By late this past summer, our trusty and beloved Chevy Tahoe Franklin had carried us safely almost 40,000 miles, through almost 40 states, and was getting close to hitting 200,000 miles. And honestly — he was starting to look like it. The carpets looked terrible; some small tears in the leather seats had turned into not-so-small tears; one of the rain guards was coming loose; the wheel wells had all kind of garbage in them — he was just looking old and run down. I’ve always cared about the vehicles I drive, and although I’ve always bought higher mileage older cars, I’ve also managed to buy ones that look good, and then try to keep them that way.
So in August, I started what turned into a months-long visual restoration project on Franklin, to help him look his best again. I started with the one that was annoying me the most — the loose rain guard over the driver’s side window. Whenever I got up over 40mph or so, it would start relentlessly flapping and driving me nuts. So it had to be the first to go.
That turned out to be a pretty quick and easy project — I bought some 3M tape designed for rain guards, scraped off the existing tape and residual adhesive, cleaned it with Goo Gone a few times, let it dry, and applied the new tape. Took me about 45 minutes, and it hasn’t budged since!
The item I was most excited to upgrade was the radio. Before I bought the truck, I checked to see that the radio worked–but didn’t think to check the CD player. The first time I tried it was at the beginning of our first road trip out to the PNW — and no dice. So, we spent a year with JUST THE RADIO. I’d previously owned one of those little am transmitters you can plug your phone or iPod into, but was never really impressed. The broken CD player didn’t have an audio input jack either, so we were pretty much SOL. And on top of that, the paint was coming off of the knobs, a few of the lights were out so the display always read in a weird language — it was rough.
Apparently, it was so bad, I avoided taking any pictures, because I can’t find one anywhere. But I saved up over the summer, and before we took off for Maine, I was able to get a brand new system with all the works — CD player, DVD player, Bluetooth, aux in, hands free, and it was even wired for a backup camera! This system ended up being my possibly my favorite — and certainly my most used — purchase of 2016. We listen to music, enjoy Audible books together, and answer phone calls while keeping both hands firmly on the wheel!
First up was the carpets — and they. were. ATROCIOUS. Faded, dirty, stained — even after several rounds of vacuuming and OxyClean (my all-time favorite vehicle carpet cleaner), they were only moderately better. So, I did some Interneting, and discovered that carpet dye was a thing! I watched some videos, and quickly decided to give it a shot — even if it went horribly, it couldn’t possibly look worse!
I decided on the Dupli-Color Vinyl and Fabric coating in charcoal grey, grabbed a stiff brush from Home Depot to scrub the paint down into the carpet fibers, and taped everything off.
And let me tell you, spraying this stuff on was pure catharsis. I’m the kind of guy who could watch powerwashing videos all day long, and this was right up there with that. The difference was night and day — just look at that!
Ohhhhhh yeah. Seriously — check out this line.
Greatly encouraged, I taped off the rest of the truck, and went through a few more bottles of spray. It was fun, easy, and made for some great before and afters. This one is my personal favorite:
It’s been about 8 weeks since I did it, and I will say — the spray is not a huge fan of water. I’ve already done a few small touch ups, but frankly, that’s still wayyyy better than what it was before. If every six months I buy a can or two and my carpets keep looking awesome, I’ll still consider this project a complete win.
So next up was the leather. This was one of those creeping problems — small tears had gotten much larger, and needed to be dealt with. I actually priced out professional leather repair just out of curiosity, and it was going to be over $800 to fix it — not even remotely an option.
So instead, I headed over to Joann Fabrics, and was really lucky to find a pleather material that was an almost perfect color match for our seats! Rebecca sent me a coupon, I got 2 yards for $8, grabbed some Gorilla Super Glue Gel, and got to work. This was not difficult, just rather painstaking. The material cut with scissors, I matched the curves and seams as best as I could, and then superglued it to death. This was the most visible spot, and it came out great!
It’s been almost 2 months since I did the glued repairs, and they haven’t budged at all, even in the high traffic areas! The other repairs were right along seams, and my lovely wife really saved the day here. She got a strong needle, some matching thread, and closed up big gaps in 3 or 4 very visible areas in the front seats. Another cheap win!
That pretty much completed the inside projects I wanted to do, and I turned my attention to the outside. The paint job isn’t in terrible shape, and with a decent wash, I’m fine with it. However, the chrome tape that was on the door trim had almost completely peeled off on both sides, leaving hanging plastic bits and glue residue, instead of a nice clean shiny line. That I knew I could fix with a little time and a can of spray paint — in this case, Rustoleum Metallic Finish.
As you can see, it was just dirty and nasty. I went around with a razor blade and tweezers, pulled off as much of the leftover plastic and tape as I could, then gave the whole thing a good scrubbing with the firm side of a dish sponge. That worked even better than I’d anticipated, and left everything looking significantly better already.
Then came the fun part — a very careful taping job, then wrapping the surrounding area in paper. However, I ended up doing this on a really gusty day, and I had to upgrade and put old tarps all over the rest of the truck to keep the overspray off. However, it came out pretty well!
So shiny! Inspired by how relatively easy that was to do, I turned my eyes on another cheap and easy spray paint fix — the nasty, dirty wheel wells. Below are a few “before” pictures, and just so we’re clear: that residue was all caked on there. These pics were taken after I scrubbed the wheel wells.
I upped my game, and went after them again, this time with a degreasing soap and a very firm scrub brush, then covered the tires and carefully taped off all the trim. A lot of guys I saw online used more expensive truck bed spray or high temperature engine spray. But at this point I was getting tired of putting money into this project, so I just went with the no-name-brand flat black spray paint for 87 cents a can from Walmart. Frankly, it was a solid decision.
Seriously, how much better does that look? I think I used 7 cans overall, it went on smooth and nice, and when I got my truck washed last week after 6 weeks of New Hampshire snow and ice and road salt, the wheel wells still looked this good. Success!
And obviously, when you spend all this time making your vehicle look so much better, you get it washed, and take great pictures. So please enjoy this short montage of Franklin in his Sunday best.
I’m more than a little proud that after 45,000 miles of camper towing and off-roading and road tripping, Franklin looks and runs better than he did when we got him. But this was only the beginning — stay tuned for my sleeping platform redesign, and our best new idea — the Hitchenette!