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What Is Upholstery In A Car? Interior Auto Parts Explained

what is upholstery in a car

Wondering what automotive upholstery means? Not just car seats, in this article we explain what is upholstery in a car and what the different interior parts in an automotive vehicle are.

Automotive upholstery can be a very complex undertaking for anyone. There are so many different individual parts that must be custom fabricated to ensure that the entire interior of a vehicle matches perfectly. Having said that, for the car enthusiast or avid DIY’er, doing your own upholstery is not impossible, and can actually become a pretty fun hobby if you take the time to learn. In this article we explain the different parts of a car that are considered ‘upholstery’, which can in theory be customized in whatever material you choose.

So, what is upholstery in a car exactly?

You’ve probably heard the term auto, automotive or car upholstery thrown around from time to time. But what is upholstery in a car, actually? In this section, we go through every part of the car interior and discuss each piece that is considered upholstery. Beware, it’s much more than just seats (although that is the most obvious one)! Not all of these parts will be upholstered in every car, since interior designs vary by model and manufacturer.

Car Seats

Seats are some of the hardest parts of any automotive upholstery project. They are also the most obvious, hence why we have put them first up. The seats themselves feature very complex lines and curves, most of which are held in place by the upholstery slipcover itself.

Covers

Unlike household chairs, the seats in cars are not made of wood. As a result, the cover cannot be simply stapled to the frame. Instead, the seats are actually covered by a custom slip that is designed to fit over the curves of the seat and hold them in place. There is generally one for the seat and one for the back. Cars with headrests will have a separate cover if needed.

Armrests

Most cars only have one armrest on each seat, on the inside of the car away from the door. If a car comes with an armrest on the door, then generally it will also have an armrest on the seat itself, unless the car has a standard transmission. These armrests can be covered just like the rest of the seats, to match the design of the interior.

Head Rests

Not all cars have headrests, especially older vehicles. Nevertheless, if a car does have headrests, then it will need to be upholstered accordingly. Headrests can also be quite difficult to upholster, especially in luxury cars that have speakers built into them.

Storage Pockets

Almost all seats have some form of storage built into them. Sedans have pockets on the back of all of the front seats. And, both cars and trucks may also have storage pockets on the front side of the seat. These are not always sewn into or part of the seat upholstery. For vehicles that have molded plastic units, these can be customized and covered to match the rest of the car’s interior.

car doors

The doors of the car are the most important part of any customization project. They are also one of the first parts of any car to get fully customized.

Panel Card

The most important part of a door is the panel. In the UK, this is often referred to as the door card. This panel is composed of compressed fiber material that is designed to resist moisture retention but tends to warp over time. As a result, when restoring cars, the panels are generally replaced altogether. They can be modified to allow larger more interesting speaker configurations, and are covered in a wide variety of materials.

Armrests

Not all doors have armrests. While most cars today, have some form of armrests on the doors, older model cars did not. The armrests in newer cars are part of the molded panel, but they can also be customized just like any other part of the vehicle. In order to ensure that the car matches, the armrests can be covered in vinyl as well as leather.

Storage Bins

Storage bins and pouches are also an important part of the door panel. In newer cars, these are generally molded into the panel material. However, much like the rest of the door, these can be removed or modified to suit the need of the build.

Dashes

The dashes form an integral part of the design of a car and are generally used for routing wiring, gauges, venting, speakers, and more.

Dashboard

In older model cars, the dashboard generally has a metal face and a vinyl cover on top. In newer cars, the face of the dashboard is generally composed of plastic, wood, or composites while the top is covered in vinyl. Any part of the dashboard can be customized and covered in matching vinyl. It is not recommended to use fabric on the dashboard as it is harder to keep clean. Dashboard vinyl should also be textured in order to prevent glare from the sun or oncoming cars.

Console

The console is found between the passenger-side and driver-side seats of the car. In most commercially available passenger cars, the center counsel is usually pretty plain. However, this is one of the best places for customization in any car, which is why it is one of the first places that any enthusiasm looks at.

How to Build a Custom Centre Console – View Video on YouTube

Rear Deck

The rear deck is generally covered in carpet and is found between the back seats of the vehicle and the rear windshield. The manufacturers generally place at least one pair of speakers on the rear deck, but modifiers tend to increase that number to two or even four sets of speakers. The rear deck can be recovered in a carpet after modification, or even covered in vinyl. Like the dashboard, the rear deck should not be covered in fabric when possible. When using vinyl, it must be textured to prevent glare from the sun or vehicles approaching from the rear.

Pillars

The pillars are the smallest yet fundamentally most important structural elements that hold the roof of the car in place.

A-Pillar

The A-Pillar is the vertical support between the front windshield and the front doors of the car. In older American cars, this is generally painted metal. However, in newer cars, the A-Pillars are generally covered by a molded plastic panel. Although not common, the A-Pillars can be customized and even covered in matching vinyl or fabric.

B-Pillar

The B-Pillar is much like the A-Pillar, in that it is a vertical support for the roof. However, in trucks, two-seater coupes, and some hatchbacks, the B-Pillar is the support between the rear windshield and the front doors. In all other cars, it is the vertical support between the front and rear doors. In 2 and 4-door cars, the B-Pillar is generally covered by a molded plastic panel, which can be customized and covered in matching vinyl or fabric.

C-Pillar

The C-Pillar is the vertical support between the rear windshield and the back doors of a 4-door car. In minivans and station wagons, it is the vertical support between the rear seat doors or slider and the rear quarter windows. Much like the B-Pillar, this vertical support is generally covered by a molded plastic panel that can be customized and covered in matching vinyl or fabric.

D-Pillar

The D-Pillar is only found on vans and station wagons and much like the C-Pillar is the final vertical support for some of the largest passenger vehicles. The D-Pillar is also covered by a molded plastic panel, that can be customized and covered in matching vinyl or fabric.

Car Roof

The roof includes anything above the pillars, both inside and outside of the vehicle. While most vehicles do not have anything to upholster outside, convertibles and canvas tops are the exceptions to this rule.

Liner

Every car has a headliner. The headliner is the fabric cover on the inside of the roof of the car. Because of exposure to the elements, the headliner is also one of the first parts of the car’s upholstery to degrade and fall apart. It’s not uncommon to find, older cars with the liner sagging or ripped completely.

Overhead Console

While not all cars have an overhead console, more and more customizers are creating them for their builds. The newer cars that do have an overhead console, are generally composed of molded plastic parts that can also be easily modified. Much like any other component of the interior, the console can be covered in vinyl or fabric.

Custom Headliner Fabrication – View Video on YouTube

Visor

The visor is one part of the car that most people forget to think about when it comes to upholstery. Located at the top edge of the windshield, these flip-down visors help keep the sun out of the driver and passenger’s eyes in the morning and evenings. Since they are covered in fabric, naturally they can be customized to match the rest of the interior.

Convertible Top

Convertible tops are one of the hardest pieces to perfect. They are composed of a number of specially cut and folded pieces of high-quality exterior canvas material that must be stitched together with precision. The canvas undergoes a lot of wear and tear, so it’s important to spend a lot of time perfecting each little segment accordingly. Most convertible tops have both an outer and inner shell that needs to be fabricated.

Canvas Top

While not as popular with newer cars, many older model cars had canvas or vinyl hard tops. These types of cars feature a traditional steel roof, that is then covered by a layer of foam followed by either exterior grade canvas or vinyl. Like a convertible top, each segment must be precisely cut and stitched together in order to fit seamlessly.

Car Floor

Most cars today have some sort of flooring. Although not commonly modified, some projects can include the modification of the carpet or vinyl flooring.

Carpet/Vinyl

Most newer cars feature a carpeted floor. This pressed carpeting is molded to the shape of the floor of the car and requires the complete removal of all seats and center councils that may be in the way. Some custom cars may even have vinyl or leather flooring for the car. Older cars and trucks generally used vinyl for the flooring, and much like the carpet was molded to the shape of the floor of the car.

Liners

Liners, much like the original carpet or vinyl in a car, are molded to the shape of the floor of the car. These can be either purchased or fabricated from a wide variety of materials. Rather than replacing the original carpet or vinyl, many custom cars feature a custom liner instead.

Mats

Most mats can be purchased at automotive stores, and sit on top of the flooring or liner. Although these are generally made of heavy-duty rubbers and plastics, custom-made mats can also be fabricated. It’s important that a car has a mat, as the wear and tear of the heel of the foot will quickly wear way through traditional materials used for automotive flooring.

What is upholstery in a car wrap-up

As you can now see, aside from seats there are numerous parts in a car that can and are considered ‘upholstery’.

In most cases we will be working with car seats, however, if you are feeling more creative especially if you start venturing into replacing your car upholstery with custom fabrics, you may find that upholstering other sections will bring a more complete and cohesive visual design throughout your car interior. That however, is a whole obsession art unto itself, that we don’t cover here. Our next door neighbor who is right into building and racing hot rods could probably tell you all about it, though.

Now that you have a good idea of what parts are considered upholstery in a car, have a look at the rest of our articles on car upholstery here to learn how to maintain, clean, repair and customize your ride.