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Used Cars: Make an Older Car New with a Custom Leather Interior

People have been sprucing up their used cars since the first Model T rolled out of the Ford Piquette Avenue plant in Detroit. Whether it’s customizing, repainting or tinting the windows, it’s what has kept the vehicle aftermarket industry in the black.

Showing an older car a little love not only makes us feel better, but can breathe new life into it. As with renovating a bathroom or kitchen in your home, fixing up an older car in some significant way can make it feel new all over again. Used cars don’t need to seem tired and worn out.

One way to revitalize an older car is replacing the interior. At first blush, overhauling a car’s cabin may seem a bit drastic and expensive, but it doesn’t need to be.

We recently sat down with Doug Johnson, the OEM program director at Montebello, California’s Katzkin Leather. Because his main job is to liaise with carmakers regarding custom-leather interiors, it’s not surprising that our discussion quickly turned to the benefits of revitalizing a vehicle’s cabin.

The Whys

Who knew? We all have repeatedly heard, in most cases, vehicles are a necessity and not an investment. With that in mind, spending hundreds or thousands of dollars replacing a car’s interior with a new leather one may seem, well, silly at best, and a colossal waste of money at worst. Pointing this out to Johnson, we asked why the average someone would spend the dough on an aftermarket leather interior. We were a little surprised at the variety of reasons.

Of course, there are consumers out there who simply want what they want and are willing to pay for it. These are the people wanting an interior to match their favorite team’s colors or maybe the logo of their business. It also includes consumers who find a new car on a dealer’s lot that has everything they want except leather. The majority of custom-leather interiors go into new cars, often before the owner takes delivery. These are installations arranged through the new-car dealer, and in many cases, the cost is folded into the new-car purchase price.

As for used cars, most leather-interior buyers fall into three main categories. Some people keep a car until the wheels fall off. Years of even normal wear and tear can take their toll. Interiors fade and absorb stains, and rip and tear. Replacing an interior is certainly more affordable than buying a new (or newer) car.

In the sale of an older car, there are always two sides: buyer and seller. For a seller, a new interior can mask a lot of sins, such as years of being filled with cigarette smoke or excessive wear and tear. For a buyer, perhaps it’s the perfect car except for that ratty, worn-out interior. If everything else is right, it can make sense to buy the car and replace the interior. "If you’ve got a car with good bones, but rough on the inside," Johnson explained, "a new interior is the perfect solution."

The Costs

As with just about anything, leather interiors come at a price; but it may be less, maybe a lot less, than you imagine. According to Johnson, when buying a leather interior, 100 percent of consumers cover the seats, 80 percent the center console and about 40 percent the door panels.

Consumers not only choose what sections of the vehicle to cover, but also select among grades of leather. They may specify perforated or embossed surfaces. Perhaps they want contrast stitching or an embroidered logo. There are all sorts of upsells.

The average Katzkin installation, Johnson advised, prices out between $1,200 and $2,000, and is warrantied for three years or 36,000 miles. And more good news: your car isn’t tied up for days. Most installations require four to eight hours, and can be performed the next day.

What it means to you: Installing a new leather interior in an older car isn’t as daunting an experience as you might think. It can renew your love affair with your ride, make it more valuable to a potential buyer or address a buyer’s objection. "You really can buy that new-car smell," Johnson quipped.


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