Seat covers are one of those things that many drivers overlook when they are first buying a new vehicle. When you're checking out cars, you'll definitely spare a moment to check out how the upholstery looks and appreciate how it feels when you first go for a test drive in your new car. The upholstery is one of those added elements that can boost the value of a vehicle if it's made from something like leather, for instance. But if you want to preserve the upholstery for any length of time, you may want to invest in some seat covers to ensure that the upholstery stays in good shape and you don't have to worry about it getting worn out or staining as a result of whatever you might be doing in your car.
Custom seat covers that are made for your car can cost upwards of several hundred dollars depending on where you go to buy them. Of course you can also pick up generic seat covers at a store like Walmart that are only going to set you back perhaps $10 to $30 each and they will get the job done pretty well in terms of keeping your seat protected from outside messes.
A DIY seat cover can offer you the same degree of protection as a custom seat cover or one of those generic ones you can pick up at Walmart, but it also brings with it the added value of looking like anything you want. The only limit to the design of a DIY seat cover is your imagination. As long as you can find the right materials and the right pattern, you can use your creativity and design anything you want that's going to be made to precisely fit your vehicle. That puts you head and shoulders above the generic, off the shelf covers that you can buy. They also have an advantage over those custom ones by being quite a bit cheaper in terms of the materials that you're going to need to buy.
Let's take a look at what you need to know about DIY seat covers and see just how difficult they are to make in terms of materials and labour.
What Material is Best for Car Seat Covers?
Neoprene: When it comes to making your own car seat covers a good choice that you may want to look into is a fabric like neoprene. This is the same stuff that they make wetsuits out of. That means it's going to be waterproof but also pretty comfortable as well. It's 98% rubber so it's also easy to clean off, and they're good at wicking away sweat moisture as well, so the seats will be pretty comfortable even in the height of summer.
Fake Leather: You could use real leather but leather-look vinyl material is a much more popular and affordable choice for most vehicles. You'll see these covers in taxis all the time. It's waterproof so it can easily wipe away any messes if you spill food or drinks on it. The big downside to using any of these leather materials for making your seat covers is that they could get very hot, especially in the summer. If you're wearing shorts and it's a hot day you may find yourself sticking to the seat cover.
Canvas: Canvas is a very popular choice for seat covers because it is durable and rugged. It can handle a lot of abuse without showing any damage and it reacts fairly well to spills. The big downside to making a seat cover out of canvas is that it may be a little too rugged. It's not the most comfortable fabric to sit on and if you move the wrong way it can be abrasive.
Velour: If you want a pretty basic seat cover then velour might be a good choice. This material closely mimics what normal upholstery looks like anyway, so if you design it right you can get a velour seat cover that looks like you don't have a seat cover on at all. If you're not into making your seat stand out visually, this could be a great choice. It's comfortable to sit on although it won't be waterproof, and it will wear out quicker than some of the other materials. However, it is pretty cheap to buy.
Mesh: If you do a lot of driving in hot climates, like very far south or in desert climates, then mesh might be a good choice for a seat cover. It's very breathable and will keep you cooler than most other materials but it's certainly not waterproof in any way and it's not durable either because of the holes that are in it.
Denim: If you're looking to invest a little more money in a seat cover then you can buy some denim to get the job done. This is the same material that blue jeans are made out of, so you know it's going to be rugged and durable. It's a bit harder to work with so if you're not used to making seat covers then you might have some difficulty getting this sewn together properly unless you have some extensive sewing skills already.
Fur: If you're really looking to fancy up your seat so you might want to go with some acrylic fur. It's synthetic so you don't have to worry about harming any animals, but it does look kind of like sheepskin. It's usually pretty plush although not as luxurious as real sheepskin might be and it's cheaper as a result.
Is a Car Seat Cover Even Necessary?
The question of whether or not a car seat cover is even necessary really depends on your own personal views of how you want your car to look and feel. Obviously, a car seat cover is going to help protect your car’s upholstery, but you could make an argument that it's not 100% necessary. There are some definite benefits to having a proper car seat cover, however.
Keeping Your Seat Clean: It can be hard to keep the inside of your car clean, especially if you do a lot of driving or have a lot of other people in your vehicle. Not everyone eats in their car, but some of us do and of course there are cup holders in there for a reason. There are plenty of opportunities for things to spill or rub off of what you're wearing including your pants and your shoes that could potentially damage the upholstery in your car, or at least give it a stained and dirty look that makes it hard to clean when you get it detailed.
Seat covers give you that added layer of protection so that if something does make a mess, you could at least pull the cover off and wash it with it having to worry about the upholstery. This will go a long way to improving the resale value of your car if you have seat covers that are absorbing the brunt of the damage from any drink and food residue that may get spilled. That way if you do want to sell your car down the road, you're going to have a clean seat still because they were covered the whole time.
Comfort: Depending on what you make a car seat cover out of, you could definitely increase the comfort of the seats in your car. The right material can ensure that the car seat is able to warm up faster in cold winter months or keep you cooler during the hot summer months. Likewise, if you use something with a little bit of padding it might feel a bit nicer and of course there are massaging type seat covers that you can make as well that will help keep you feeling relaxed especially on long drives when your legs are your back might start to suffer the effects of sitting in one place for too long.
Style: Cars cost a lot of money so there's no harm in wanting it to look a certain way. Many drivers are willing to pay quite a bit of money for trim packages that provide the cool aesthetic they're looking for to make their vehicle visually appealing. These kinds of things don't improve the performance in any way, but they look nice and on some level that's just as important as having a car that runs well. When it comes to DIY seat covers you have the freedom to make your seat cover look like anything you want. You can go with animal prints or something incredibly bright, or something understated and sleek, whatever your personal style is can easily be reflected in a simple seat cover that you make yourself.
Is it Hard to Reupholster Car Seats?
If given the option between using a seat cover and reupholstering your car seat yourself, you're probably going to want to go with just making or buying a car seat cover. Reupholstering a car seat is actually a pretty difficult job and if you don't have experience with it, it may be harder to do than you think. Unlike typical auto repairs, this is a different ball of wax all together. It requires a very different skill set to properly upholster any kind of furniture, let alone a car seat. Ensuring that you are properly covering the seat and securing it in place can take a lot of time and skill to get done. If you've never done it before, we really don't recommend giving it a try unless this is something you want to learn as a practical skill you'll be using in the future.
How to Make a DIY Seat Cover
As long as you have a sewing machine and some skill using it, it shouldn't be too hard for you to make your own seat cover at home. If you have the right materials the hardest part is often finding a proper pattern to work off of. Fortunately, there is a bit of a cheat to doing this and that is simply buying a car seat cover that fits your car already. Get the cheapest one that you can find, and as we said you can sometimes get these for about $10 and use that as the pattern for your own seat cover. It doesn't matter what it looks like because you're not going to be using it, so you can get literally the cheapest thing you can find because you just need to copy How It's Made not what it looks like.
Once you have a seat that you can use as the basis for a pattern and the sewing machine, you're going to need your fabric which can be anything from the list that we've already provided, or something else altogether if you had another idea in mind.
You need something to draw your pattern on, just some paper or cardboard will be fine as long as it's big enough. And you can use about 1.5 yards of 1/2 inch wide elastic as well as it's going to be needed to help secure your car seat cover once you have it made. Beyond that you'll need the basics for sewing such as thread, scissors, pins and so on.
When it comes to making your seat cover, you're going to need about 1 and 3/4 yards a fabric for each part of your seat. That means 1 and 3/4 yards to handle the back and 1 and 3/4 yards for the actual seat part itself and you could also benefit from the same amount of some kind of quilt batting to add some cushioning to your seat for the purposes of making it more comfortable.
Take apart the cheap seat cover you bought along the seams that are in it. As long as it fits comfortably on the seat the way you want it to then it's the right size and shape for what you're going to make. Once you separated into a back and a seat portion you can then trace those parts on to the paper to make your pattern.
Once your pattern is cut out, you can pin it to the actual material you're going to use and, if you're going to sew any padding in it then you can line up your layers at this point and pin them together to prepare for sewing.
Remember to place the right sides together and the left sides together, the bottoms together the tops together with the foam on the inside so that you can start sewing. You're going to be flipping this inside out afterwards, so the padding on the inside is also in place.
At this point all you're literally doing this recreating the original seat cover. Follow the construction and include the elastic straps where they were on the original seat cover so that your new cover will fit snugly to your seat. It's a pretty simple process overall, and if you were comfortable sewing this shouldn't be an issue. If you're not comfortable sewing then you may want to find a friend who can give you a hand doing this.
The Bottom Line
Making your own seat covers offers you a degree of creativity and control over the way the inside of your car looks. Of course, you always have the option to go with custom covers, but this could be a much cheaper path to take and one that gives you the opportunity to go with any crazy design that you can think of. Just make sure you're following a pattern, especially one from a pre-existing seat cover that you know fits in your car, and everything should go smoothly.