Heading into the eighth month of OVR’s Land Cruiser 100 (LC100) project vehicle ownership, we decided to do something about its aging and worn-out leather steering wheel.
Whether your overland project vehicle is a decades-old fourth-hand truck (like ours is) or you’ve simply owned your now high-milage off-roader since it was new, it’s likely that by now, it deserves some interior TLC.
All vehicles require maintenance to keep them in tip-top shape and that is especially true of older ones. While it can be more pressing that a mechanical part gets replaced or more satisfying that an exterior part is upgraded (see our bull bar bumper upgrade), it’s also important not to neglect a car or truck’s interior pieces.
As its driver, you constantly interact with, sit on and touch items such as the seats, armrests, buttons, switches, levers and steering wheel during the operation of your vehicle. It is our belief that a well-upkept interior can greatly raise one’s overall satisfaction and pride of ownership of their ride.
As our 1999 Toyota Land Cruiser project vehicle approaches its 25th birthday, there are plenty of items that we’d like to replace and restore in its interior. The first item we looked to restore is its steering wheel. After going through three previous owners and nearly 300,000 miles on its odometer, the Land Cruiser’s aging and worn leather steering wheel has seen plenty of wear. Considering all the driving its done, its condition isn’t bad but it’s surely seen better days.
There are several options when it comes to replacing or restoring a worn-out leather steering wheel. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of each.
- OEM New: You can outright buy a new replacement from the dealer if it’s still offered for your vehicle. Amazingly, at the time of this article’s writing, Toyota still has brand new steering wheels in stock for the quarter-century-old Land Cruiser 100 Series. Getting a factory fresh, minty new steering wheel is the ultimate option in our opinion, but it can come at a preventative cost. We’ve seen OEM replacements for the 100 Series list in the $700 to $800 range online and at dealerships. Ouch!
- Aftermarket New: If shelling out a bucket full of clams for OEM is above your pay-grade (as it is for us), you can opt for a newly manufactured aftermarket steering wheel instead. We’ve seen these offered in the $300 range, which makes them a more affordable option. Reviews of these overseas-made (read Made in China) replicas seem favorable, but the jury is still out on their leather quality, durability and fitment; plus, quality issues may be something to look out for too. In our case, we couldn’t find one that matched our vehicle’s interior color so this was an option we passed on.
- Used: Another option is to search for a good condition used OEM steering wheel. We tried this and found that your chances of successfully finding an acceptable replacement depends on how old your vehicle is and how long you’re willing to keep the search on for. This may be the most cost effective of the choices, as we see used wheels sell for as little as $100, but their condition is can be nearly the same as the steering wheel we’re looking to replace or more often than not, much, much worse. Hunting online and at junk yards didn’t yield us any examples that we’d want to place our hands on day-in and day-out.
- Restore: Steering wheel restoration is ultimately the choice we went with. It can be done DIY-style with a relatively inexpensive kit and a lot of elbow grease or you can have an expert do it for you. While we enjoy working with our hands, we’re not leather workers by any means so we decided to pony up a few extra bucks to have a pro take care of our steering wheel’s restoration for us. We figure the steering wheel is something we touch every time we drive the Land Cruiser so it was worth the cost to get it done right.
There are many ways to go about getting your ratty old steering wheel restored. Taking it to a local automotive interior upholsterer is one of them or as mentioned earlier, you can do it yourself with a DIY repair kit. We chose to send our steering wheel out to one of the leading companies in the nation to handle it for us.
Rockwall, Texas-based Craft Customs is a family-owned operation that’s been around for over thirty years. The company has a tremendous reputation and specializes in repairing, restoring and customizing steering wheels and also offers dashboard trim and accents.
After seeing the abundance of repaired, restored and customized steering wheels on their website, there was little doubt that this is the company we wanted to proceed with.
We filled out Craft Customs website’s steering wheel restoration quote form to find out how much our job would cost. Other than basic contact and vehicle information, they also ask for a description of the work you’re looking to get done and pictures of your steering wheel.
We had our reply within a few hours after submitting the form. We were looking at a quote of $399 for a complete restoration that included the old leather stripped off the wheel and brand new, OEM-quality leather expertly installed and stitched on.
The process would take between two to three-weeks including shipping to and from Craft Customs’ facility.
Sourcing A Loaner
It was time to source a loaner steering wheel. Because getting your vehicle’s steering wheel re-done requires you to remove and ship it to Craft Customs, you’ll most likely need a loaner wheel so you can still move your vehicle around if needed.
If you have space to let your car or truck sit while you wait the few weeks for the wheel to be restored and returned to you, then a loaner isn’t necessary. In our case, we still needed to drive the truck during this time.
We resorted to buying a truly beat-up steering wheel on eBay that was in way worse condition than the one that was in the truck for $60. We sent it instead of our original wheel, because why not? Our old one was worn but not destroyed like the loaner we sourced was and since it’s getting entirely re-done anyway, we figured we could offset the cost by selling our decent condition steering wheel. It should fetch at least $100 if not more on the used parts market.
Aside from restorations, Craft Customs can also customize your steering wheel with different materials, colors and stitching types so if you’re looking for a unique look for your steering wheel, there are plenty of options available. If you want to get fancy, the sky’s the limit since this is completely bespoke work. Want an Alcantara wheel with BMW M-style tri-color stitching? Have at it.
Since we just wanted an OEM look, we opted for them to choose a leather and stitching color that best matched our truck’s stock Toyota “Oak” interior. We did request for them to use smooth leather at the top and bottom of the wheel and perforated leather on the left and right positions, like on our original wheel. We also chose a “baseball stitch” which is Craft Customs’ standard style of stitching.
We have to hand it Craft Customs’ level of service. Their team kept us informed the whole way through the job from receiving our steering wheel, when it was being worked on, job competition pictures and a shipping notification when it was on its way back to us.
After a little under 3-weeks, we received our steering wheel back. Talk about night and day, the wheel is simply stunning. The craftsmanship is top-notch as is the leather that they used. It’s hard to believe that this is the same battered wheel that we sent in for work.
The smooth and perforated leathers feel great in the hand and the baseball stitching is expertly done. There is even a hint of leather smell, which we like. The color is close, but a shade lighter and is definitely close enough for our taste. We quickly swapped our original wheel with this newly re-done one and marveled at the difference.
This upgrade may not move the needle for some, but for us, it’s something we really wanted to have done. Having a comfortable interior, especially in a vehicle that you spend so much time in, is something we value greatly. With that in mind, a clean steering wheel is key. It certainly helps make this old truck feel a bit less old too. The cost of getting the wheel re-done including shipping back and forth was about $440, the host wheel cost us $60 and we were able to sell our original steering wheel for $120 including the fees that eBay took out, so the final cost of this upgrade set us back about $380. Was it all worth it? To us, absolutely.
Leather Steering Wheel Repair and Restoration
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