For hardened DIY types or even for those who rarely don a set of tech gloves, wouldn’t it be nice if carmakers used only a few standardized types of trim fasteners rather than the overwhelming selection of pins, clips, and attaching hardware that now exist and is increasing every year? For those that scream, “There’s got to be a better way!” there are some simpler and less expensive solutions. First understand that vehicles are primarily assembled in a manner to make the process at the factory easier, faster, and less labour intensive. While some thought is applied during engineering/design on how certain pieces of the puzzle will be removed for servicing or repair down the line, that consideration often seems nonexistent to us poor owners who are just trying to find a way to get that (insert favourite expletive here) panel or part back in place.
Here’s a short primer on three of the most common fasteners, how to use them, what to ask for at the parts counter, and where to get them at the right price. But first, you’ve got to have the right tools. Handling fragile and easily marred auto plastics with metal tools can cause damage. It’s best to stick with plastic when working on plastic, and almost any auto parts store will carry a reasonably priced tool kit.
These are named after their Yuletide symbol shape and come in a variety of colours and sizes. They’re primarily used to attach one part on top of another and the small plastic ‘feathers’ on their shafts lock them into place. The holes can’t be smaller than the pointed end of the tree, but the feathers are flexible enough for one particular size to fit different diameter holes. In many applications these trees have a double or triple edge flange on the head to allow a panel to hook on top of them. They can be reused if carefully removed.
These little units operate like drywall plugs as the center pin expands the lower wings when it’s pressed in. To remove them without damage you have to release the pin upwards to collapse the wings. If the head of the pin is marked with a Phillips screw head indentation, it may have threads that will release it when turned with the appropriate screwdriver. Other types require a small sharp pick to pop the pin up.
These are familiar with non-auto hobbyists and require the same type of plier-handled tool to install. In fact if you still have one of those devices gathering dust, it will work fine on these plastic rivets if you have a large enough fitting at the working end of the tool. These, of course are one-time use fasteners and require replacement any time they’re removed.
OEM dealerships are seldom competitive in pricing on most fasteners for the aftermarket parts’ stores pretty much rule in this market. If you’re absolutely stuck for a rare type, and can’t find anything in a reasonable price range, check out your local auto-body collision shops. While, for the most part, they’re usually not set up for retail parts sales, with some friendly persuasion and perhaps a box of donuts, you might get what you need.