How to Fix a Sagging Car Roof
Cars

How to Fix a Sagging Car Roof: An Essential Guide

A sagging car roof isn’t just ugly to look at—it can potentially be a dangerous distraction or even obstruct the driver’s view of the road. Luckily, there are some ways to fix a sagging car roof if the damage hasn’t become too pronounced. 

So how do you fix a sagging car roof? A sagging car roof can be temporarily fixed with headliner adhesive, pins, staples, double-sided tape, or with steam and heat. If a car’s headliner is only sagging slightly, it can usually be repaired at home, but severe sagging can generally only be fixed by completely replacing the headliner.

If your car roof is only sagging a little bit, chances are with just a few supplies and maybe a little help from a friend, you should be able to fix the car’s headliner yourself (at least temporarily). Keep reading to find out more about how you can fix your car’s sagging roof and when it’s time to turn things over to a professional. 

Which Method Should You Use to Fix a Sagging Car Roof?

The supplies you need to fix a sagging car roof depend on a few different factors:

  • Whether you are trying to permanently or temporarily fix the headliner: There are several different methods you can choose from to try and fix a sagging car roof. Some of them are permanent fixes (or as permanent as you can get without replacing the headliner entirely). Others are temporary rigs designed to fix up a headliner until it can be adequately replaced.
  • What method of repair you are attempting: You’ll need different supplies to attempt a total replacement of your headliner than you would if you are simply trying to pin up or repair a loose corner of it.
  • What kind of budget you’re working with: If you have plenty of money you might opt with having a professional replace your headliner outright or at least buying a new headliner, but if you don’t have that kind of money you might have to stick with gluing or pinning up your headliner instead, at least as a temporary measure.
  • How much work you’re willing to do: Doing a complete replacement of a car’s headliner is messy, expensive, and tedious to do correctly. Taking a temporary measure to fix the sagging might be cheaper and easier, but it also usually looks cheaper, too.
  • How much automotive repair experience you have: Ripping out your car’s headliner panel for a full replacement probably isn’t a great idea if you’ve never so much as attempted to change a tire before, but if you have at least an intermediate level of experience with car repair it might be worth an attempt. 

After reading about some of the methods you can employ below, you’ll have several options as to how far you want to go to fix your headliner and whether you’d prefer a more temporary or permanent solution to the problem. 

How to Fix a Sagging Car Roof

There are several different methods you can take to fix your sagging car roof yourself. There are a few different ways you can go about it. Keep in mind that some of these methods are only meant to be a temporary fix for a sagging car roof until you can get it addressed by an upholstery repair shop or an automotive technician, while others are a more permanent solution. 

Method 1: Glue Your Sagging Car Roof Back Up

Supplies Needed: Headliner spray adhesive, 3M adhesive remover, unused paint roller

Average Cost: $50 (+$150 and up if including a new headliner) 

An automotive-grade headliner adhesive can be used to glue your sagging car headliner back to the roof of the car, and this can be done either partially to try and glue up a section of the car roof that has come down, or the entire headliner can be replaced and re-glued. 

The advantage of gluing the headliner back up is that this method of fixing a sagging car roof is more aesthetically pleasing than some of the other methods, especially if you take the effort to remove the entire headliner panel and replace the headliner, rather than just glue up a section of it. 

The disadvantage of replacing the whole headliner is that it costs more than repairing the sagging section of the existing headliner since it requires the purchase of a new one, and the level of work involved usually deters anyone who doesn’t regularly work on cars from trying to attempt it. If a new headliner isn’t installed correctly, it will be just as prone to sagging as the old one, and you’ll have to start all over again. 

Follow these steps to glue your headliner up:

  • Take out the headliner panel of the car for the best results. This can be somewhat difficult without the aid of a technician or at least a friend to help pitch in, so assess your car repair experience level before attempting this.
  • Remove any old headliner adhesive with the 3M adhesive remover. This will help ensure that the new adhesive sticks cleanly and does not become contaminated by the old adhesive.
  • Re-apply fresh headliner adhesive spray to the headliner and reinstall. Be sure that the headliner is stretched tight across the roof of the car to prevent any new looseness in the fabric.
  • Use the paint roller to roll the headliner flat and taut to make sure that the adhesive attaches evenly, and there are no bubbles beneath the fabric. 

The above method can also be used to replace the headliner with a new piece of fabric, rather than reusing the old headliner if it is too tattered. However, this significantly increases the cost of the project overall since it includes the purchase of a new headliner.  

For a detailed video on how to partially re-glue a sagging car roof, check out this YouTube tutorial from The Car Flip

Method 2: Pinning Your Sagging Car Roof Back Up


Supplies: Upholstery screws or pins, needle nose pliers (for adjusting or twisting screws), measuring tape

Average Cost: $40

Another method for securing a sagging car roof is to use upholstery screws or pins to secure the sagging section to the roof. While this might not be as aesthetically pleasing as some of the other methods of fixing a sagging car roof, it has the advantage of being cheap and attainable through easily obtained materials. 

Another good reason to pin up your sagging car roof is that this is an excellent temporary fix if you plan to replace the car’s headliner more permanently later down the line when your budget allows. Temporarily pinning up the car’s headliner can at least keep it out of the way and prevent it from either distracting the driver or obstructing the driver’s view. 

Pinning up a sagging car roof is a good option for older, less valuable vehicles or cosmetically damaged vehicles where it doesn’t make any financial sense to dump a bunch of money into cosmetically improving the car’s interior. 

You don’t want to spend four hundred dollars replacing a car’s headliner when it has lousy paint or a giant ding in the door. Likewise, you don’t want to waste money replacing a headliner entirely when you have mechanical issues that need tending to first. 

Follow these steps to pin up a sagging car roof:

  • Pull the sagging headliner taut against the roof of the car and secure it along the edges with the upholstery screws or pins. Be sure to secure pins evenly across the edging of the headliner to maintain an orderly appearance.
  • If the sagging of the headliner is bad across the center of the car’s roof, more pins can be applied across the headliner in rows or a diamond pattern for a more deliberate look. Use a measuring tape to ensure that pins are distributed in an even pattern across the car’s roof.
  • If sagging is only occurring in one area, a single pin can be used to straighten and secure the headliner at that spot. However, sagging in one area is usually an indicator that the adhesive on the rest of the headliner is about to go. It can be a good idea to go ahead and pin the entire headliner if you notice it starting to sag to decrease the effect of gravity pulling down on it. 

Pinning up a sagging headliner can be an excellent way to safely secure a headliner in a car where more expensive options such as replacing the car’s headliner just aren’t cost-effective. 

Method 3: Taping Your Sagging Car Roof Back Up

Supplies: Industrial grade double-sided tape.

Average Cost: $20

If the sagging in your car roof is relatively minor or can be easily accessed through the side of the headliner panel, double-sided tape is a fantastic option to fix a sagging car roof temporarily. Like upholstery pins, double-sided tape is a good, cheap option for fixing a car’s headliner, but if the backing on the headliner is breaking down, the tape may have a difficult time adhering. 

Another disadvantage of double-sided tape is that it is a little more susceptible to the pressure of being pulled taut when the headliner is tightened up and is more likely to come loose than a headliner, which is pinned down. This is can potentially be dangerous if the headliner drops down and sags suddenly into the driver’s line of vision while driving. 

This is not a result of a deficiency in the tape itself, but rather the foam that the tape is adhering to. At a certain point, the foam backing in many older headliners begins to disintegrate. 

Follow these steps to tape your headliner up:

  • Locate the area of the headliner that is sagging away from the edge of the car roof. Make sure that the headliner is pulled taut before applying the tape.  
  • Cut a section of the double-sided industrial tape and align it with the edge of the headliner between the headliner and the car roof.
  • Press the headliner into the car roof and apply firm pressure for several minutes until the tape has a chance to meld the car roof and the headliner securely. 

The advantage of double-sided tape for fixing up a sagging car roof is that some form of it is commonly found in many garages and home workshops, so it’s an excellent way to straighten up a car’s headliner temporarily until a more permanent fix can be found. 

If you’re attempting to use double-sided tape as a more permanent cheap solution for a sagging car roof, it’s a better idea to go with industrial-grade double-sided tape.

Method 4: Heating Your Sagging Car Roof Back Up

Supplies: Portable steam cleaner, unused paint roller

Average Cost: $40

In some cases, if a car’s headliner begins to sag because heat and age are causing the adhesive glue on the backing of the headliner to dry up, applying steam can moisten the glue on the back of the headliner and allow it to re-attach to the car’s roof. 

This is a good option for fixing a sagging car roof that has only begun to sag recently (minor sagging). The less sagging there is in the headliner, the fresher and less oxidized the glue behind the headliner generally is. Since a sagging headliner also stretches out, a headliner with significant sag can be more challenging to re-attach smoothly. 

Follow these steps to heat your sagging headliner into better condition:

  • Take a handheld steam cleaner and apply heated steam to the headliner and car roof, making sure the headliner is well moistened in the process.
  • As you run the steam cleaner along the car roof, follow along behind with a paint roller to press the headliner hard into the roof. This will hopefully help the moistened glue re-attach to the car roof.  

Remember that heating a car roof with a steam cleaner should be done carefully to avoid burning the headliner fabric. Once the interior of a car’s headliner is exposed by a cut or burn, the foam backing of the headliner can begin to deteriorate more quickly from exposure, which also accelerates sagging. 

What is a Headliner?

You probably don’t dedicate much time to thinking about it, but the headliner is the piece of foam-backed fabric that is present on the roof of your car’s cabin. The headliner of the car serves several functions in the cabin: 

  • Tactile aesthetics: Since the cabin is the part of the car that is encountered directly by the people in the car, most car manufacturers design a car’s interior to feature plastic, fabric, and leather construction materials rather than fiberglass and metal. This results in a cabin that is softer and more pleasing to the touch.
  • Protection for car’s structural elements: The headliner and other components of the car’s cabin protect the car’s infrastructure from being accessed or tampered with by the car’s inhabitants. Elements such as wiring and mechanisms are hidden behind plastic and cloth paneling.
  • Temperature insulation: The bare metal in a car’s roof can reach scorching temperatures in the spring and summer, and a cloth headliner can act as a buffer between the passenger and this heat. The foam-backed cloth of a headliner can also help prevent heat from seeping out of the car during cold winter months.
  • Sound reduction: Headliners help muffle the noise of car stereos to traffic outside of the vehicle or passersby. Headliners also help muffle any ambient road-noise, which might irritate passengers of the vehicle. 

There are lots of good reasons why the majority of automotive designs feature a headliner, but these headliners inevitably sag as a car gets older. 

What Causes a Car’s Headliner to Sag?

why headliners sag

There are several different reasons why a car’s headliner might begin to sag, but the issue is seen most commonly in older vehicles, especially those manufactured in the seventies or before. The reason is that the foam and glue used in automotive manufacturing inevitably become degraded and lead to the headliner falling away from the car’s roof in time. 

Here are some of the other reasons you might run into a sagging car roof:

  • Age: No matter what model car you drive, the older your car gets, the more likely you are to run into issues with your headliner sagging. The materials and chemicals used to adhere a headliner to a car’s roof aren’t time proof, and like any glue, these adhesives eventually degrade and lose their effectiveness.
  • Heat: The headliner of a car is backed up by the metal of the car’s roof, which routinely gets above a hundred degrees Fahrenheit in summer temperatures and can get as high as a hundred and ninety degrees Fahrenheit in black cars. Repeated exposure to these high temperatures eventually causes the foam and glue on the backing of the headliner to dry rot.
  • Moisture: If a car’s headliner is subjected to moisture such as high levels of humidity or a sunroof leak, the resulting moisture can cause the glue in a headliner to break down and result in a sagging car roof even in a car that isn’t very old. Moisture in the car cabin also has the added disadvantage of causing mildew in car carpeting and potential electrical issues.
  • Wear and tear: In the course of its working life, a headliner is pinched, prodded, stretched, and sometimes even singed with cigarettes if you have particularly careless friends. This means you’re likely to end up with a headliner that has some cosmetic issues the older your car becomes and the more road experience it has.
  • Sunroofs: Cars with sunroofs are particularly prone to having issues with sagging headliners – both because the headliner has fewer points of contact for adhesion and also because the headliner is exposed to more direct sunlight and moisture. Headliners on cars with sunroofs are also typically more difficult to repair than headliners on cars without a sunroof. 

While there are several reasons why a car’s headliner might begin to sag off the car’s roof, the bottom line is that, if you are driving an older vehicle, you’re likely to run into this problem at some point or another.

Most of the time, this unsightly problem can be fixed well before it becomes a safety hazard. In some cases, it’s better to give up and have a headliner replaced entirely rather than trying to fix a sagging car roof yourself. 

Here are some of the indications that your headliner issue is bigger than a do-it-yourself weekend project and you need to pass the car along to professionals:

  • The headliner has rips, tears, or significant stains.
  • The headliner needs to be replaced entirely.
  • The headliner is sagging badly enough to endanger the driver.
  • The foam behind the headliner is crumbling from dry rot.

Minor damage or sagging in a car’s roof can be fixed and addressed at home, but if a car’s roof is sagging badly or the headliner is so old and damaged it isn’t worth saving, it’s probably better left to someone who has the tools and expertise to address the problem correctly and replace the whole thing.

Tips for Re-attaching a Sagging Headliner

No matter which method you use to try and re-attach your sagging car roof, there are a few tips that can make the process easier to manage.

Here are some helpful tips for making your headliner repair easier:

  • If you’re using glue, work in a ventilated area. Spray adhesives such as headliner adhesive produce toxic fumes in enclosed spaces, so be sure to work in an open area if you’re repairing your car’s sagging roof with headliner adhesive.
  • Apply pressure. Whether you’re using glue or pins, making sure to apply a firm, smooth pressure across the entire repair job will help make sure that your headliner repair adheres without any bubbles or wrinkles (or at least as few as possible).
  • Get help from a friend. Since you’ll be working upside down to attempt a headliner repair, it often helps to get a volunteer partner or two to help you keep the headliner pulled tight and straight to make sure it gets secured where it’s supposed to go.
  • Check online. If your local car dealership doesn’t have a replacement headliner for your car and you want to replace it, check online markets. They often have aftermarket headliners and other accessories that aren’t available OEM for discontinued models.
  • Work in broad daylight. Don’t try doing this kind of repair at night. You won’t have the free hands to hold a light on your work and work at the same time. Without a reliable source of light, you’re also more likely to miss wrinkles or other cosmetic flaws as well.  

Watching some YouTube videos or other tutorials of headliner replacements before attempting one can help you figure out what to expect and anticipate any potential problems before you start messing with your car’s headliner. Just have a plan B (or an upholstery shop) on call in case the repair doesn’t go the way you thought it would. 

Ways to Make Your Headliner Last Longer

Once you’ve repaired your headliner (or if you’re looking to prevent having to do it), there are ways for you to avoid a sagging roof in the first place.

Here are some of the things you can do to avoid dealing with a sagging car roof:

  • Avoid owning cars that were manufactured from the seventies through the nineties. Many cars manufactured during this period had weak adhesive in their headliners as a near-universal engineering flaw, and classic car owners are still battling it decades later.
  • Use a windshield shade and tinted windows. Keeping your headliner out of sunlight can go a long way towards preventing the dry rot of the foam backing and adhesive behind your car’s headliner.
  • Keep your car in the garage. The sun baking down on your car’s roof is a significant contributor to the deterioration of the car’s headliner from heat-related damage.
  • Avoid opening the sunroof. Sunroofs are notorious for two things: headliner problems and leaks. Neither one is fun to deal with as either a car owner or a car mechanic, and both are costly. To avoid dealing with unnecessary headliner problems, avoid cars that have sunroofs or moon roofs. 

While it isn’t possible to completely avoid age-related damage to your headliner, following the hints above can help you avoid having to deal with them. 

Minor Sagging in Car Roofs Can Be Fixed at Home

If you notice your car’s headliner beginning to sag a little, it isn’t the end of the world. In many cases, this problem can be fixed with just a handful of supplies and a little elbow grease. However, if you’ve got more serious problems with a billowing headliner, it might be time to bring in someone a little more familiar with car upholstery to replace it for you. 

And remember – if you’re shopping for cars and want to prevent a sagging roof as much as possible, the newer the model, the better!

Sources:

http://www.thehogring.com/2018/02/21/an-epic-rant-against-sagging-headliners/

https://extremehowto.com/repair-a-sagging-headliner/

https://carcaretotal.com/how-to-fix-sagging-headliner-without-removing/

http://innovationsautointeriors.com/headliner-material-falling/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjlVxZwZ1C4

https://theluckyneedle.com/fix-sagging-headliner/

https://www.angieslist.com/articles/reupholstering-options-your-car.htm