What is auto upholstery?
Many people may assume that car upholstery strictly refers to the seats within the vehicle, but that doesn’t quite cover it. Upholstery and upholstery repairs can apply to many components of a car’s interior.
A few examples of items an automotive upholsterer or trimmer may be able to repair, replace or customize include:
Interior carpets – In addition to the carpet you’ll find on the floor of most passenger cars and trucks, you can usually find a fair amount of carpet and other fabric in the trunk as well. Automotive carpet is designed to be extremely durable and stain resistant, but the material can wear out or become damaged with regular wear and tear.
Seats – Most car owners probably frequently associate automobile upholstery with the seats. Depending on the fabric, including fabric, vinyl or leather, care and repair upkeep will differ.
Headliners - The headliner on a car is the fabric material that covers the ceiling, but may also include fabric-covered roof support frames. It’s especially common to find sagging, rippled or loose headliners on older vehicles.
Convertible tops and vinyl roof covers - A talented and experience auto upholsterer will be able to repair or restore both convertible top fabric and frames as well as the vinyl or canvas roof covers featured on some older vehicles or modern luxury cars.
Dashboards – While not every auto upholsterer will make repairs to dashboards, so may be able make repairs or cover up damage to this most noticeable part of a vehicle’s interior.
Door panels – Doors and interior door panels get a lot of use and often take more abuse than other upholstery features, so it’s not unusual for the fabric or other materials that cover them to become damaged.
Keeping your car interior clean, including regular interior detailings, can help ensure upholstery lasts longer. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Rebecca H.)
What do auto upholsterers do?
Upholsterers, also known as trimmers, coach trimmers have been around since before the advent of motorized transportation. Once strictly limited to building the interiors and finery associated with horse drawn carriages, when automobiles began their rise in popularity many coach trimmers or upholsterers started in the auto industry by building custom interiors for auto manufacturers and wealthy clients. Today, auto upholsterers work on a wide range of vehicles from luxury and custom cars to everyday rivers.
Depending on the shop and the upholsterer’s expertise and experience, a modern auto upholsterer can perform a number of car upholstery repairs or other tasks, including:
Upholstery replacement – When the seat, carpet or interior trim of a vehicle is beyond replacement or when a customer wants a new interior, for a custom car for example, a talented auto upholsterer can replace the entire upholstery of a vehicle. In cases where only one component or section of a vehicle’s upholstery is being replaced, such as a damaged seat, an effective auto upholstery replacement job requires that the new material match the existing material as closely as possible.
Upholstery repair – If the damage to a vehicle’s upholstery isn’t too significant or widespread, experienced upholsterers can repair minor damages such as burns, rips and tears for a wide range of upholstery such as seat covers and headliners and materials including vinyl, plastic, leather, fabric and carpet.
Headliner repair – Because it’s typically attached to the interior roof using adhesives, special steps usually need to be taken to repair a sagging headliner.
Upholstery restoration – For owners of vintage or classic cars who wish to preserve their vehicles’ original equipment, replacing old upholstery with new isn’t always an option. An upholsterer with experience in upholstering classic and older vehicles may be able to preserve and improve that upholstery, making it look new again.
Custom upholstery – To achieve a truly custom, personalized look for your vehicle, one of the most effective options is to install custom upholstery. From custom embroidery to exotic leathers, a customer auto upholsterer or interior specialist can provide uniqueness and individuality to any ride.
Repairing and replacing convertible tops and fabric roof covers – Although the heavy-duty vinyl or canvas that comprises most convertible tops or fabric roof covers is designed to be waterproof, durable and long-lasting, over time the elements can take their toll. An auto upholsterer that provides convertible and fabric roof services can repair or replace these features.
Marine and boat upholstery – Although the basic premise of boat upholstery is the same as automotive, marine upholstery may require a specialist. Because boat cockpits and interiors, and bimini tops or canvas covers, are typically exposed frequently to water and UV degradation, marine-grade materials that are more durable, more water resistant or waterproof and resistant to UV degradation need to be used.
Preventing upholstery problems
Like most people, you’d probably rather not invest in the cost of an automotive upholsterer in the first place. While not every accident or spill can be avoided, keeping these tips in mind can help you skip a trip to an auto upholstery shop.
1. Don’t smoke in your car
Smoking can cause serious damage to the interior of a car. In addition to the increased possibility of burns to vinyl surfaces, seat fabric and the carpet, smoke residue leaves behind an unsightly film and can cause your upholster to smell like an ashtray.
2. Clean up spills immediately
If and when you spill coffee, soda, juice or anything other liquid in your car, make an effort to soak up as much of the spill as possible immediately. Carrying paper towels or extra napkins from restaurants in your car can help you react and prevent stains quickly.
3. Run the vacuum
Vacuuming out your vehicle on a regular basis, once every two weeks or more frequently if possible, can help prevent dirt, dust and debris from getting ground down into carpeted floors or between seat cushions.
4. Shampoo regularly
Try to keep on a schedule with giving your carpet and fabric a deep clean, too. Once every few months, give your car’s upholstered floors and seats a nice shampoo to extricate dirt or strains. Carpet shampoo products are available at most auto retailers, but you can also pay for this option at many full-service car washes.
5. Mind the details
A professional interior detailing job once every six to 12 months can do wonders for preserving your vehicle’s interior. For newer vehicles, investing in professional detailing work can make especially good sense, as a vehicle with like-new, well preserved interior will sell more quickly and for more money.
6. Work the leather
If your vehicle is equipped with leather seats and other interior trim details, don’t forget to condition the leather on a regular basis. While synthetic fabrics and carpets have been engineered to resist constant exposure to sunlight and extreme conditions, natural leather can become brittle or weak over time. You can find vehicle leather conditioner at most automotive parts retailers.
7. Watch what you carry
Transporting large objects with sharp edges can puncture seats, rip upholstery and dent plastic or vinyl trim pieces. Transporting animals can also potentially damage your vehicle’s upholstery, as fur can become lodged in fabric and carpet and nails or claws can cause scratches, rips, tears or holes.
Tips for hiring an upholsterer
If you’ve never required the services of an upholsterer before, you may be unsure about how to proceed. Keep the following tips in mind to help ensure you find the right professional for your auto upholstery repairs.
1. Look for a focus on auto upholstery
To get the best results for your auto upholstery repair or replacement, look for shops or professional upholsterers who specialize in automotive upholstery applications.
2. Ask about their experience with your type of project
Even within the automobile upholstery field, professionals may specialize in one particular type of upholstery. A shop that primary repairs convertible tops may not have the experience to effectively replace seat covers, for instance. An auto upholsterer that works on mainly late-model cars may not have sufficient skills to tackle a vintage or classic car upholstery repair.
3. Check out their portfolio
Before and after photos or an album of completed projects can you give you a better idea of an auto upholsterer’s skills and provide you with an idea of how your final project may appear.
4. Membership in trade or business associations
While simply becoming a member in a trade or business association such as a local chamber of commerce doesn’t necessarily guarantee higher quality work, it can indicate the auto upholster stays up on the latest trends and technologies or is an active member in the local business community.
5. Research the reputation
Few things travel faster than word of mouth, so ask friends or family members about which upholstery companies they’ve used if they’ve had upholstery repairs. Check out the company’s ratings and reviews on Angie’s List as well as other sites like the Better Business Bureau.
6. Check out the shop
This is especially good advice if you plan on leaving your vehicle with the company for more than one day. Is the shop clean and well organized? Does it have adequate lighting and security? A unkempt, cluttered shop might be a good clue to an upholsterer’s work ethic or attitude. Think twice about leaving your car overnight if you feel the shop doesn’t have adequate security.