How to Fix a Sagging Headliner in Your Car

How to fix sagging car headliner
If your headliner is sagging, you can fix it in less than an afternoon. John W. Schulze / Wikimedia Commons

As you drive your car year after year, you might notice your headliner starting to sag. This might be a constant source of irritation, but if you know how to fix a sagging headliner, you can easily get it back up to the ceiling, where it belongs.

Sagging Car Headliners

A sagging headliner is simply a matter of gravity and deteriorating adhesive. The headliner is typically made of several layers of pressboard, foam, and fabric. Time, moisture, and heat all play their part in breaking down the glue that holds it all together and can also cause some materials to shrink, pulling them away from the pressboard. The result? A sagging headliner that’s annoying and possibly dangerous if it obstructs your view or distracts you while driving.

You could just remove the headliner, but that causes its own problems—with no headliner, your car will be noisier and colder. Here’s how to fix a sagging headliner, in order from simplest and least expensive to most complicated and most expensive.

Methods to Fix a Sagging Headliner

The least-expensive and simplest way to fix a sagging headliner is to use thumbtacks, pushpins, or headliner pins. These all function on the same basic concept, pinning the headliner to the pressboard. Pushpins and thumbtacks are the cheapest but might work themselves loose over time. Headliner pins are corkscrew-shaped, so they tend to stay in place longer. This fix requires no tools, just your hands, and you can apply the pins wherever the headliner is sagging to hold it in place and keep it from flapping around. You can even get artistic with your choice of color and arrangement of the pins.

For small repairs, like when the corner of the headliner is pulling away, fabric glue is a great way to hold it in place. Brush away any loose foam and apply fabric glue to the pressboard and the headliner material. Then, press the headliner fabric into the pressboard, smoothing out wrinkles and bubbles with your fingers, credit card, or nylon roller.

Larger Repairs of a Headliner

For larger repairs, you might try a steam cleaner or clothes steamer and a nylon roller. The heat from the steamer can melt the original glue and make it adhesive again. Use the steamer, working small areas, to heat up the fabric and the glue behind it. Then, use the nylon roller or a credit card to push the fabric back into the glue. This may or may not, work, however, depending on how far the glue has deteriorated, but it’s worth a shot because it doesn’t require removing the headliner.

Completely Restoring Headliner

Headliner fabric and a good automotive headliner adhesive can be used to completely restore your sagging headliner in an afternoon. After removing the headliner and peeling away the old fabric material, use a wire brush to remove the old foam—use a dust mask to protect your lungs.

Then, use epoxy and aluminum tape to fix any cracks or broken areas. Lay the new headliner material or automotive carpet over the repair area and then fold back a little more than halfway along the centerline of the pressboard. Spray headliner adhesive on the exposed areas, then unfold the headliner fabric out over the pressboard, using your hands, nylon roller, or old credit card to smooth it out. Then, fold the opposite side and repeat. Flip the headliner over and wrap the entire edge at least an inch and then trim the excess. Don’t forget to do the same for any openings, such as the dome light or overhead console.

The most-expensive method to fix a sagging headliner is to simply replace the whole thing from the dealership or a junkyard. If you do it yourself, you can save money on labor, typically two or three hours. There are a couple problems with this method, however. First, a new headliner may not be available, depending on how old your vehicle is. Second, junkyard or used headliners might already be compromised and not much better than what’s in your car.

Fixing a sagging headliner can be a chore or expensive, but the results can be satisfying. If you can find the time and space to do it yourself, you can save a lot of money for some impressive results.