What is upholstery damage and can you repair it?

On the Road 3 min read

A lot of your car’s value is based on how it looks inside. Something as small as a tear or a burn in the seat can impact the visual appeal and reduce the vehicle’s overall value. Many car seat repairs can be done yourself, but others will require a professional touch to fix the damage.

What are the most common types of car upholstery damage?

Car seats suffer a lot of wear and tear. Not only do they support the weight of passengers, but the constant friction of clothing on seats, combined with dropped food, a loose pen here and there, and other daily usage results in damage over time.

The type of upholstery also makes a difference in the car upholstery repair. According to Patrick McCann of WeTryTires.com, “Tears in the material is the most common type of damage, and this is especially common on the side bolster of the driver seat. The wear and tear is caused by the friction of the driver climbing into the seat when entering and exiting the vehicle.”

He says liquid spills are a common type of damage, especially on fabric seats. Leather seats tend to be more resistant to spills, especially if you clean the spill up right away. Fabric seats stain far more easily. On the other hand, leather car seats are more vulnerable to sun damage. With continued exposure to UV light, the leather will dry out and stiffen, leading to cracking. Even if your car seat does get damaged, there are some problems you can repair yourself. Learn more about the difference between leather vs. cloth seats.

How to repair car seat upholstery

Many types of car seat upholstery damage can be repaired with elbow grease and the right materials. According to Jonathan Ganther, founder and COO of Brakes To Go, “Stains are do-it-yourself. A handheld steamer can get out a lot of stains, but if certain stains won’t come out, see a professional.”

Stains are easy, he says, but other types of car upholstery damage are not. “Sun damage and rips and tears are not do-it-yourself,” he says. “Depending on the damage to the seat, the vehicle upholstery repair will get your original material replaced and color-matched. Sun damage is the worst kind of damage. It will crack leather and fade cloth. Professionals will need to replace and/or repair the damaged materials.”

If you have a stain on your cloth seat, try using a handheld steamer to remove the stain.” McCann says, “If that doesn’t work, a wet-and-dry vacuum can be rented and will extract the dirt from the seats.” Even if the stain is caused by juice, a wet/dry mop can remove the offending liquid. Most over-the-counter stain removers are safe to use on car seats.

The location of the damage plays a role in the repair. A small hole in the side bolster of the driver seat might not seem like a problem, but it will eventually grow. “This type of damage can only be fixed by a professional and is not recommended as a DIY job,” says McCann. Even if you try repairing with a car seat patch, the constant friction will eventually cause the damage to grow and worsen.

How much does auto upholstery repair cost?

If you’re on a limited budget, it might be easy to ignore the damage or toss a slipcover over it. However, if you want to sell the car to a dealership and not allow the upholstery damage to impact its resale value, you will need to repair the damage yourself or take it to a professional.

Costs vary depending on the material of your seat, the age, make, and model of your vehicle. You also must consider the design of your seats. Reupholstering a seat can cost between $200 and $750 per seat. The scale of the damage plays a part. A small hole will be far less expensive to repair than filling in a seat with foam or completely color-matching a section of the seat itself. Cloth repairs will be less expensive than leather.

If you spill liquid on a leather seat, wipe it up as soon as possible. If you stain a cloth seat, a bit of water can clean up the stain if you get to it before it sets. Many of the primary causes of car seat upholstery damage can be handled easily — if the problem is addressed before it gets too bad.

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