Are leather seats worth the extra cost?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 01, 2002

Dear Tom and Ray:

We are getting ready to have our first baby and are thinking about buying a VW Passat. We are trying to make it as cheap as possible and are cutting corners, but I am really having a hard time about the seats -- I want leather!!! Can you give me a rundown of the pros and cons of leather vs. fabric? Seems like leather will be cleaner (we also have two dogs) and easier to wipe up and vacuum, and that fabric will be dirtier and harder to keep spills and dog hair off of. It's $1,300 extra. Do you think it's worth it? And when the VW dealer says it's $1,300 extra, does he really mean it, or can he cut a corner off of that? -- May

TOM: May, this will be the best $1,300 bucks you've ever spent. We've had little kids AND dogs, and they both secrete stuff that doesn't come out of cloth seats.

RAY: Well, here's the real problem. You can wipe dog puke, kid puke or any other kind of dreck off of a cloth seat, and it might even look clean. But cloth is porous. So, that means that by the time you get it wiped up, the liquid portion of the disgusting substance in question will have seeped down into the foam cushion itself. That's why some people have cars that always smell like baby puke, or always smell like dog. No matter how clean the seats look.

TOM: Leather seats, on the other hand, are not porous, and they wipe right up. So baby messes and dog hair come off very easily.

RAY: Of course, there are downsides to leather seats, too. There's the expense. And because VW sells its leather seats as part of an "options package" that includes "must haves," like a leather shift knob and parking-brake handle, it charges $1,500 bucks for it. And unfortunately, $1,300 is the listed invoice price, so you won't get much of a break on that -- but go ahead and ask for one.

TOM: Another downside for some people is that making leather seats involves removing skin from a cow, who presumably had other uses in mind for that skin. So if this bothers you, that's an argument against leather. And finally, leather seats are hot and sticky in hot weather, and cold and stiff on very cold mornings.

RAY: But given the amount of pre-digested, post-digested and mid-digested material that's going to land on your seats, I think you have to go for the leather, May. And get the wagon version of the Passat, so you can fill up the back with paper towels.

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