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Summary
  • Vinyl and leather seats have pros and cons when it comes to their quality, material, upkeep, durability, breathability, and cost.
  • Vinyl is 25% less expensive than leather because the latter is made from natural materials.
  • Alternatives to these seat options include nylon, polyester, and Ultrasuede seats.

With the amount of hours the average American spends on the road every year, your daily driver may as well be an extension of your home. And when you spend a lot of time behind the wheel, the type of material used on your seats can affect your experience inside the cabin. It’s important that they are covered in stylish, comfortable, and durable materials—not just for you but also for your passengers.

Fortunately, there are plenty of options for vehicle owners with seats that are damaged or worn out. You may choose to get your vehicle reupholstered or purchase high-quality seat covers. Most people pick between two types of materials: vinyl or leather.

Vinyl vs. Leather Seats

When it comes to car upholstery, vinyl and leather materials are good options. But which is the better choice?

old car interior black color
When it comes to car upholstery, vinyl and leather materials are good options.

Quality and Material

Vinyl was the go-to material for car upholstery in the 1950s. It’s cheaper than leather, and it comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns—making it the perfect choice for people who want to customize their ride’s interior. The quality of vinyl materials has only improved since then. So much so that there are now variants that look and feel like leather.

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Leather, on the other hand, gives seats a more premium feel and style. Unlike vinyl, which is made of plastic, it is commonly made from cowhide. Some carmakers make their seats from bull hide because it’s slightly thicker and more durable than cowhide.

Cleaning and Maintenance

If you often travel with your kids or pets, vinyl upholstery is a good choice. It has stain-resistant properties that make it a breeze to maintain.

Besides keeping vinyl car seats free of dust and dirt, you just need to occasionally wash them using a mild cleaning solution, wipe off the soap with a damp cloth, and towel dry them. Do these after messy spills as well to prevent mildew and unpleasant smells from building up.

Leather seats need more care and maintenance than vinyl seats because they’re more likely to fade and crack when exposed to extreme heat. Fortunately, you can prevent these by applying a leather conditioner.

modern car seat cleaning
Check for reviews about the specific product you want to buy or ask for a recommendation from your mechanic.

Keep in mind that not all cleaning products are good for your leather. So check for reviews about the specific product you want to buy or ask for a recommendation from your mechanic. Make sure to spot-test your cleaning solutions on a hidden area before using them.

Durability

Both vinyl and leather car seats can stay in top condition for a long time. However, they are not impervious to wear and tear.

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car backseat leather material
Leather car seats are more resistant to punctures, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be damaged.

Vinyl seats are more susceptible to damage compared to leather. Sharp objects can tear or puncture their surface, and it typically takes a lot of time and money to repair them. Constant exposure to sunlight and extreme temperatures may also damage vinyl upholstery.

Leather car seats are more resistant to punctures, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be damaged. They discolor due to harsh cleaning solutions and crack or fade due to extreme temperature.

Breathability

Vinyl seats are not as breathable as leather because they’re made of plastic. Black vinyl seats, in particular, tend to absorb a lot of heat during the summer months, which can make long trips under the sun uncomfortable.

car seat leather close up
Consider breathability in choosing your car seat.

Leather seats are more breathable, so you’re less likely to get hotter and stickier in the summer.

Cost

Vinyl seats are typically more affordable than leather seats by up to 25%. Leather is a more pricey investment because it’s made of natural materials.

Other Types of Seat Materials

car seat cover designs front view
Aside from vinyl and leather seats, there are other car seat materials to choose from.

Aside from vinyl and leather seats, here are some of the car seat materials out on the market today:

Nylon Seats

If you prefer fabric seats over leather and vinyl, nylon seats are a good option. They come in various designs, so they’re perfect for customization. They’re also more affordable than leather and vinyl. However, just like other fabric materials, nylon tends to stain and get dirty easily.

To clean nylon seats, you’ll need to remove deep-seated dirt with a vacuum cleaner. You can also use a sponge soaked in hot water and mild detergent to scrub your seats. Then, wipe the solution off with a clean cloth.

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Polyester Seats

If you’d like a luxurious suede look, go for polyester seats. Polyester is softer than nylon, but it can become stiff if it isn’t cleaned properly. To keep polyester seats in top shape, you’ll have to use a microsuede cleaning solution to clean off dirt and debris.

car polyester seat isolated background
If you’d like a luxurious suede look, go for polyester seats.

Ultrasuede

Commonly found on high-end and high-performance vehicles, Ultrasuede seats give out an elegant and luxurious look that’s similar to microsuede. It’s difficult to find because only one manufacturer produces it in Italy. It’s flame-resistant, but it’s not designed to withstand daily family wear.

Buying Seat Covers

Buying aftermarket seat covers helps protect your vehicle’s upholstery. They’re available in different materials, such as poly cotton, neoprene, tweed, and velour. Seat covers at CarParts.com usually cost around $100 to $250.

clean black car seats modern look
When choosing a material for your car upholstery, make sure to consider factors like your passengers and lifestyle.

The Verdict

At the end of the day, it all boils down to personal preference. When choosing a material for your car upholstery, make sure to consider factors like your passengers and lifestyle. These things will help you determine the right material for your ride.

About The Author
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The CarParts.com Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by CarParts.com's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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