The Cloth vs Leather Debate

At some point in your life you probably will have to make the big decision: Cloth or leather. On some lower-priced vehicles you might be stuck with cloth since leather may not be an option. But for the majority of today’s vehicles, you get to choose between the two. So, which way are you going to go? This article includes 10 factors you should consider when choosing.

Factor 1: Price
Leather will always cost you more. It all depends largely on the quality of the leather, which can range from thin cow skins to top-shelf Nappa leather. For example, On the 2016 Chevrolet Traverse, to upgrade to leather upholstery (and 8-way power passenger seat) will cost you an additional $1,750.

Factor 2: Status
Honestly, leather is a status symbol. It’s an assumed indication of wealth and social position so many consumers opt for leather just because they enjoy that connotation! Conversely, cloth upholstery is considered plain but very practical, and some people prefer that connotation.

Factor 3: Hot Weather
Perhaps the biggest “beef” (sorry) against leather is how hot it gets in the summer. If you leave the windows up on a sunny summer day in Arizona, the temperature in the car can exceed 180 degrees. And when you get in and plop down on 180-degree seats, you are literally risking burning exposed flesh.

Factor 4: Cold Weather
Perhaps the biggest negative against leather is how cold it gets in the winter. Leather seats have more thermal mass to them so when its cold out, they stay cold for a while. Cloth seats, on the other hand, start to warm up as soon as you sit down. To deal with numb bums, automakers have countered with heated leather seats. Such devices are standard on many luxury cars and trucks. Of course, the feature adds to the price, meaning you might have to pay for both leather upholstery and for the apparatus that heats the leather seats. But, for some people, the combination is well worth it.

Factor 5: Stains
When it comes to liquid spills, our friends at Cass Burch Chrysler, Quitman, GA, point out that leather is clearly the material of choice. Leather can be wiped clean in virtually all circumstances, but cloth, not so much. Of course, some spills can be wiped up but some, like ink, blood and oils, may stain cloth upholstery permanently. For many parents of young children, this can be a major issue as children, by definition, are prolific spillers of whatever they can get their hands on.

Factor 6: Smell
Leather has a pleasant smell, one that’s distinctly its own. Most people enjoy smelling new leather, just like they savor the “new car” smell. Leather can also be conditioned periodically which helps keep that new leather smell alive for many years.

Factor 7: Maintenance
Leather is high-maintenance. It needs to be cleaned and conditioned a few times a year. If you don’t do this, the leather will eventually dry out and crack. Cloth upholstery needs some maintenance too, including periodic vacuuming and cleaning, but leather owners will tell you that their seats take a lot more time.

Factor 8: Resale
When you cough up additional money to get leather, you’re not exactly out all that you paid. You can make up some of that money at resale.

Factor 9: Allergies
If you or a family member has trouble with allergies, you might want to consider leather. Pet hair, dust, and other allergens can settle into cloth fabric and get released whenever someone sits down. Leather seats don’t absorb particulates to any degree and are the best choice for those with allergies.

Factor 10: Morality
The position of the leather industry is that leather is a byproduct of the beef industry. This is not exactly true. Some automakers use Nappa leather upholstery on some of their luxury vehicles. Soft and flexible, Nappa leather comes from the skins of sheep, lambs, and goats.

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