FYI 98 Saturn S series SC2 Center Console Armrest Door Broken Fix

Discussion in 'Saturn S-series' started by jimtmcdaniels, Jul 27, 2022.

  1. jimtmcdaniels


    Jul 27, 2022
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    Stayed up late last night replacing and reinforcing my 98 Saturn S series SC2 Center Console Armrest/Storage Door.

    It is delicate and tricky to disassemble. Thought I'd share here for anyone looking to repair as well.
    I took pics only after I was all done and installed.
    My old door was badly busted, even with a hole.
    I found at the salvage yard one that was only slightly cracked and used that as a replacement.

    But I knew I had to strengthen the design or it would happen again.
    Because actually when I bought the car 4 years ago, the armrest had a crack down the middle I could fee. So I had taken it apart and simply super glued the crack. This did not last and failed so badly that I went to the salvage yard and was very lucky to find a bit better replacement to build from.
    The door consists of a nice rubber cover, covering a top plastic shell and a plastic bottom piece, and hallow inside and a spring latch that will come out when the 2 pieces are separated.
    BTW I had previously repaired my spring latch very well. It's plastic hinge/ears had broke. The way I fixed it is I found a rather thick nail(as thick as the broken ears) and drilled through the latch where it's hinge/ears were, slightly larger than the nail. Then inserted the nail. Super glue/baking soda if nail hole is too loose.

    The top shell has internal locking fingers that snap internally into the bottom shell's .
    The top shell has 4 screw towers(3 are for the hinge attachment).

    The design flaw seems to be, besides it all being made of plastic, is the top shell's inner screw towers also support and transfer someone's arm weight down to the bottom piece and BUT there are only 4 of these little towers.
    In the center area where there are no screw towers, the top flexes and this is were it breaks over time because that area isn't getting support from the bottom piece. So the sides and the ends are strong but the middle is weak.

    First, after removing the 4 screws and armrest/door from the vehicle(the metal arm has a hook, if you move the armrest back further after removing hinge screws, the hook will come out), you have to remove the nice rubber top cover.
    But it's edges are tucked between the top and bottom pieces and you can not pull the pieces apart or you will break the locking fingers inside.
    So what you have to do is use a flat screw driver to flex open up the gap/seam where the rubber cover tucks inside over the edge.
    Once you get some of the rubber edge out of the crack, move your screw driver to open a gap where needed to remove more rubber, working all the way around until you have the rubber cover off. The rubber is molded and its edge does wrap over the top piece's edge but it will come off. A second small screw driver can help work the rubber out of the crack you've expanded with the large screw driver but try not to puncture or tear your rubber cover.
    Note the cover has a slit for the door arm so lift over that to fully remove the rubber.

    Now that the rubber is off, you'll see exposed top access holes which allow you to insert a small pic/screw driver to release the locking fingers one at a time to separate the top from the bottom piece.
    (see my pic of my old top piece shows the access holes, I painted them red to show you).

    You have to do this so you can later reinstall the rubber cover which must be installed on the top piece when separated and then the bottom piece snaps down on it all.
    Also to access the inside for repairs and reinforcement.

    At this point you can repair in 2 methods that I see:

    Method I did not do but may wish I had down the road, we'll see:
    Either brush onto the broken plastic top, fiber glass resin mixed with its activating hardener and then place in the still wet resin add a trimmed to size fiber cloth and then brush the top of the cloth with more resin.

    Limp fiberglass cloth and resin are very weak on their own but when combined, they are very strong when cured and I've seen this method on YouTube to repair some Saturn's broken plastic behind a door panel armrest.

    The rubber cover does have a little slack and should cover and hide such a repair if you do not use too much of the repair material. If you came down the sides with the cloth, it would the molder rubber would possibly/probably then not fit back on.
    In fact the cloth might only fit in the inlaid area on the top of the top piece without causing problems.
    Learning to work with fiberglass can help you repair more things, another tool.
    Resin with cloth hardens like a rock. You won't want to leave any lumps whatsoever. One cloth should be plenty. Fiberglass mats are even thicker, I doubt they would fit under the rubber cover.

    ALTERNATIVELY, placing resin and fiberglass INSIDE the bottom of the top piece might be the way to go as long as you don't go crazy and interfere with the bottom cover locking snaps and sides.

    In hindsight perhaps this is what I should have done and if my armrest breaks again, I will do the fiberglass cloth. In fact even though my old one was pretty broken up, the fiber glass cloth method would probably of repaired it.

    Method I did:
    Hmm but instead last night what I did was use some parts of my old armrest to strengthen the salvage yard replacement:

    First, I flexed slightly open the top piece center plastic crack damage and applied super glue on the top and underside bottom of the crack line.
    Then I wetted the crack without flexing with super glue and then sprinkled a small amount of baking soda to the wet glue. This forms a strong crystal like bond.
    On the bottom, I then rewetted the line with super glue and again sprinkled with super glue. But I didn't the top a second time because I don't want the risk of feeling it through the rubber cover when installed.
    Blow off any loose/excess super glue.
    Super glue on it's own I find won't make the plastic as strong as it was but with the baking soda, it can. I've had great luck using this method on fender liners and under bumper plastic panels broken.

    If you get baking soda on the tip of the glue bottle, you may need to insert a needle into the tip to clear it to flow again.
    I use dollar tree super glue, not the gel.

    But this is not enough, because this area does not have towers to transfer the load to the bottom piece is why it cracked and will crack again.

    So I used pliers right on the old armrest's screw towers to flex, flex and break out the old armrest's top piece's 4 screw towers one at a time, but leaving the small channel pipes at the base that was under them alone.
    (see pic of my old top piece).
    If you are reusing your old armrest, you'll just need to find some small plastic pieces that can serve as little towers.

    So now I can super glue these 4 towers to 4 spots that need towers of support to transfer the load of someone's arm from the top to the bottom piece instead of breaking.
    (see pic of my old top piece-I added red paint to show where I added the 4 towers to the new top piece).
    Compare the 4 broken off tower's height to that of the cover's front screw tower from the small channel pipes up. (the 3 hinge screw towers are shorter because they are in a small area where the bottom piece is shaped differently).

    If any of the broken towers are too tall, use a file or belt sander to shorten them to just the right height.
    But if any are too short, just wet one end with super glue and then sprinkle baking soda on top. This will instantly harden and add height. Just repeat if more height is needed.

    Now that you have the towers height correct, you can install them.
    Pick where they will be placed onto a plastic piping crossing and wet both surfaces with super glue and press together and hold for a minute.
    (see pic of my old top cover inside I painted red the 4 spots crack area where I added support towers).
    Super glue works well with this plastic type.

    As an Extra nice thing, I had some nice 1/4" thick white packing foam from something that came in the mail. I trimmed it with a utility knife along the armrest top's inset area/channel. I then added some sticky glue and placed the foam there. So now my armrest has some padding under it'd center.
    If you do this, don't try to add outside padding the inset area or thicker than 1/4". Otherwise your rubber cover will not go on or go on too tight to stay in place in use.
    (See white foam scrap in pic)


    If any of the snap locking fingers broke when you were separating the 2 pieces, use super glue to hopefully reattach the finger.


    Once you place the bottom piece into the top piece and push in, they lock together.

    I strongly advise against gluing anything permanently together so you can no longer take the 2 plastic pieces apart in the future. There's no gain of strength to do that and then you can't fix anything in the future if the need arrises.

    Take care!

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    jimtmcdaniels, Jul 27, 2022
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