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Sun Damage: Protecting and Repairing Your Car’s Upholstery

car seats

The sun and heat present a damaging combination for cars, and this is especially true for the interior. Left untreated, dashboards may crack and other surfaces may fade or tear. Don’t let the summer heat get you down, though. There are steps you can take to protect your vehicle from sun damage. Even when damage is apparent, you still have options at your disposal.

The Power of Sun and Heat

Even on cool days, the interior of a car can become perilously hot within an hour, underscoring the danger of leaving a child or a pet in a parked car with the windows up. You never should do this, as it can lead to grave consequences.

This is the leather seat from the front-passenger side of a 2007 Acura RL. It is trimmed in soft leather and has perforations for heat dispersal and enhanced comfort over long trips.Car manufacturers take temperature extremes into account when engineering cars to ensure that the various plastics, metals and fabrics can withstand the heat or cold. Aesthetic sun damage is still difficult to avoid, however, unless you have tinted glass with UV-blocking capabilities, which most vehicles do not.

Using a windshield sun protector, wiping the dashboard and other surfaces with a protectant and applying a separate protectant to seats can help. Additionally, parking in the shade is a simple tactic that will help avert sun damage.

The Effect of Sun Damage

If you have leather seats, the natural oils contained therein will gradually evaporate, causing the seats to dry and stiffen. In a worst-case scenario, the seats will crack. Once leather seats have dried out, there is no way to replenish the expended natural oils. Replenishing with olive oil just doesn’t do the trick. It’s important to protect your leather upholstery, especially in the summer.

Car upholstery — made of cloth, suede or imitation leather — is also subject to fading, tearing and, in certain cases, cracking. Cloth seats may be sewn or patched, but repairing the other materials may be more difficult. Besides, those results never seem quite right.

Once your vehicle has been damaged by the sun, however, you do have a few options at your disposal.

Damaged Upholstery: Two Solutions

When your car’s upholstery is damaged beyond feasible repair, you have two options at your disposal.

First, you can replace the damaged seats in entirety. Typically, this involves visiting local salvage yards and trying your luck; you can sometimes find similar seats in junked cars. However, even if you succeed in finding seats that match the color and shape of your current seats, it is highly unlikely that they haven’t suffered a similar fate.

Second, if you can’t repair or replace the damaged upholstery, you can always cover it. Seat covers can revitalize your ride and prevent further damage from the summer sun. Shop for seat covers made of heavy-duty saddle blanket fabric for maximum durability. With these, wiping up messes and vacuuming seating surfaces is a breeze. These covers are easy to install and will fit most standard seats, with or without headrests.

Before sinking into a summer malaise, make sure to take the necessary steps to protect your vehicle’s upholstery.

Check out all the interior products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on the effect of sun damage on your vehicle, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Matthew Keegan.


Matthew C. Keegan View All

Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

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