Interior and Exterior Trim on vehicles is installed in a way that fasteners are hidden from view. This makes the removal of these parts without damaging them one of the more difficult processes in auto repair.
For the most part understanding how trim parts are attached is a combination of experience and guess work. The process should be performed slowly and with much thought to find exactly where and how you should pry on a fastener to remove it.
Removing exterior trim parts often means gaining access to the fasteners from inside the vehicle. This can mean removing door panels and upholstery parts. This can extend the time and increase the potential damage that can happen even when working on just a few parts.
Unfortunately manufacturers do not provide manuals on how they assemble these pieces.
One of your best bets is to visit your dealer and ask them to bring up an exploded view of the part. This will often show the number of fasteners that are needed and their location and type. You can also ask the parts person or their body shop a few questions about the process.
Most Fasteners Are Press Fitted
To reduce time on the assembly line most parts are press fitted to the vehicle. Even the screw fasteners that hold on wheel well liners / plastic inner fenders that use a plastic screw in the center of the fastener are press fitted they do not sit there and screw in plastic screws they jam them into the opening.
Side body moldings often have 2 screwed fasteners on the inside of the door on each end of the part. Once you remove them the other fasteners can be removed by sliding the whole part to the left or right until openings on the fastener align with the rivets that hold the part to the body. The fasteners might stay attached to the part or to the body of the car and can be removed after you get the part off.
Interior Door Panels
Door panels are held on by both screws and press fit fasteners. The screws are found in the door handle area and if you have manual windows you will need to remove the window handle that is held in place by a C clip. Once the screws are removed you should use a v shaped pry bar to reach between the pressed in place clip and door body to pry the clip out of the hole it corresponds to.
When you remove the door panel always take care to replace the plastic or paper liner that is often held in place by a non drying adhesive. If you forget you will have sound problems and you could potentially have water and air leaks.
You should also take care when pressing back the clips that hold the door in place. Always do this by hand never use a hammer or mallet to force the clips back in the holes or you will damage your interior.
Door Pillar Moldings
These hard plastic parts often need to be removed or detached to perform work on items like your headliner. They are difficult to remove and are held on by press fit fasteners that often break when removed. You might also see plugs near the top and bottom of the molding that hide screws. If you need to remove these items make sure you do it carefully and that you have access to replacement parts if the items are old they will definitely crack during the process if you do not take care.
Dashboard Instrument Clusters and Panels
If you need to remove these parts you should schedule extra time. The dash on most new and even older cars is installed as a unit. It is not easily disassembled in the vehicle but manufacturers do provide access to instrument clusters for replacement of lights, repair and replacement of devices such as speedometers heater and ac parts.
Removing and installing Trim Parts is an easy job but it is also easy to mess up. When in doubt always take your time. Make sure you have plenty of light even during the day you will probably need a light to see under and inside things you are prying on.
Never force a part off if you don’t understand how it is held in place. You will most likely break it. Getting the Big Hammer is never a good idea.
Ask your Dealer for help or an exploded view of the part if you get lost.
The YouRepair Store carries a full line of Automotive Tools including Specialty Tools for Trim Removal.