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rob's garage

Hi Rob

My wife and I purchased a Toyota Sienna LE in September 2008. We have three children and after test driving all the usual suspects, we bought the Sienna. It has been the smartest purchase we ever made but I have a problem.

While cleaning the car recently I noticed some cracks on the side of the driver's seat. The "leather" on the side of the seats is actually vinyl. The leather option my wife and I purchased (for its stain and wear resistance) is only "leather seat inserts," not full leather.

Is it typical for manufacturers to just use leather for inserts, not the entire seat? The cracking of the vinyl occurred after less than three years and 65,000 km of driving. Is this a manufacturing defect or typical wear and tear? My wife (who is not a big lady) uses this vehicle as her daily driver. The other seats don't have the same wear and tear.

I drive a 2005 Sierra Crew Cab SLT with leather and it shows no signs of cracking, which is my only comparison. So what gives?

Thanks, Ed

To answer your first question; this is typical of most manufacturers. The only time you get full leather is the purchase of very high-end vehicles. This practice has been going for years and is also duplicated by household furniture suppliers. Take a look at the next mound of flyers that arrive from furniture stores. They will tend to promote that certain sofas or love seats are "full leather".

As for your second question; unfortunately, this cracking is typical. Unless you are an avid reader of your owner's manual, you won't know what steps to take to keep your vehicle looking like new.

I treat my leather seats with leather dressing. This product comes in many forms and can be purchased at most auto supply stores. I prefer to use products that contain neatsfoot* oil and lanolin, as these ingredients re-hydrate leather.

The type of clothing your wife wears will have an effect on the drying out of the leather. Consider the number of times she slides in and out of the van. This is akin to drying your hands several times a day without washing them or using hand lotion. It doesn't take long to dry out leather under these conditions.

Another problem is air conditioning, which not only cools the air, it dries it out as well. And you may not think you're using it, but in most cases, each time the heater controls are placed in the "Defrost" position, the A/C is automatically engaged - to assist in drying the air to speed up the defogging process.

Start with a good quality cleaner to ensure oils and grime have been removed from the leather. This step helps the conditioner do its job. Just like your hands - ask you wife - putting hand lotion on won't do much good if your hands are oily or dirty.

If all this sounds a little over-whelming, remember that you are protecting an expensive investment Ed.

How often you use this system depends on many factors, but I usually do a pinch test. Every few months, pinch the seat area. If the leather feels soft and can be pinched easily, and if after pinching, the leather springs back to its original shape, you're good to go. If the leather is difficult to pinch or the leather doesn't go back to its original condition immediately, you need to clean and condition the seats. This won't be too arduous as usually the driver's seat takes most abuse.

* Neatsfoot oil is rendered calf shin-bone and foot parts (not the hoof). Neat is an Old English term for cow. Lanolin is the naturally occurring wax that is found in lamb's wool. Both are natural skin (leather) conditioners and protectors.