I personally prefer leather car seating, because dirt tends to stay on top of it, rather than soaking down into the fabric. (Ask me about that old Buick we owned; I think you could have fed a starving nation with the Kool-aid and spilled soda which had soaked into those seats!) Leather does require a very small bit of basic care, though, in order to last as long as the engine and other oily bits of your car.
A simple guide to caring for automotive leather.
1. Keep it clean.
Wipe up spills with a cleaning wipe, damp cloth, paper towel, baby wipe, whatever. A quick go-over every season will mean dirt doesn’t get ground into the leather to become permanent discoloration or staining. A bucket of warm water with a tiny splash of Murphy’s Oil Soap and a well-wrung-out soft cloth is adequate. You don’t have to buy fancy cleaners or be obsessive; a basic wipe-down is good enough.
2. Keep it soft & flexible.
In order to prevent cracking and tearing, treat the leather periodically (a couple times a year is fine) with a quality leather treatment designed for automotive use. My personal recommendation is a product called Leather Honey, available on Amazon. I like it because a little goes a long way, it has no odor or scent, and it will not stain or spot your clothes. If it’s been years or never since you treated the leather, do the treatment on a warm sunny day, then park the car and let it sit the rest of the afternoon, allowing the heat of the sun to help the treatment soak in, then wipe down the seats of any excess the next morning. Most instances of horribly cracked automotive leather are due to the leather having *never* been treated.
3. Keep it intact.
Treat small tears and rips promptly! Small tears become big tears quickly if you don’t stabilize the rip somehow. There’s an excellent product on the market designed for the extreme temperatures of a car interior and which will stretch and move with the seat surface and will not become gummy or gross in the heat. It’s called “Tear-Aid Type A.” You’ll need to clean the surface of the leather with the included alcohol wipe and then apply the clear patch over the tear. You’ll be able to tell it’s been patched, but stabilizing the tear will mean it won’t *continue* to tear farther.
Warning! Do not use packing tape, Duck tape, duct tape, gaffer’s tape, or anything that is not rated for temperatures over 100 degrees, as most adhesives in all-purpose tapes will either simply let go (best case) or turn into a gooey mess (worst case) on the first warm day of summer!
4. Keep it safe.
If you love your car, don’t love those rhinestone jeans with all the bling on the pockets, which seem specifically designed to tear up car upholstery! Put tools in your toolbox, not your pockets where you’ll sit on them while driving and scrape up your seats. Throw a towel or old blanket on the seat when transporting anything with sharp or rough edges. Install child car seats on pads designed to protect the seat below.
And finally, know when to call the pros.
5. Consider a professional.
When disaster strikes and a tear has become quite large or foam is exposed, consider getting a quote from a local upholstery shop for a professional repair. Sometimes a single panel can be replaced or seam can be repaired without producing an entirely new leather seat cover. There is an extensive array of automotive-rated and marine rated vinyls available (a shop will have books of samples to match to your car; marine vinyl is UV-protected so it will not fade in sunlight) and sometimes parts of the seat can be replaced with matching or closely matching vinyl for much less cost than having the entire seat re-upholstered in new leather.