DRIVE Leather on car seats is varied

By Jim Mateja

Chicago Tribune

Q:The dealer told me I could order a new car with "leather seating surfaces." When I asked what that meant, he said it was the same as "leather seats." I'm not so sure. A friend who does car interiors told me leather hides come in varying quality and prices. With due respect to Ricardo Montalban, how can I tell fine "Corinthian leather" from pretenders from an el-cheapo cow? -- R.N., Arlington Heights, Ill.

A:Even an el-cheapo cow has a mother, so please don't be so indelicate. As a rule, when you are told a car offers leather seating surfaces, it means that the seat bottom, back and sometimes the headrest -- those portions that come in contact with the body -- are made from leather and the rest of the seat covering can be vinyl.

When told the vehicle comes with leather seats, it means the seats front to back, side to side and top to bottom are all leather.


Usually leather seating surfaces are offered in lower-cost vehicles, and leather seats are offered in more expensive ones.

Leather does come in different grades, and we were told you may find that when purchasing leather seating surfaces, the cowhide used may have somewhat less noble lineage than the critter sacrificed for full leather seats.

Q:How can I do a comparable evaluation of the air-conditioning systems of cars? I'd like to buy a used car, but I'd like to know that the air-conditioning system is superior to my present car. Superior means it removes humidity, cools the air and operates quietly. -- J.S., Daphne, Ala.

A:The operation of the air-conditioning system in a used car probably depends on the care and service the previous owner or owners gave it. So the best way to compare systems is to get in the used car you are considering buying on a hot, humid day and turn on the A/C to learn how long it takes to remove the humidity and cool the air -- and whether it does so quietly.

Q:I like almost everything about the Toyota Avalon but would prefer a manual transmission. Does Toyota have any plans for offering Avalon with a manual? -- L.G., Park Ridge, Ill.

A:Nope. Too few would buy it, so there's no need to offer it.

Jim Mateja writes about cars for the Chicago Tribune

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