What Is a Headliner?

toyota-c-hr-2020-ceiling--front-row--interior-29.jpg 2020 Toyota C-HR | photo by Leslie Cunningham

A headliner is the material that covers the ceiling of a vehicle, but it does more than hide bare metal with color-coordinated soft fabric. Headliners provide insulation against heat and noise, and they can also hide wiring and hardware for electrical components, antennas and other accessories.

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A typical headliner consists of multiple layers, including foam material that’s usually polyurethane. The foam is sprayed or glued to a headliner board that mounts to the inside of the roof, which can make the headliner softer to the touch and insulates the interior against heat and noise. 

Without this thin layer of insulation, a vehicle sitting in the sun could get hotter inside and wind noise would be much more prominent, especially at highway speeds. Moreover, this insulation helps improve the acoustics for audio systems, which are tailored to the interiors of individual vehicles.

A bottom layer of fabric or vinyl typically covers the foam insulation. This is the part of the headliner that’s visible, giving the interior a finished look. Quality varies, with economy cars employing cheaper materials that look and feel insubstantial (often garnering the dreaded “mouse fur” designation) and pricier models employing woven or even suedelike material that sometimes extends down the window pillars. On some vehicles, the foam insulation is integrated into the fabric. 

The fabric or vinyl is glued to the headliner board, which is held in place by moldings, trim pieces and clips on the edges and by screws for light assemblies, grab handles and sun visors. 

Worn, dirty headliners can be replaced, either with original equipment or aftermarket materials. 

The headliner board has cutouts for lights, grab handles, speakers and other accessories that are specific to a particular vehicle. Shops that replace headliners can replace the original fabric with coverings made from different materials or different colors and cut and shape them to fit on the original headliner board. 

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