Tesla, Inc. is the leading electric car manufacturer in the world not only known for its technological innovations, but also for its sleek and modern interiors. Often compared to Apple products, Tesla takes a minimalistic approach to the interior using plastic panels and only including the most essential and efficient features. There are no custom interiors in a Tesla.
This means that although generally popular, some Tesla owners are unimpressed by some of the cars’ interior designs and finishes. Many owners of the base Model 3 end up replacing the interior plastic panels, like door panels and the dashboard, on their own. The premium Tesla Model 3 comes with either a wood or carbon fiber finish.
Why Replace Plastic Interiors in a Tesla Model 3
The Tesla Model 3 is such a unique car, why would you want to replace part of what makes the Model 3 a Model 3?
- To match the rest of the interior. If you installed seat replacements or covers, a matching door handle or dashboard would be an excellent addition.
- To improve the quality of the interior. Plastic is cheap material. It damages easily and gives the interior a less satisfying look.
- For more comfort. A plastic armrest or dashboard is not as comfortable as one enforced with a premium material like leather.
Replacing Plastic Door Panels
Despite having a generally good-looking interior, the entry-level Tesla Model 3 has plastic door panels. You can either replace the plastic with a different material or enforce the plastic panels with leather or carbon fiber. In this example, we’ll look at how to wrap the door panels with leather.
The first thing you’ll have to do is take off the existing door panels.
- Open the door.
- Roll the window down all the way. This is because when you unplug the power from the door panel, the main window switch will raise the windows by about 1 inch. The windows will also be locked in that position. If you closed the door, the window could possibly break.
- Unscrew the three bolts that hold the door panel to the door. The first bolt is visible on the side of the door. The second bolt is on the far underside of the door handle towards the dashboard. The final bolt is found under the armrest.
- Tug at the door panel by lifting it and pulling it towards you.
- Release the latch by pulling the green plastic end towards you. You will follow the same process to reattach the latch (make sure the green plastic end is hooked correctly for this).
- Release the connection for puddle lights at the bottom of the panel. Just push down the switches.
- Pull the puddle lights’ cable clips out to remove the puddle lights.
- Release the storage lights’ connector.
- Disconnect the tweeters.
You can now detach the panel from the door. If you are replacing the plastic with another complete one, all you need to do is to follow the steps above in reverse until you screw back the three main bolts.
Wrapping the Door Panel in Leather
To add a premium look or match the rest of your already upgraded interior, wrap your panel in leather. You will first need to cover the visible part of the door panel in leather. Before you do this, though, you need to separate the two-door insert components. This process requires a bit more skill.
- Identify the 37 attachment points that join the core door insert to the plastic door panel. These small plastic points were initially cylindrical but were turned in to mushroom heads when the door panel was attached.
- Using a welding iron or an air torch, heat the 37 mushroom heads back into their original cylindrical shape.
- Detach the door panel from the door insert by slightly yanking it.
When you later reattach the two parts, weld the plastic joints back to mushroom heads. The only problem is that they are made of the same plastic material as the door panel, which would create a permanent bond. This will give you serious issues the next time you need to remove your door panels. We’ll look at how to work around this shortly.
Break down your detached plastic door panel into its basic parts. Preferably, starting with the armrest, wrap each part in leather (or whatever material you’re using) with adhesive foam for bonding. Cut out the excess material around the edges to make sure the pieces will still reattach and make the door panel.
To Reattach the Door Panel to the Core Door Insert
- Drill out all the 37 plastic cylindrical joints and clean out plastic residue from the holes.
- Fill the holes using a 2-part adhesive plastic foam (use a syringe to avoid unwanted spillover).
- When the adhesive foam dries, drill holes on top where you can insert screws.
- Attach and screw in the door panel.
Finally, remember to be careful with these plastic parts as you re-install them because if they break while detached, it might be difficult to reattach them. It is also important to note where every single part goes as you take the panels apart. A simple missing screw can complicate the entire reinstallation process.
Overall, doing a simple plastic panel replacement should be no problem. But unless you know how to weld, wrap, and reattach, you may want to bring your car to an experienced Tesla professional.