Your Car

7 Reasons why leather interiors are terrible

For a great many years now, we’ve had it rammed into us from car salesmen and the automotive media that it simply doesn’t get any better than having a leather interior in your car. Leather is often seen as the defining factor as to whether people think your car is nice. The smell of opulence, the feel… there’s just something about animal skin which appeals to our inner caveman. Leather good. Right?

But is leather the best material we use on car seats? Well, perhaps it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense – and here are a few reasons why.

1. Leather is hot as hell in summer

By far our biggest beef (sorry, we had to say it) with leather here in Australia is just how damn hot it gets during the summer months. Sliding into a car with leather seats after it has been sitting in the sun for an hour or more can be absolutely murderous – and we’re not just being dramatic.

The interior of a car left in full sun can easily crack 70ºC (or around 160ºF), and unlike cloth, leather – and in particular black leather – is excellent at absorbing heat. If you’re wearing shorts – and let’s face it, you probably will be in summer – easing down into a burning leather seat is going to be downright uncomfortable at best, and has the potential to give you a severe burn at worst.

Manufacturers have attempted to combat this problem by offering cooling options which cycle air from the cabin through the seat in order to cool it down, but isn’t this like offering a solution to a problem which shouldn’t exist in the first place? In addition, the seat cooling system won’t work properly until after the air inside the cabin has cooled down first. So prepare to have your ass fried, and arrive at many a destination with sweat marks down the back of your shirt. Glamorous.

2. Leather is cold as ice in winter

In the same way that leather seats are murderously hot in summer, they’re also as cold as ice in winter – and there is nothing luxurious about a having a numb bum. But at least you still have autumn and spring to enjoy them, right?

Just like the seat cooling options used to keep leather seats comfortable in summer, manufacturers also offer seat heating to help keep you comfortable during the winter months – but again, why not go for cloth seats and kill two birds with one much cheaper stone?

3. Leather doesn’t ‘breathe’ like cloth can

Have you ever sat down on a leather sofa in summer, only to find that your body starts to overheat after just 5 or 10 minutes – forcing you to either move around or get up to prevent yourself from becoming a sweaty mess? That’s because when you put skin on skin, there simply isn’t any way for your perspiration to evaporate into the air around you – and boy does it become uncomfortable.

To get around this, some car manufacturers choose to use ‘perforated leather’ – which essentially means the parts of the seats which you come into contact with will have thousands of tiny holes in them. These holes help provide ventilation and a natural cooling effect, but it also means that dirt and small food particles can also make their way in there and prove difficult to remove.

Perforated leather also demands a more rigorous maintenance schedule in order to keep them looking their best.

4. That leather smell is actually just chemicals

Most people absolutely love the smell of a brand new leather interior, but did you know that what you’re smelling isn’t actually what leather smells like? In reality, tanned animal hides (i.e. new leathers) smell pretty darn awful, so leather goods are soaked in perfumes and chemicals in order to achieve a much more pleasant odour.

5. Leather is high maintenance

Leather is not just high class, it is also high maintenance. While leather might be better at preventing stains, to keep it looking great you’ll need to have it cleaned and conditioned with specialist leather care products every few months. If you don’t clean and treat the leather on a regular basis, it’ll eventually show signs of wear due to the sweat, dust, and dirt that seeps into it. After longer periods of time, the leather may begin to harden and perhaps start cracking.

Of course, cloth seats still require maintenance too – including periodic vacuuming, steam cleaning and perhaps Scotch-guarding every few years. But in general, most leather interior owners will tell you that their seats need a bit more TLC.

6. You’re not always getting real leather

In the never-ending quest to cut costs, car manufacturers are increasingly using fake man-made leathers (or ‘pleather’) more liberally, which is actually made from polyurethane. And we’re not just talking about cars on the cheaper end of the spectrum.

The likes of BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi increasingly rely on fake leather in their more affordable models, and many mainstream manufacturers sell cars with a blend of genuine leather and synthetic vinyl seats – and most are deliberately ambiguous when describing what products they’re actually using.

7. You’ll pay more for the privilege

Leather is always going to cost you more than cloth – but it’s just a matter of how much more. The additional cost will depend largely on the quality of the leather, which can range from ‘fake’ (see above) to brushed to top-grain—or in some high-end vehicles, luxuriously soft Nappa leather.

So when you decide to opt for leather seats on your next new car purchase, you’d better find out what you’re actually paying for. Is it real leather? What about the backs of the seats, the sides, and the headrests?

But perhaps there is a tiny bit of good news here for leather interior car owners – and that is the extra money you paid for your leather interior should mean the resale value of your car will be a little bit higher than cloth equipped models of the same age and condition. But other factors come into play here, like the fact that many used car buyers simply want a reliable vehicle at a low price – and may not be willing to pay extra for a vehicle with a leather interior. So you’re rolling the dice.

So how about you – would you be willing to put up with all the negatives above in order to have a leather interior in your car? Let us know in the comments below.

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19 comments

Robert Parks July 13, 2020 at 3:02 am

Do you not tint your windows? My black truck with black leather interior can sit outside in 90 F (32.2 C) and direct sunlight all day, and it doesn’t kill me to get in, although I immediately start the air and roll down the windows for a minute. The windows are tinted with 3M Crystalline CR40 window tint. I also wear jeans, not shorts. No big deal.

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Rorschandt January 19, 2020 at 6:45 am

I discovered stinky car interiors can sometimes be, merely that the cabin air filter is 20,000miles past due to be replaced. I’ve had a lot of cars, and despise BLACK interiors,especially leather: they are extremely hot, wreak of the tanning chemicals, and are claustrophobic and depressing to me. Much to my dismay, they are de rigueur for any sporty car with a clutch pedal.

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Alexander Lara December 22, 2019 at 2:48 am

We are not killing cows and throwing away the meat. !! Just to get leather. Leather is a by product left over from meat industry. Stop trying to force us omnivores to turn vegan pls. !!!

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DJ Emir December 20, 2019 at 3:53 am

Cloth usually retains smells and stains more often than leather but I did look at a used 2013 Honda Pilot and when we opened it up, it smelled like someone’s stinky Gym bag like they had the entire High School wrestling team in there after state finals or something. I’m not sure if that was from the carpet in the back of the car or from the seats themselves but that car needed to be destroyed LOL. Then the Sales guy said oh all Honda leather seats smell like that after a few years. (they will say anything to sell you a car) We were like “no we’ve smelled several cars and only a few smell like this and if this is what they will smell like after a few years why would we ever buy a new Honda with leather?”

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Recommended Browsing November 11, 2019 at 10:07 pm

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Homeslice September 15, 2019 at 9:33 am

I think you guys fail to realize that cloth seats hold in butt smell, and it just accumulates over time. Same thing happens with cloth office chairs. Leather seats don’t have that problem. Another good thing about leather seats is that they’re less likely to stain, especially if they’re black (obviously).There’s some stains you just can’t remove from cloth seats.

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Tyler August 29, 2019 at 2:15 pm

I’m just gonna put this out there, animals, at least cows, are not slaughtered because of the leather, the really cheap horrible leather is just a byproduct of meat and dairy cows.

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Phillip Parsons June 20, 2019 at 12:14 am

The cream leather in my 10 year old Honda Accord still looks like new and is simply gorgeous.

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Rusty March 28, 2019 at 12:28 am

Imitation leather, ‘Pleather”, vinyl, even real leather, they all suck. Having to heat and cool seats is stupid. With cloth seats, you don’t need ether. They are easier to take care of and last longer. It’s a status thing if you ask me. And cloth seats don’t smell like a shoe store.

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Kevin Balser March 28, 2019 at 1:00 am

Damn right it’s a status thing! And who doesn’t love the smell of a shoe store?

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Glen March 10, 2019 at 10:21 pm

No one has mentioned that animals are slaughtered just for the leather. The meat is NOT used and the tannin process the most toxic.

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Kevin Balser March 11, 2019 at 7:46 am

I Believe that the meat is, in almost all cases, used as food. Tanneries are last use of remaining animal along with the glue factories. Adverse effects of chemical processes related to leather (in the past 7,000 years or so) are probably substantially less than those caused by cotton, plastic, coal, uranium, and electro magnetism of the past couple centuries.

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Tyler August 29, 2019 at 2:14 pm

I’m just gonna put this out there, animals, at least cows, are not slaughtered because of the leather, the really cheap horrible leather is just a byproduct of meat and dairy cows.

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Kevin Balser March 3, 2019 at 3:21 am

leather is far cooler in summer than vinyl and far warmer in winter, It is also breathable related to vinyl. After many seasons here in Arizona (snow last friday and 110f in summer) riding motorcycles (well over 200,000 miles) and being a professional upholsterer, I can attest to the above. Leather needs conditioned BECAUSE it breathes. The chemicals used in leather today are organic, mostly oils and tannins, and the leather jobs we do are 100% leather. No matching vinyl sides, etc. It is very difficult to work with and we make the same profit either way but still there is NOTHING like the feel, comfort, class, smell, and looks of quality leather.

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Jonathan March 2, 2019 at 3:06 am

i don’t mind the leather interiors as long as my seats are not leather, sitting o leather sucks

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Zorba December 11, 2018 at 4:26 am

I absolutely refuse to ever have another leather interior, for all the reasons cited above. Its hot, its cold, its slippery, its maintenance intensive, it stinks, it doesn’t wear particularly well, it doesn’t breathe, and it isn’t comfortable. Heck, you’re slightly better off with one of the high grade “pleathers”, but give me CLOTH!
Leather is for effete poseurs.

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Ian September 15, 2020 at 11:57 pm

ABL!! anything but leather, even if you are not a vegan, buying a car with leather is a really bad idea, the car manufacturers have us believe its a luxury, when in fact its a smelly, slippery , hot in the summer, cold in the winter material–give it up!
And-save the planet at the same time, cows pollute the atmosphere a lot more than exhaust gasses.

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Joe Fishin January 7, 2018 at 7:24 am

Love my Leather interior, last 5 vehicles I have owned all had Leather seats, never had issues ,yes it requires some more attention, but its so worth it, as for heat/cold extremes, we dont suffer that problem here to any great extent, but if you feel so precious about it, put a towel over the seat at those times you need to.

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the guy with no name June 1, 2017 at 10:06 pm

Good article. The part about the not breathing is by far the most annoying. It’s not just car seats but anything leather. I have an leather office chair and in the summer (now) I have to put an old shirt over it to decrease the effect of butt sweat.

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