Car Interior Restoration Guide: Upholstery Repair and Replacement

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When it comes to restoring your car interior, seats are one of the more expensive things to deal with. You need to decide whether to replace the upholstery altogether or if you can get away with simply repairing it so it looks nice and will not get worse. When you go to a professional, neither replacement or repair is cheap but there are some simple fixes you can do on your own to improve the look of the interior and save some money.

DIY Repairs for Fabric Seats

Fabric car seats tend to be more common now than real leather but fabric is less hardy and easily damaged. If the damage to the seat is not substantial, you may be able to do the repair yourself.


Rips are always unsightly and can happen pretty easily. Sliding in with keys in your pocket or putting heavy or sharp items on the seat can be enough to cause some damage. Rips mean that the material is not missing, just torn and showing the padding of the chair poking through. To fix it, you need a curved upholstery needle and some strong thread that is the same color as the seat. There is also a product called Fray Check that you should look into using.

Thread the needle with the thread doubled up. Then, start at one end of the rip and, while having someone hold the rip together, sew it about ½” away from the sides of the raw edge. The thread should bridge the spot where the tear is. Sew along the whole length of the tear. When you’re done, apply Fray Check along the repair, focusing on the needle holes. This blends it all together so the repair is less noticeable.


If the hole in your seat is under two inches around, you should be able to repair it on your own. Holes of this sie can be caused by cigarettes, animals, or sharp objects and can be fairly deep. Over two inches in damage means you will probably have to take the vehicle to a professional simply because there is no way to do a big job like this on your own.

There is a product called Heat N’ Bond Ultrahold available at most craft stores. You’ll also need a piece of material that is the same color and texture as the seat as well as some cotton muslin. Cut the fabric to fit a little bit wider than the diameter of the hole. Neatly and evenly trim the edges of the hole. Then, cut the Heat N’ Bond to size four inches around the hole. Heat your iron to the “silk” setting and bond the muslin to the Heat N’ Bond. Let cool.

The next steps can be a little tricky. Put the paper side up and the muslin side down over the hole. Position and remove the paper. Tuck the colored fabric in as well so it covers the hole. Protect the area with fabric then iron over it. Let cool.

There are detailed instructions on the products as well. The biggest thing to check is that the seat material can be heated somewhat. You do not want to do more damage than is already done.

DIY Repairs for Leather

Leather car seats are a durable, smart-looking interior for a car but still end up with wear and tear. If the damage is significant, you’ll need a professional repair but if it is just a scratch, you can do it on your own. The leather has a protective topcoat so a lot of light damage tends to affect only this layer which is fairly easy to address.

First, try to buff out the mark with a leather cream. All it takes is a cream and soft cloth. Buffing the area with little circles and may take care of minor damage. If that is not successful, clean around the damaged area and let it dry. Buy an appropriate acrylic lacquer from the hardware store and mist a little bit on the area. Let it dry and then add extra coats until the scratch is no longer noticeable.

DIY to Repair Vinyl

While vinyl is not in a lot of newer cars, there are a lot of older models and some limited modern ones that use it. Vinyl repair requires some special products but it is certainly doable on your own. You should be able to work smaller tears, cracks, and holes as needed.

There are various vinyl repair kits available. Some work on vinyl, others on both leather and vinyl. They work by applying a matching liquid to the damaged area and then using special paper for matching the texture. Heat sets the liquid and the seat is repaired. There are also liquid patches that do not require color matching. Just dry and set.

Time to Reupholster

When your car upholstery needs major repairs, it may be time to call in the professionals. Unless you have great confidence in your ability to do it yourself, calling a professional is a good idea as you do not want to make a bad situation worse. You should consider reaching out if:

  • There’s a need for your car to be perfect or show quality. DIY repairs will never be completely unnoticeable.
  • The repair has a hole, tear, or deep scratch. While there are DIY repair kits for lighter repairs, when the damage is substantial, these kits will not be able to take care of them.
  • If the damage is around the seat belt or other safety parts, then it needs professional work as you do not want to affect anyone’s safety.

Final Thoughts

Doing DIY interior restoration is a good idea if the project is not too big. There are various ways to go about it; however, if it’s a big issue, you need professional repair or replacement done to avoid making the situation worse with DIY repair.

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