Replacing Your T-Top Equipped Headliner
This article applies to 1982-1992 model year F-body cars built by General Motors, which were equipped with T-tops.
Research for this article was done using a 1992 Pontiac Firebird Formula, which was in need of a new headliner, and a 1992 Pontiac Firebird, which was at a local salvage yard.
Tools Required: Phillips head screwdriver or screw gun 5/16” nut driver or ratchet-and-socket combo Assistant (not necessary, but very helpful) Dish or magnet to contain screws Safe, flat space to keep spare parts (lay a blanket on your hood)
Removing the headliner:
Remove the dome light lens by carefully squeezing it and pulling it down with your hands, then pull out the light bulb. Be sure to do this first, before the bulb becomes too hot to handle.
Remove the dome light housing. The housing slides onto two metal studs, and flat washer-like devices are pressed onto the studs to hold the whole thing in place. It could be possible to save the “washers” by using extreme care, but it’s not likely. Many other American cars have the same size studs, but use 5/16” speed nuts, which work much better and are reusable. One of these cars, for example, is the Jeep Cherokee. It would be wise to obtain a pair (or more) of speed nuts at a junkyard before you begin this project. Alternately, buy the correct fasteners from a new-car dealer.
Note: You only need to remove the plastic dome light housing. The light bulb socket can be left to dangle on its wires, as it is small enough to pass through the hole in the headliner.
Note: If your car has the optional DK6 roof console, refer to article on this site which details its installation and removal, as well as instructions on how to retrofit it to a non-DK6 car.
Remove and stow the T-tops. This doesn’t just make the job much easier; it’s required in order to access some of the screws.
Position the rear-view mirror in its full up position, against the headliner. This helps hold it in place after you’ve removed all the screws.
Remove the sun visors, each of which is held on by three Phillips head screws.
Remove the black plastic A-pillar trim (at the sides of the windshield). There’s one screw up at the very top near where the T-top latch is, and the rest is held on by two hidden plastic clips. (These are similar to the clips GM uses to fasten door panels.) Just pull the piece slowly away from the car, and the clips will come free. It’s easy to break the clips or the plastic panel, so be careful. If you do break something, the panel will stay on well enough without the clips, but use liberal amounts of rubber rope caulk to discourage rattles.
Note: You might find it helpful or even necessary to remove the dash pad in order to remove and reinstall the A-pillar trim. Instructions can be found in the technical article Stereo Installation in a Third Generation F-body, which is on this site. A 9/32” or 7mm nut driver or socket, ratchet, and extension are required.
Slide the seats fully forward, fold the seatbacks forward, lower the windows, and open both doors wide.
Remove the B-pillar trim, the black plastic pieces at the back edge of the door windows. They use two screws each.
Unscrew the coat hooks, and remove the rear speaker grilles. They come off with a slight upward motion.
If you have a window-mounted third brake light, remove its hardware from the interior-colored plastic piece that covers the rear edge of the headliner.
Remove the interior-colored plastic piece that covers the rear edge of the headliner. It uses four screws.
Near where the rear edges of the headliner meet the rear window, there’s one screw on each side, holding the quarter panel trim onto the car. Remove the screw, but leave the panel in place.
Bend the quarter panel trim slightly aside, and remove the seat belt escutcheon. It’s the small rectangular plastic piece where the shoulder belt is drawn into the roof of the car, and it pops out with a gentle tug.
Gently lower the rear section of the headliner.
While holding up the front section of the headliner, lower the rear view mirror out of the way. There are two large plastic clips that are glued/molded into the headliner, and they insert into corresponding holes in the car’s roof. Generally, they will pull out with no effort whatsoever, but it’s important to remove them at just the right angle so they don’t bind up.
Remove the headliner from the car.
Follow the same steps for installation, but in reverse order.
Due to the complex curves in the T-top headliner, I don’t recommend that you attempt to reupholster the headliner yourself. I spent $25 on supplies and mother than two hours’ extra labor, and it was a disaster. I ended up buying a perfect headliner for $20 at a junkyard including the sun visors and speaker grilles. It was better than most people could do themselves, and it also had the factory-correct airbag warning sticker already on it.
If you are buying a junkyard headliner, consider buying the donor car’s sun visors and speaker grilles, to ensure an exact color match. Also, be sure to take the donor car’s screws home with you, in case some your own car’s screws are missing or get lost during this project.
It is entirely possible to damage the delicate headliner during this procedure. If your car’s headliner is already trashed, remove it first so you can get some practice, before you go to the junkyard. Alternately, find a junkyard car with an already-ruined headliner and practice on that.
This article was researched with the help of seven-year-old Denis Skorik. Denis is still a beginner in the field or automotive repair, but he was of great assistance.
If I can provide any further advice, feel free to e-mail me at [email protected].