One of the things that’s so great — and so different — about reupholstering a vehicle rather than, say, your sofa is that it changes everything.
A sofa or chair can be a powerful accent piece but they’re also typically just one part of a larger design scheme. Other than the paint job, your car upholstery defines the look and feel of your car. Whether you’re an amateur car collector or a car customizing pro, that’s all the more reason to make sure the upholstery you choose is the one you need and the one that feels like you.
Today we’ll walk you through the top car or truck upholstery fabrics. And by “top” we mean what works, what you can count on. Everything from fabric to vinyl to leather. Let’s take a drive through what’s out there so you can shift your car’s next chapter into overdrive.
Start With The End: What You Need From Your Car Upholstery
Making design choices can feel overwhelming. But we find the best choices are actually not about rules, they’re personal and all about you or your customers. So always start there. Begin with the end in mind. How will it be used? You need it to be up to the job, whatever that may be. Do it right. Dream it out.
Maybe you’re looking to restore a car that’s been under a tarp in your garage for years just waiting to be reborn.
Remember back to when your steel buddy was fresh and new. Going out for a drive was anything but mundane. Full-on windows down, favorite tunes cranked up, every mile a new memory. How great would it be to revisit that time every time you turn the key again?
Or maybe this is less about passion and more about practicality.
Maybe you’re looking to extend the life of a car or truck that’s your workhorse day in and day out. The engine’s still strong. The upholstery not so much.
Fast forward to three years from now, you grab your keys and head out the door. Sliding into your ride, it fits you like a glove for your commute, Sunday drives, or whatever epic road trips lie ahead. It’s comfortable, durable, and easy to clean and go.
Let whatever you’re dreaming of doing with your wheels help you paint a picture of what you’ll be asking of your new upholstery.
Car upholstery has to be prepared to handle a far more demanding set of factors than furniture upholstery.
Whenever you’re out in the world, so is your car upholstery. It’ll be subjected to all the sun, heat, cold, humidity, dryness, etc. When it gets sat on or packed up, it gets compressed and carries weight and strain in a more constant and consistent way than your spacious sectional at home. All that plus when that cup of Starbucks does inevitably slip from your hands in bumper to bumper 60mph traffic, it has to be up to the challenge.
Doable? You bet. Options? Have we met? Yes. Let’s hit the road.
Quick Guide: Top Automotive Upholstery Options At A Glance
You’re clear about the custom car reupholstery dream you’re building and you scroll through it for priorities. From there the question comes down to cost versus maintenance. Every upholstery level has its pros and cons but the pros and cons really revolve around those two factors — the cost versus maintenance.
Let’s look at the top options.
Best For Affordability
Nylon and Polyester
First a baseline, car upholstery referred to as “fabric” is almost always made of nylon or polyester. So what are the pros and cons of fabric?
There’s a reason nylon and polyester are the standards for automotive upholstery fabric. Actually, there are two reasons: cost and strength. Both are affordable for nearly any budget. And both can stand up to wear and tear (or is that lack of tears?).
If your future “new” ride will be serving as a workhorse, portable daycare, or doggie daycare then nylon or polyester just might fit the bill. And given the cost savings, we do mean that literally and figuratively.
There’s a “pro” unique to polyester to consider — it’s cozy and classy.
While nylon has more of the feel of a traditional automotive or truck fabric, polyester automotive upholstery is generally called microsuede. As the name implies, it’s a fabric but has the look and feel of suede without the price and problems. Think of velvet meets suede and you’ve got the vibe.
And here’s one last polyester hot tip. It sometimes goes by the name of Alcantara. Under that name, it’s considered Ultrasuede and is found in upscale performance cars. The thing is, it’s basically microsuede that costs a lot more money. Which — as it turns out — makes that “pro” a great segway into “cons”…
A minus with both nylon and polyester is that they’re porous. Those pores aren’t particularly picky and dirt and liquids tend to make a home beneath the fabric. Give this some thought if you have kids and pets. Nylon and polyester are great against tears but not against stains.
Now, there are many options for stain-fighting and fabric maintenance. So go back to that dream of yours — or your client — and run it through the priority check. If cost and tear-resistance are priorities 1 thru 10, a little sweat equity on the back end might not be such a con after all.
Best For Durability
Vinyl and Faux Leather
Looking to save money but can’t afford to sacrifice one bit on durability? Vinyl and faux leather for the win!
First, vinyl. Yes, vinyl. Old school. Perfect if you have kids, pets, or are messy all on your own. Liquids don’t soak in, so you can wipe them up with a towel. That applies to mud and other sticky goo, as well. Swing by those drive-thrus or head to the beach. No worries. Sand and dirt vacuums right off. Vinyl looks good, too, with that clean, classic look. Always tight and put together.
Faux leather is close to the real thing, without the leather price. Why? Because it is leather-ish. Part vinyl, faux leather also often contains some recycled leather. Plus, faux leather cleans up like vinyl. Leather feel, vinyl price. Great for your car or truck and your budget.
Vinyl and faux leather share the same primary con: temperature. It’s a case of the upside being the downside. Neither material is porous. That’s great news for durability and stain-fighting. That’s bad news for breathability. When your car sits in the sun, those seats can really heat up. That’s something to consider depending on your climate and/or access to shade.
Best For Luxury
There’s zero chance you didn’t see that coming, right? Our tour of the top automotive upholstery options — of course — parks in the VIP section. Let’s talk about leather.
Leather is leather. Durability? Check. Classy? Check check. Better with time? (Have we mentioned patinas?) Check check check.
Bottom line: Nothing adds style and character to your car or truck like leather.
Remember our dream ride released from its tarp in your garage? Dial it back to classic with some two-tone leather love. Oh, and one more plus, leather is almost as easy to clean as vinyl.
Price. But leather is a hide, after all, and not synthetic so it costs more. Also, you’ll need to take good care of leather upholstery. Just like your favorite leather shoes or jacket, it can fade, stain, and get creases if you ignore maintenance. But if you give it that extra love and attention, leather will truly come to fit you like a glove and age with rich character. (Okay, so we slid in another “pro” in the “con” list.)
Your Ride In Overdrive: Make The Right Choice For You
You’ve dreamed, you’ve learned the top car or truck upholstery options, and now it’s time to decide what will best serve you en route to making that dream come true.
That’s where we come in.
We’re proud to offer a vast selection of commercial-grade vinyl and fabrics that are waterproof, spillproof, stain proof and weatherproof. We also have options with perspiration and germ-fighting anti-microbial properties built into the weave or applied as a topical finish which helps odors from building up.
And we’re not about sacrificing fashion for function. Prints, patterns, solids, matte, glossy, distressed, animal hide, and reptile replications. The point is you’ve got options and we’ve got you covered.
More than inventory, our team is just a call or click away and ready to help from start to finish. Look, we know you’ve got choices about where to get your upholstery supplies. That’s why here at KOVI we pride ourselves in our ability to make all your automotive upholstery jobs, turn key.
So start your engine on your project and reach out today.