Do-It-Yourself Steering Wheel Repair
Years of use and exposure to the elements can damage the black plastic and rubber material covering old steering wheels to the point that they are a hazard to your hands let alone an eyesore.
Many restorers have turned to sources that sell newly manufactured or new-old stock wheels. Another option is to employ the services of Minn-Kota Repair, which will take your old steering wheel, strip it down to bare metal, and resurface that core with an authentic covering. Minn-Kota also sells complete steering wheels if you need one.
Urethane Glue and Epoxy
But if your steering wheel is suffering from superficial damage and wear, there is a do-it-yourself alternative repair utilizing off-the-shelf products like urethane glue and epoxy putty.
A good friend of mine, Jim Friedrich, owner of Rust In Piece Tractor Resurrections in Lake Elmo, Minnesota (651/335-4896), let me borrow an extremely dilapidated wheel to try out my restoration technique.
I began the project by wire brushing the rust from the exposed steel ring. This required a gentle approach in order to avoid further damaging the old, brittle covering.
I sprayed water into the cracks of the covering. Then I poured water-activated urethane glue into the cracks. The purpose of this was to secure the existing covering to its metal core. The glue ran into the cracks and then, activated by the water, started to foam and expanded to fill cavities and provide a tight bond.
After the glue had dried, I removed excess foam to 1/8 inch below the surface of the wheel.
Liquid or Putty Epoxy
Next it was time to apply a two-part epoxy filler, which is available at hardware stores either as a liquid (in squeeze tubes) or putty-like product (in stick form). Follow the product’s instructions when mixing the base material with a hardener.
Trowel and brush the filler into the wheel’s cracks and surface depressions. The product fills holes and also bonds the existing black rubber together. Build the material up a little higher than the existing surface. I found that the putty filler works best to fill large areas of missing coating.
Finishing Out the Job
After the epoxy has hardened, file and sand the filler to fit. Additional filler can be used to even out the low spots before the final sanding is done.
A couple of coats of urethane varnish or black paint will make the restored steering wheel look nearly as good as new.
Fix-It Work in Action
Hardware store epoxy fillers provide a ready repair for cracked wheels. However, a replacement may be needed for severely damaged wheels.
After removing all loosened covering and all rust, pour water into cracks. Next, squeeze water-activated urethane glue (Gorilla Glue is one popular such glue) into the cracks. The glue will foam and in doing so expand to fill cavities and bond the existing covering with its frame.
Use liquid filler on tight cracks or putty filler to complete areas where large parts of the wheel’s covering are missing.
After the epoxy filler has completely dried, remove any excess with a file or sandpaper. You may have to resurface the wheels with the filler several times to match the original coating. Finish by applying urethane varnish or black paint.