Used Car Shopping? The Differences in Interior “Leather”

February 9th, 2016 by


The choices never end when you’re car shopping, even if you’re targeting a used vehicle. You may have widdled down your choices and established a specific brand or model, but the choices don’t end there. We’re not talking about choosing a color or a particular drivetrain. No, we’re talking about leather.

One of the most significant decisions you’ll have to make is regarding your vehicle’s interior. There are several materials that you can opt for to cover your seats and steering wheel. They may all look similar, but they’re actually significantly different in their own specific ways. Some are more affordable, while others offer more comfort.

Vinyl, leatherette, and leather are three commons materials that pop up in many used vehicles, especially luxury models. It’s important to understand the differences before you head out to used car dealerships in Albany, New York. Luckily, we’ve explained the pros and cons of each of the three materials below. That way, when it’s time to ultimately choose that used vehicle, you won’t have any anxiety about a particular interior material…



Now, we’re not discussing the same type of vinyl upholstery that was featured in your father or grandfather’s car back in the 1950s. This material has improved considerably over the past few decades, and it’s now one of the top choices for those looking to inundate their interior with a faux leather.

There are several advantages to pursuing vinyl. First off, the material is considerably cheaper than traditional leather, so if you’re looking for the most affordable option, you know that you should be targeting vinyl. This is important if you’re planning on reselling your recently purchased car, as there’s no reason to dish out the extra money for a couple of years of leather. Furthermore, the inclusion of leather won’t boost your used car’s value any more than a vinyl interior.

You’ll have several more ways to customize your vehicle if you opt for vinyl, as the material can be made in an assortment of different colors. There isn’t much maintenance when it comes to the material, as vinyl doesn’t absorb food or drinks stains. All it takes to clean the material is your standard household cleaner, which shouldn’t cost more than a few bucks. Plus, in the case that you have to replace that vinyl, you shouldn’t have an issue finding alternate materials. Vinyl generally retains its original color and look, even when left out in the sun. This means you won’t have to replace the entire interior… only the spot that shows these unwanted blemishes.

On the flip side, vinyl isn’t particularly durable, as least when you compare it to leather. This material shows wear relatively quickly, and you’ll start noticing cracks in the material after several years. Furthermore, the material doesn’t breathe particularly well, leaving it sticky and hot when the car is left out in the sun. If you believe you’re going to ride your new car until it’s old and can barely operate, it may be worth the extra investment to pursue a leather interior.


We have to be clear about one thing off the bat: leatherette and vinyl are not the same thing. While some (including myself) may describe vinyl as a type of faux leather, leatherette certainly has all the attributes of that desired material… just at a lower quality. In fact, leatherette is now featured in many automobiles, including entry-level luxury cars and even some standard mid-size vehicles (with the engineers hoping the lower-quality leather will entice customers). The material is predictably more affordable, as a vehicle that comes standard with a leatherette interior will cost an extra $1,500 to get the real thing.

Leatherette practically looks like the real material. As Jim Gorzelany of writes, 94-percent of respondents said their vehicles were covered in leather. In actuality, about 13-percent of those car owners actually had the vehicles adorned in leatherette. How do you tell the difference? Real leather should be a bit thicker, and the back of the material should be finished in suede.

“It’s really a compliment to the suppliers that they can produce a synthetic material that customers indicate looks and feels so much like leather that they often times cannot tell the difference, despite automakers marketing the leatherette as a synthetic leather-like material,” Brent Gruber, director of the global automotive division at J.D. Power, told Gorzelany. “And it’s not just the look and feel that makes it difficult for owners to differentiate between the two: the quality and durability are also very similar.”

So we understand that leatherette looks just like leather, making it a reasonable, more-affordable alternative. However, are there any other advantages? As Jennifer Houston of writes, leatherette is very similar to the vinyl. Leatherette is plastic-based, meaning it isn’t “porous.” So when you passengers spill food or drink on the material, you should expect it to sit on top of the leatherette (as opposed to being absorbed). This makes cleanup considerably easier, and a drastic spill won’t have the impact that it would on a completely leather interior.

On the flip side, the leatherette doesn’t breathe particularly well. It’s also relatively easy to scratch, so Houston suggests avoiding the material if you have any cats or dogs.


Ah, the ultimate material for your car’s interior. Let’s get several of the “negative” factors out of the way. Leather is understandably more expensive than the previously mentioned materials, and it costs a bit more to maintain. While the other materials can be easily cleaned and wiped down, a spilled drink could completely compromise your leather interior. These repairs could be quite costly, as you may need to have the entire interior stripped of the leather. Since the material fades over the years, it may be difficult for technicians to adequately replace the material with a similar-looking leather. If you don’t want to opt for a complete repair, the only alternative is having mismatched leather patches.

Luckily, leather is rather durable, so as long as you keep it stain-free, the material should last the entirety time your car’s life. Plus, the material is much cozier than the previously-mentioned fake leathers. Not only is the real leather more comfortable and soft to the touch, but it doesn’t retain heat like the other materials.

While we previously focused on the versatility of the other materials, you’ll still be granted with several options when you pursue a leather interior. There are several color and texture choices, and you may find “perforated, embossed, printed, pearlized, ant antiqued leather” options, according to


As you’ve read, each of these specific materials is different in their own ways. Vinyl is the cheapest option, but it doesn’t offer the comfort of the other two materials. Leatherette is certainly a reasonable, affordable alternative to leather, but it doesn’t breath as well as the real thing. Of course, leather is top-of-the-line, but you’ll have to dish out a bit of extra money to acquire this interior. Regardless of your choice, you now have a better understanding of what each of these materials brings to your used vehicle.

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