How to Refinish and Replace a Leather Steering Wheel on a Toyota or Lexus Sedan (With Videos)

Updated on September 23, 2018
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Hardlymoving writes about do-it-yourself automobile maintenance on various makes and models.

Lexus ES300 steering wheel obtained from a salvage yard before refinishing.
Lexus ES300 steering wheel obtained from a salvage yard before refinishing.

On a Lexus ES300, I replaced a worn-out and damaged leather steering wheel with a replacement steering wheel I found at a salvage yard. The procedure I show you here should work on other Toyota and Lexus sedans.

I sanded and cleaned up the replacement wheel, and refinished it with SEM Color Coat flexible vinyl spray paint (in cordovan brown). I searched high and low for some type of durable, high-quality vinyl spray paint that can be applied to a leather surface. I found it with SEM...a manufacturer of paints, adhesives and coating products used in the aerospace and automotive industry. SEM's reputation is outstanding in the automotive restoration business and the Amazon user reviews of their Color Coat spray paint were excellent. The spray can cost me $15 and was well worth it. The spray nozzle applied the vinyl paint in a fine fan pattern, resulting in a smooth coating.

After allowing the vinyl to dry for a day, I applied a vinyl clear coat to shine up the semi-gloss finish from the SEM paint. I used Rustoleum's gloss universal clear durable topcoat. The steering wheel now looks and feels like new.

Step by Step: Lexus ES300 Steering Wheel Refinish and Replacement (With Videos)

The videos below, with text instructions, will show you step-by-step how I refinished a steering wheel I got from a salvage yard and used it to replace the old, worn-out and damaged steering wheel on my Lexus ES300.

1. Remove the Horn Relay and the Air Bag

  • Disable the horn by pulling out the horn's relay in the engine compartment.
  • Remove the air bag retention screws located behind the steering wheel. There are two plastic tabs located behind the steering wheel on the steering wheel rear cover. One is rectangular (on the left) and the other round (on the right). Use a pick tool to pop them off. This will expose the hex screws that hold the airbag. Use a hex socket or hex screw driver to loosen the screws.
  • Wiggle the air bag and it will pop off.
  • Disconnect the yellow electrical fitting leading to the air bag.

(Video) Horn Relay and Air Bag Removal

2. Remove the Clock Spring Connector, Steering Column Nut, and Steering Wheel

  • Detach the white clock spring electrical connector located above the steering column nut.
  • Unbolt the steering column nut.
  • Remove the steering wheel. You may want to apply a small paint mark, first, to indicate the center line of the steering wheel. Placing both hands behind the steering wheel on opposite sides, push upwards, or hit upwards, on the steering wheel to jar it loose. If this does not work, you'll have to get your hands on a puller tool. There are two screw holes in the steering wheel that will accommodate attaching a puller tool.

(Video) Clock Spring, Steering Column Nut and Steering Wheel Removal

3. Remove the Back Cover From the Steering Wheel, then Sand Down and Clean up the Leather

  • Remove the four phillips0head screws that hold the back cover of the steering wheel,
  • Loosen the two bolts that hold the cruise control lever.
  • Remove the steering wheel's back cover.
  • Sand down all the rough areas on the leather portion of the steering wheel.
  • Clean leather with a cotton cloth and alcohol.
  • Mask the non-leather portion of the steering wheel with paper and masking tape.

Video: Steering Wheel Back Cover Removal, Leather Sanding, and Cleanup

4. Spray-Paint the Steering Wheel

  • Using the vinyl spray paint from SEM, apply lights coats of the vinyl paint on the steering wheel's leather surface. Let dry for a day.
  • (Optional) Apply a coat of clear plastic or vinyl paint to obtain a gloss finish on the leather.
  • After the paint has completely dried, re-attach the plastic back steering wheel cover.

Video: Spray-Painting the Steering Wheel

5. Mount the Steering Wheel

  • Center the steering wheel on the steering column, screw on the steering column nut, and torque it down.
  • Attach the clock spring white electrical connector.
  • Push the air bag mounting screws out until they are held fast by the screw clips.
  • Attach the yellow air bag electrical fitting to the air bag.
  • Install the air bag.
  • Push down on the air bag to expose the air bag mounting screws. Push in the air bag mounting screws and screw them in with a torx socket.
  • Install the plastic covers over the air bag mounting screws.
  • Install the horn relay.

Video: Installing the Steering Wheel

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