and figuratively). However, neglected plastic trim tells a similar story.
Many a vehicle owner makes the mistake of focusing all their effort and attention on their car’s paint job, while their plastic trim withers away, unprotected from UV rays.
Not you, though, you know the importance of maintaining your trim. Here’s how to polish your trim to its former glory.

Wash your car

Start off with a clean surface before you begin polishing your trim. A simple wash with non-abrasive liquid soap and water should do the trick.

Tape around the trim

Using masking tape, cover all the areas surrounding the trim. This includes glass, paint, metal, and any other nearby surfaces. Place the tape as close to the edge of the trim as possible. Make sure it is thick enough to provide enough space between the trim and the surface you are protecting so it is not accidentally damaged if the rotary polisher pad slips.

Install the pad

Because the plastic trim on cars is typically narrow, you should use a small foam pad attachment. Experts recommend a 2 or 3-inch disc. This will prevent the polisher from disturbing the masking tape and it will be easier to handle.

Prepare the polisher

Once you’ve attached the foam pad, your rotary polisher is ready for the polishing compound. Make sure you purchase the recommended lightweight formula that is approved for use on plastic surfaces. Otherwise, it may leave a chalky finish or damage the trim.
Spread a thin coat of the compound around the foam pad using your finger. You may want to wear a glove to protect your hands. You don’t need a lot of product, so don’t second guess yourself if it looks like there isn’t enough on the pad.

Apply the polishing compound

Using a low-to-medium speed, apply the polishing compound by placing the foam pad on the plastic trim while the rotary polisher is spinning. It may be necessary to tilt the pad to ensure it only touches the trim’s surface (and not the other areas of your car’s exterior). Use light pressure to slowly cover the entire surface with the compound. Repeat the application twice.

Buff the polish

Using a soft microfiber cloth, remove any excess compound from the plastic trim. Look to see if there are any missed areas or spots that need additional polishing due to large scratches or marks. If there are areas that need more attention, use the rotary polisher to apply more compound.
Once you’ve double-checked for missing spots, it is time to buff off the polish. Run a clean pad across the trim a couple of times to buff off the polish, using the same technique you used to apply it.

Remove the tape and wipe

Once you have reached the desired result, remove the masking tape. Use a soft and clean microfiber cloth to wipe down the trim and surrounding area. This will remove any remaining polishing compound, tape residue, and dust or dirt.

Apply a plastic restorer

If you want to go the extra mile, consider buying a plastic restorer or “trim restorer.” Not only will it have your black trim looking like it did when you pulled your car off the lot, it also forms a protective layer that seals your trim from being damaged by UV rays.

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