Caring for Auto and Bike upholsteryIs my auto upholstery leather or vinyl?


Many of my customers use the words leather and vinyl interchangeably when talking about the upholstery in their car, truck or van.  That’s fine i’m not trying to be annoying about the details.  Except that it helps you when you need to know how to care for the upholstery or to ask a pro about repair of a particular damage.  In those cases it’s good to know if its a leather or vinyl area you have. Here are a few tips to help you know if you have leather or vinyl and why it matters.

  • Most cars with leather seats are actually a mix of leather and vinyl.   The parts of the seat you touch when you sit in the seat is leather while the sides and back of the seats are often vinyl.  This matters cause a leather conditioner will not help the vinyl sides.  The sides are the most common area to crack and to prevent these cracks you need a vinyl dressing not a leather one.
  • Most steering wheels that are molded are plastic/vinyl material, while many wrapped steering wheels are leather.  I think that the vinyl/plastic ones get chewed up more easily and the leather ones wear but are easier to fix.
  • Mercedes for sure and Range Rover, i think, have moved away from leather to vinyl seats.  A good leather seat will last if people take care of them but many weren’t and the leather wasn’t outlasting the cars.  So Mercedes made the switch.  Again, it matters for repair but most good leather pros will know vinyl if you say late model Mercedes.
  • Dashboards, door panels and consoles are most always vinyl not leather.  So use a vinyl dressing not a leather one.  Also vinyl can be cleaned with stronger cleaners if it gets dirty or grimy so it’s good to know these parts are vinyl not leather.  Also door panels and console vinyl tends to split as the vinyl looses its plasticity.  Like here:


  • Can’t you just tell leather from vinyl by looking at them, touching or smelling them.  Not always.  Lots of vinyl is made very well and I even have a tough time telling the difference.  One rule if you already have a damage is that leather may scratch or scuff or fray but vinyl will usually just tear.  Also if you can get underneath the surface leather will look like suede and vinyl will just have a cloth mesh pattern.

Hope these insights help you to distiguish between leather and vinyl in your auto or bike upholstery.