(Left)Atlas seats from Sears Seating come in vinyl, Ultraleather, or a fabric called Mordura.
(Right)Bostrom offers seats in vinyl, velour, cloth, leather and Ultraleather. Replacement covers can often be ordered through the dealer or distributor where the seat or cab was bought.
With so many vital parts to worry about, it’s easy for an owner-operator to overlook something as seemingly trivial as a seat cover. But nothing takes your cab interior from classy to shabby as fast as worn-out leather or torn cloth. The choice of material also has a lot to do with comfort.
“If the seat looks terrible after 50,000 miles, it doesn’t matter if it’s still good,” says Dick Fox, vice president and general manager for Morbern Fabrics, which supplies vinyl to heavy truck makers. “Automatically, people feel the entire rest of the seat is bad.”
Makers of seats and trucks have long sought stylish materials that can withstand constant use, and that are comfortable and easy to clean. Drivers now can choose from a variety of seat covers, including vinyl, cloth, Mordura, leather and Ultraleather, each with its own subcategories, advantages and disadvantages.
“Vinyl doesn’t soil like cloth, and it’s usually on the less expensive seats,” says Ray Miller, vice president of aftermarket sales for National Seating.
Yet, vinyl can get hot and can tear easily, says Ron Mock, director of commercial sales and marketing for Sears Seating.
Contrary to popular belief, vinyl can last longer than leather, which has a tendency to dry out and crack, Fox says. “Quite a few of our vinyls are on seats with million-mile warranties.”
Vinyl also can be matched perfectly with the interior, such as panels and dashboards, which are made of a thicker version of the same material. But cloth is easy to match, too, says John Dittmer, product marketing manager for Bostrom Seating.
Steve Foster of Millington, Tenn., has been driving for 33 years. He has a combination vinyl-and-cloth seat that came standard in his truck, but he’d just as soon have all cloth. “It’s cool and doesn’t get hot,” he says.
Cloth is most comfortable because it is softer and breathes better, allowing for faster dissipation of heat or cold. But it is also known for staining easily and being harder to clean, Mock says.
For Ned Williams, an owner-operator from Troy, Ala., cloth is the only way to go. “It’s cool when you get in to sit, and it doesn’t blister your legs.”
One fabric offered by Morbern, called Mordura, is made of Type 66 nylon. It has been popular for 20 years because of its durability, Fox says.
“When the seat builders got into a contest over which one could warrant a seat for the longest, they eventually got up to million-mile warranties,” Fox says. “The problem was that there aren’t a lot of cover materials that run for a million miles, and when you warrant a seat, you warrant the cover.”
Modura is treated with a fire retardant, a Teflon water repellent and another finish that provides light stability and wear resistance. But while it is cleanable, Mordura still is a fabric; dirt and grime eventually seep into the seat.
For Larry Baker, an owner-operator from Atlanta, style and durability are the perfect combination. He has cloth seats in his 1999 Volvo 660, but says the material has started splitting at the seams. “I’d rather have all leather. I just like the texture of it and the firmness. It adds class to the inside of your truck, and it’s much easier to clean.”
Likewise, Mandy Gelien of Stroudsburg, Pa., a company driver for Metropolitan Trucking, says she would trade her cloth seat for leather. Leather “is really comfortable, and newer leathers are stain-resistant, so it’s easy to clean,” Gelien says.
For those who want the ultimate quality, leather often is the best choice. It’s breathable like cloth and very durable, but its big disadvantage is expense, Miller says. Sears doesn’t even offer leather because it is too costly, Mock says.
“Leather connotes luxury, but I’m not so sure it provides the luxury that people think it does for the price,” Fox says. And the plastic coating put on many leather products negates its breathability, he says.
“I think both fabric and vinyl can give leather a run for its money,” Fox says. “You buy leather for your ego. You buy fabric or vinyl because it lasts long.”
As a cost-saving and animal-friendly option to real leather, which requires a good quality hide with consistent color and no scars, many seat makers have turned to Ultraleather. A product of Ultrafabrics LLC, it is made of polyurethane that has a soft feel, says spokeswoman Melissa Gallo.
The material cleans easily with warm water or bleach, leaving no watermarks behind, and does not absorb odors, Gallo says. It also stays comfortable in all temperatures, she says.
Those who can’t decide on only one type of material have another option. “Buyers can also get combinations of materials, such as vinyl side gussets with a cloth face, or cloth with Ultraleather inserts,” Mock says. These combinations drive the price up or down depending on the materials. For example, a cloth-and-leather seat would be more expensive than all-cloth or all-vinyl but less expensive than all-leather.
Many original equipment styles for Freightliner and Mack are vinyl on the outside with velour or cloth on the inside, says Gene Smith, general manager of the Bostrom Seating parts distribution center. “You can really get any material on any seat.”
Drivers who want special features such as heating, cooling or massage can use any material, so long as it allows the seat to breathe. Cloth breathes naturally; leather and vinyl can be perforated as needed, Dittmer says.
Cloth is the most popular material for customers of National and Bostrom. Sears sells an equal number of cloth and Ultraleather seats, Mock says, with owner-operators usually buying on the higher end.
GETTING A NEW SKIN
Drivers who want their cab interior to look like new might change their seat cover every three to five years, recommends Gene Smith of Bostrom Seating.
While seat makers typically provide new seats, the companies do support their existing customers with replacement covers. In most instances, drivers can simply go back to the dealership or distributor where they bought the truck or seat and order a replacement cover.
In the typical replacement, the original cover comes off and the new one fits over the existing foam and cushions, says John Dittmer of Bostrom. Pads and foam are sold separately in various kits and must be replaced by the dealer.
Larry Ward, who works in the parts department at MHC Kenworth of Texarkana, says it usually takes about four weeks to get the cover delivered but less than an hour to install it. He says owners must either take their seat apart to replace the cover or take it to an upholstery shop to have the new cover stapled to the seat.
Bob Norman, parts manager at Oklahoma City Freightliner, says his dealership orders seats from Seats Inc., Sears, National and Bostrom. “Usually the OEM replacement covers are taken down to an upholstery shop. They usually cut the seam, pull the old cover off, put the new one on and stitch it up,” he says.
Having the cover replaced by an upholstery shop usually adds $50 to $75 to the price per seat.
Ward says he has ordered vinyl covers for $150, cloth covers that ranged from $120 to $150 and leather covers that cost anywhere from $175 to $250. And buying a new cushion can add about $30 to the price.
“Usually when you get close to the $200 mark, most people will just order a new seat because you can get a good seat for less than $400,” he says.