Flat Dash Kits vs. Molded Dash Kits

Next to a house, your car is likely to be the most expensive purchase you’ll ever make. You should take pride in your car’s appearance. And whether your car’s interior is starting to show its age or you are ready for an aesthetic change, a dash trim kit can instantly upgrade the look and feel of your car’s interior.

Dash trim kits come in two main varieties — flat and molded. While they both perform the same basic function, there are significant differences between the two. A flat dash kit is one flat piece that includes cutouts for your controls and other elements of your dashboard. A molded dash kit, however, is a three-dimensional piece that fits the curves of your vehicle. In order to make the right decision for your car, you need to do some research. Today we are going to help with that by discussing the differences between flat dash kits and molded dash kits to help you decide which is better for you.

What Are Dash Kits?

Car designers put an extraordinary amount of time and effort into the design of car interiors. A car’s external design elements might bring customers onto the lot, but a well-designed interior is going to keep a car owner happy over the life of the car.

When it comes to the car’s dashboard, there are two basic design types: flat and three-dimensional. You’re more likely to find a flat dash in a smaller car, crossover or minivan. These vehicles have less interior surface area, so dashboards don’t have as much room to get interesting. Surfaces tend to be flat, but with contrasting colors and textures.

In larger trucks and SUVs, however, dashboard contours and curves help to keep things interesting, not to mention add functional spaces along the front surface of the car. As a result, dashboards in larger vehicles tend to have fewer flat surfaces.

This distinction is important in the aftermarket world. If you are looking to improve the appearance of your car’s interior, you will want to keep this distinction in mind.

A flat dash kit is intended for use in a car where the dashboard is more or less one flat piece of real estate, interrupted by panels for the infotainment system, the HVAC controls, the instrument panel and other facets of a car’s interior. The last time you sat in a sedan or a crossover, you were staring at a flat dash. Flat dash kits contain two-dimensional trim pieces.

Flat dash trim pieces adhere to the various surfaces of your car’s interior. These pieces will contain cutouts for your shift lever, door handles and window switches. As long as you order the appropriate kit for your vehicle, you will have all the pieces you need to completely transform the flat, boring plastic pieces of your car’s interior.

Molded dash kits are designed to be installed in larger trucks and SUVs, which tend to have more contours in their interior spaces. Think of an arm rest that has a top and a bottom, rather than one with an underside that simply flows down into the wall of the map pocket. Likewise, some dashboards jut out from the bulkhead rather than forming a front “wall” for all of your gauges and screens — this is what we mean when we think of molded dashboards.

Molded dash kits are three-dimensional pieces that fit the contours of a car’s dashboard exactly. A molded dash kit will give your car a more natural upgrade look. If these pieces are installed properly, the result will be nearly indistinguishable from the original factory fit and finish.

If you are shopping for a dash kit to enhance or update the appearance of your car’s interior, you’ll have to decide which option is best for you. However, depending on the vehicle you are shopping for, you might find that you don’t have a choice. A molded dash kit might not be available for your vehicle. But if you do have a choice, how do you work through the options? Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of flat and molded dash kits so you know what you’re looking for.

Why Should I Get a Flat Dash Kit?

Flat dash kits have a number of advantages. First, they offer the buyer a ton of variety in terms of color, finish and even design. Whether you are looking for a metallic finish, a matte finish or even a camouflage pattern, you can find what you are looking for in a flat dash kit. You’ll probably even find a few options you didn’t even know you should be looking for.

Flat dash kits won’t bust your budget, and installation is easy enough to handle on your own, as long as you are careful. If your dash kit doesn’t look as nice in your car as it did in the catalog, you can afford a new kit without sacrificing in other areas. Flat dash kits are easy enough to install that you can change them out if you are the type of person who likes to keep their car looking fresh and exciting.

What Are the Disadvantages?

A flat dash kit isn’t the ideal solution for a larger vehicle with more three-dimensional shapes in its interior. When you were a kid, did you ever receive a football or a basketball for Christmas? Or have you ever tried to wrap one up to give as a gift to someone else? Taking a two-dimensional material like wrapping paper and attempting to cover anything but a box just doesn’t quite work, does it?

You can expect the same results from a flat dash kit. These flat pieces can be heated to bend and contour a little bit, but no car’s dashboard, at least not since 1984, has been completely flat. Flat dash trim pieces can handle gently swooping lines, but not the edges and curves of an entire armrest.

On the subject of visual appeal, even the best-looking flat dash pieces won’t be able to mimic the look of a carved, molded piece of wood trim. It could be that the difference in price makes the flat dash trim a better buy, but just know that it will never look the same.

Why Should I Get a Molded Dash Kit?

Right off the bat, the biggest advantage of a molded dash kit is that it looks like it was designed to fit into that vehicle’s interior right from the factory. This is because, in almost every case, the kit really was designed to fit that vehicle’s interior.

Perhaps an experienced installation technician with an interminable well of patience and a steady hand can create the same illusion with a flat dash kit, but if you have the option and you are concerned with the final fit and finish, a molded dash kit is well worth the extra money.

As we mentioned above, molded dash kits are generally associated with larger trucks and SUVs. These vehicles usually see rougher duty than your typical econobox or family sedan, so durability is a genuine concern.

A full-scale molded dash kit will only have four to ten pieces, as each piece covers a larger amount of real estate in your car’s interior. Since each piece in a molded dash kit is made to be a single piece, and it snaps into place with a snug fit, a molded dash kit is going to provide a rugged durability that far surpasses flat dash trim.

On the other end of the spectrum, since molded dash kits are more substantial, the wood trim is much more convincing. If you go with a carbon fiber molded dash kit, you are getting real, actual carbon fiber. If you are more concerned with luxury than with rugged durability, a molded dash kit will give your truck’s interior that hundred-thousand-dollar appearance.

What Are the Disadvantages?

Depending on your perspective, the most obvious disadvantage to a molded dash kit is the price tag. These kits are usually over a thousand dollars, which can make them a tough sell for the budget-minded enthusiast. They are certainly worth every penny, but that is a lot of pennies.

From another perspective, another disadvantage to molded dash kits is their limited applicability. Not all car interiors have molded trim pieces, so molded dash kits might not even be an option for you. For smaller vehicles, you might have to go with a flat dash kit, no matter how much money you have available to spend.

Are Dash Kits Universal?

We’ll put it this way: Dash kits are designed to be installed in a car’s interior and look and feel like an OEM part. Therefore, dash kits are as diverse and unique as car interiors, so they definitely are not a one-size-fits-all solution.

We have dash kits to fit nearly every make and model on the road, so you shouldn’t have any problem finding a kit to fit your car. Looking for some dash trim for a 1977 Citroen? Well, you’re on your own for that one. For all others though, we have you — and your dash — covered.

How Do I Choose Between a Molded Dash Kit and a Flat Dash Kit?

If you have understood the difference between flat and molded dash kits, the time has come to make a decision. So how do you choose?

First and foremost, you should look up the make and model of your vehicle to see if you even have a decision to make. It is entirely possible that a molded dash kit doesn’t exist for your vehicle. On the other hand, flat dash kits are available for just about every vehicle on the road today.

The second most obvious factor is price. How much do you have to spend on dash trim? If your funds are limited, a flat dash kit is an inexpensive way to breathe new life into your car’s interior or give your interior a more personalized look.

If you have the money for a more expensive molded kit but aren’t sure about spending the extra dough, keep in mind the two most important advantages molded kits have to offer: durability and aesthetic appeal.

If you are planning to run your vehicle for many years and thousands of miles to come, a durable molded dash kit can help combat the scourge of normal wear and tear. Making your car feel like brand new is incentive enough, but arming your car’s interior for battles in years to come might seal the deal.

If you are going for a more upscale look, a molded interior will run circles around even the best-looking and most expertly-installed flat dash kit.

Are Flat Dash Kits Easy to Install?

Installing a dash kit is pretty easy. The toughest part is the prep work you have to do before you even open the pack. As long as you have prepped your car’s surfaces and you keep a steady hand, you’ll be able to pull off a detail-shop job in your driveway on a Tuesday night.

Of course, the first step in any job well done is to prep the job and walk through it mentally. With a dash trim installation, you only get one crack at applying the trim piece to the surface, so you want to make sure you get it right. Lay the pieces out and see how they fit on each surface before you remove the protective film. Notice your reference points and which places will need adhesive promoter. The job might not take very long, but you definitely don’t want to rush it.

Clean your surfaces thoroughly, then rub them down with isopropyl alcohol and cotton swabs. The best adhesives in the world won’t stick for the long-term if the surface isn’t clean enough. As you apply the trim pieces, work from one end to another so you can work out any air bubbles. Start with the easy pieces so you can practice and prepare to tackle the more difficult pieces.

When you’re done applying all of the pieces, wipe everything down with a clean cloth so you pick up any leftover adhesive promoter. Step back and take pride in a job well done.

Are Molded Dash Kits Easy to Install?

This basic process applies to both flat dash trim pieces and molded dash trim pieces. Hopefully the job of applying the dash trim pieces doesn’t sound difficult. With a little patience and planning, anyone can do it. If you want any additional information on installation, read our installation guides and watch our videos. We’ll lay out all of the tips and tricks you need to succeed.

Decision Time

By now you should have a pretty good idea of the choices you have before you. Flat dash kits offer versatility in the number of available of finishes. If you can dream up a look for the interior of your car, you can find a flat dash kit to make it real. Mix and match for the type of contrasting textures and colors that automotive interior designers spend months working up.

However, if you have a vehicle that can be fitted with a molded dash kit, your friends will be asking you either “How much did you pay for this truck?” or “How do you keep your truck looking this good after all of these years?”

If, after all of this information, you still aren’t sure if you should buy a flat dash kit or a molded dash kit, contact our helpful staff or use our website’s live chat feature. But if you’re ready to make your purchase, head on over to our dash kits page and dive in.