There are a few different types of leather-like materials that can be used in a vehicle. Although many fabrics look and feel like leather, it might not be real leather. Fake leather is a commonly used product in regular priced vehicles and can be known via a few different names.
Why different types of leather
A large part of the reason to use a different type of leather is based on price. Polyurethane, or leatherette can be a lot cheaper to use then actual leather. This can be a difference of several hundreds of dollars per interior. A price difference like this can be the difference between good sales, and moderate sales. Manufacturers like Ford who sell hundreds of cars every day, benefit greatly from these small savings. It also makes a luxury leather interior possible for those with a small budget. Although leatherette costs a lot less then real leather, it is less durable. There are more cars with “fake leather” used in its interior, then cars with real leather.
The different types used
Also known as: polyurethane, leatherette, faux leather, pleather, PVC leather and artificial leather. This type of fabric is made from a PVC or PU type of coating on top of a polyester base layer. By changing to production process slightly the manufacturer is able to chance the appearance of the finish. This can be the difference between slightly shiny leather, very matte finish (more like suede) or a very uneven finish (to mimick the realistic hue in natural leather). Leatherette is not porous and doesn’t breath properly. The advantage is that is doesn’t crack easily and needs little maintenance.
Although fairly uncommon, it can be used for custom interiors. The cork leather is a natural fiber made from back of cork oak that has been compressed.
This natural type of leather is made from animal hides and come from several different animals. Most common used type of leather is cow-hide, but several different animal hides can be used. In the early days, leather was only processed to increase its longevity and finish, but more recently the use of dies, coatings and complete colored finishes have been used more commonly. Real leather very rarely has its original color, being painted and coated to whatever color wanted.
Some more luxurious brands (such as Lamborghini and Rolls Royce) actually have extremely strict rules about the quality of the leather and products used with it. The very high grade type of leather is much more expensive but offers vastly improved looks and durability. Badly processed leather (which is common in regular priced vehicles) suffers more from cracks, color fading, lack of stain repelling and overal wear and tear.
Recognising real or fake leather
For an untrained person it can be very difficult to see or feel the difference between real or fake leather. The easiest way is to look at the base of the fabric, if this resembles a woven type of fabric, chances are very big that the leather is not natural. This doesn’t always hold truth as some leather manufacturers strengthen the leather itself with a fabric-type backing. It requires a professional to recognize fake or real leather.
Maintaining leather or leatherette
Maintenance is easiest with fake leather. The PU leather can withstand many chemicals and suffers much less from incorrect cleaning products or techniques, but it might also require more regular cleaning due it lacking its stain repellent capabilities. Real leather needs regular maintenance as well, but in a different way. The coating needs to be kept in good shape to hold the color and repel stains but the leather underneath needs to be fed to keep it supple and flexible. Regular maintenance can be done by any regular person with proper products, but yearly maintenance should be done by a trained person.
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