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Restoring a Scratched Instrument Cluster

My 2006 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution was in great shape when I bought it, with one exception: The instrument cluster plastic looked like someone had taken steel wool to it. The speedometer and other gauges were still visible, but looking through the hazy plastic felt like driving a fifteen year old neglected economy car.

The usual cleaners did nothing. The plastic was rough to the touch from a mix of scratches and heavy oxidation. The back of the plastic was fine, which suggests that someone might have used a very plastic-unfriendly cleaner on the piece at some point. Alternatively, it’s possible that Mitsubishi applied an anti-glare coating to the piece from the factory which doesn’t age gracefully. Either way, it was going to take some mechanical abrasion to remove the damaged top layer and polish the good plastic underneath.

Close-up of scratches on plastic

The plastic piece must be removed from the car to do this properly, but fortunately that’s an easy task in the Evo. First, use a short Phillips screwdriver to remove the two screws at the top of the instrument cluster hood. Don’t let the screws fall down into the steering column like I did, because it’s a pain to get them back out.

The plastic piece is held in by three tabs at the top and two at the bottom. Use a flathead screwdriver to very gently loosen the two clips at the bottom.
Screwdriver underneath the tabs on the bottom

The three clips at the top are much easier to access. Use your finger to release the tabs from behind.
Removing the top tabs

It took me several tries to get all of the tabs loose at the same time as they all have a tendency to re-latch themselves while you’re working on the opposite tabs. The key is to be gentle and go slowly. I’m willing to bet it’s not cheap to replace this part if it breaks.

Be careful to not touch the back of the plastic much so as to minimize the number of fingerprints you’ll have to clean from the back of the plastic later on. Also make sure to roll up the car windows while working on the instrument cover plastic to minimize the amount of dust that settles on the exposed gauges.

Instrument cluster plastic removed from vehicle

I started with Meguiar’s PlastX Clear Plastic Cleaner and Polish to remove the haze and deep scratches and used Mothers Plastic Polish to finish the polishing process. The Meguiar’s plastic cleaner is more abrasive than the Mothers product, but it doesn’t provide the same level of clarity as the Mothers polish. Likewise, the Mothers product produces a better finish but requires substantially more effort to remove deep scratches. Starting with the Meguiar’s product and finishing with the Mothers product gives the best of both worlds. As an added bonus, the Mothers product claims to include a compound that protects the plastic finish over time.

Meguiar's and Mother's Plastic Polish

Both polishes are straightforward to use. Apply the polish liberally to the face of the plastic, then use a clean automotive microfiber towel to work it into the plastic. Alternatively, Meguiar’s makes a fancy applicator pad that they recommend for this purpose. The key here is to use a perfectly clean automotive-specific towel or applicator, because any old dirt or grit in the towel will just introduce new scratches while you work. Using medium pressure, work the compound into the plastic in all directions for a long time. Apply more compound as needed to avoid letting the surface go dry at any point in the process, as this can also introduce new scratches back into the surface.

Polished Plastic

When most of the scratches are gone, switch to a clean microfiber cloth and very gently buff the remaining compound off of the surface. Be sure to thoroughly clean any fingerprints, lint, and streaks off of the back of the plastic piece before you install it. I wasn’t careful enough the first time around and had to remove the plastic piece a second time to eliminate all of the lint from my towel.

Finished Instrument Cluster

The restored instrument cluster plastic looks brand new. The deepest scratches are still there, but they’ve been reduced enough that you can’t notice them under normal viewing conditions.

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