The first time you drove your Jeep off the dealer’s lot, it was shiny and spotless. Over time, though, dirt and debris will start to collect on the steering wheel.
Luckily, you can restore the appearance of your steering wheel. This guide will show you how to do it in a few simple steps.
Removing the Steering Wheel
Although it may seem easy enough to change a Jeep steering wheel, there are a number of steps that must be taken into account in order to do so safely. Not only can the process damage electrical wiring or even set off your airbag, but it can also be done incorrectly and lead to a bad driving experience. With this in mind, the following is a guide that will help you remove your Jeep’s steering wheel while protecting your valuable investment.
First, before attempting to remove your Jeep’s steering wheel, you need to disable the airbag and disconnect the horn capsule from the harness. To do this, you’ll need to pop out the sun visors and unhook all six latches. Once you’ve done that, it is time to start removing the Jeep’s side panels. There are a total of six screws that you’ll need to remove, three up front and three on the back.
Once you remove the side panels, you’ll need to remove a few more bolts before removing the steering wheel itself. In the center of the steering wheel is a 24mm nut that needs to be loosened. Before loosening this nut, you’ll need to disconnect the plug with an orange sheath located to its left. Once this is done, you’ll be able to wiggle the nut loose and then simply pull it off.
When re-installing the steering wheel, you’ll need to attach the airbag connector and horn capsule and connect the steering wheel wiring to the control unit. You’ll also want to re-torque the upper and lower mounting hardware and the jam nut to the manufacturer’s recommendation to ensure that everything is aligned correctly. Lastly, you’ll want to replace the rubber bushings that are located on the drag link and control arm. These can deteriorate over time and result in an incorrect thrust angle, leading to off-center steering. By replacing these, you can be sure that your steering system is properly configured to help you drive your Jeep safely and effectively.
Cleaning the Steering Wheel
Like a smartphone touchscreen or laptop keyboard, your steering wheel can become sticky or greasy due to dirt accumulation over time. Unless you clean it regularly, you will not have a comfortable time handling it. It also becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. If left unattended, your steering wheel can eventually lose its flexibility and deteriorate to the point of cracking or even peeling.
Cleaning the steering wheel is a simple task, but it must be done carefully. Regardless of what material your wheel is made from, there is a cleaner that will be compatible with it (leather cleaner for leather, all-purpose cleaner for metal). Spray a microfiber cloth with the appropriate cleaner and start wiping. Afterward, a second cloth with water will help wipe off the cleaner and remove any residue.
You may be tempted to use harsh chemicals to clean your steering wheel, but this is not recommended. The harsh chemicals can damage the plastic/vinyl or the rubber and cause it to deteriorate faster. In addition, the harsh chemicals can also cause a sticky residue.
A better option is to get a Mr. Clean magic eraser that effectively removes dirt on the surface of your steering wheel. Just make sure you sock it in water until it is not dripping. Then, wipe the wheel until it is shiny and clean. You can also try an auto soap and water mixture.
Consider applying a leather conditioner after cleaning if you have a leather steering wheel. This will restore the leather’s natural oils and keep it soft and flexible for longer.
If your steering wheel is covered with grease and oil, you should apply a degreaser to it. The degreaser comes as an aerosol spray, draws out the grease and oil on the wheel, and transforms them into a powder. You can then wipe the steering wheel with a microfiber cloth, a second towel with water, and a dry cloth to dry it.
Replacing the Steering Wheel
A clean, functional steering wheel is essential to a comfortable driving experience. If your Jeep’s steering wheel is in poor condition or shows signs of wear and tear, you may want to replace it. When selecting a new steering wheel, look for one that is the correct size and has the right amount of tilt and height to suit your preferences. You should also make sure that it is compatible with your vehicle. The steering wheel’s buttons and controls should be in good working order.
While some people are able to replace the steering wheel without any issues, it’s usually a job best left to professional mechanics. There are many electrical connections involved that can be easily damaged or incorrectly connected during a DIY steering wheel swap, which could result in severe damage to your vehicle. In addition, changing out a Jeep steering wheel can be very time-consuming and complicated, especially for those with limited mechanical knowledge.
Depending on your specific situation, you may be able to find an affordable used steering wheel at a salvage yard or auto parts store. Before you buy a steering wheel, check its compatibility with your vehicle by searching for an interchange using the Pull-A-Part website. Some auto parts manufacturers use the same type of steering wheels in multiple vehicles, so you can often find a replacement for your Jeep Gladiator that will work with another make and model.
Once you’ve found a suitable steering wheel, remove it from its mounting bracket and inspect the wires attached to it. If you’re having trouble finding the wires, check behind the steering wheel’s controls for a small torx screw (three closer to the center and one on each edge) that need to be removed in order to access the shaft. Then, place the new steering wheel onto the exposed shaft and apply light pressure while shimmying it until the alignment pin is visible through a hole towards the bottom of the steering wheel. If the alignment pin is not visible, you will need to continue shimmying the steering wheel or take it off and realign it.
Painting the Steering Wheel
Painting a steering wheel can be tricky, but it’s doable with a little time and patience. The key is to clean the surface thoroughly and apply the paint in a well-ventilated area with a good-quality spray can. It’s also important to let the paint dry completely before reinstalling it on your vehicle. Once the paint is dry, you may wish to apply a clear coat of acrylic sealer over the top for a smoother look and added protection.
First, rough up the surface of the steering wheel with coarse sandpaper (e.g., 120 grit) to prepare it for a new finish. Once sanded, wipe it down with a damp cloth to remove any dust and dirt. Then use finer sandpaper to smooth the surface and prep it for painting.
Once you have the wheel sanded and ready for painting, make sure to use high-quality spray paint designed for plastics. Apply 2-3 thin coats to give it a nice even coating, and let each coat dry completely before applying the next one. Once you’re finished, let the paint cure for a day or two before reinstalling it on your Jeep truck.
When you’re done, it might be a good idea to have someone sit in the driver’s seat to check that the steering wheel is centered. If it isn’t, it’s easy to mess up the alignment by trying to put it back on. It might be helpful to mark the center of the wheel with a piece of tape as well so you know where to aim for when it comes time to reinstall it.
Some people also like to add a clear coat to their steering wheels, which makes them shimmer and protects the paint from fading and chipping over time. If you choose to do this, be sure to follow the instructions on the can carefully. The clear coat can take a long time to fully cure, so be patient! Hydro-dipping might be the way to go if you’re looking for a quick and easy way for leather steering wheel restoration.