By on November 20, 2007

mini1europsperfredblack.jpgNow that you’ve attached that cherry faux sunroof you snagged on EBay onto your econobox, it’s time to spruce up the interior. No, I’m not talking about a pine-scented Magic Tree® air freshener (review to follow). Nothing says upwardly mobile motor like a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Now you could stunt down to your local auto parts store and pick-up one of those slide-on leather covers for about twenty bucks. But unless you have hands the size of Sasquatch, you may find this to be a sub-optimal solution. Thankfully, a slimmer, higher quality alternative is available. If properly installed, it adds a tasteful touch to any tiller. 

Wheelskins has been flogging cow skin wheel covers for over thirty years. The Berkeley-based aftermarketeers currently offer three styles of single and two-tone skins to fit virtually any whip’s wheel. The covers come in fourteen colors– from black to jackass yellow– complete with a handy guide for monitor-challenged web surfers and color blind males (“Tan is the color of tobacco or a football.”).  You can mix and match hues for a two-tone covering to complement your fly yellow AMC Pacer– or way-too-black Ferrari F430.

If you buy your cover directly from Wheelskins– which is more expensive than sourcing one of their retailers– you’re looking at an autosartorial investment of $44.95 for a single tone cover, $49.95 for two-tone and $54.95 for the BCBG perforated Euro model. If one of their six standard sizes doesn’t fit your Citroën DS or suchlike, Wheelskins will craft a custom covering for a small additional fee. And yes, they make covers in extra large sizes for your Peterbilt, Freightliner, Kenworth, etc. and dinky sizes for your golf cart and pedal car.

The Wheelskins ordering process starts with a steering wheel measurement. The website provides a chart to determine wheel size based on your vehicle’s year, make and model. Once you’ve determined the exact size required, you’ve got to choose between single or two-tone. I went for Tommy two-tone, opting for a suitably macho red and black combo.

Both versions can be had in EuroPerf– which has nothing to do with scantily-clad women posing behind plate glass windows in Amsterdam’s De Wallen. You can order your EuroPerf skin perforated at the top and bottom of a two tone model, on the sides of a two-tone model, or all around the cover of any model cover. You know; just in case you were wondering.

The Wheelskins box arrived containing the leather cover, a spool of thread, a large sharp needle and instructions. Obviously, very few people (you know whom I mean guys) have the sewing skills required to make a sock puppet– let alone sew a daily use item requiring one hundred plus stitches. And remember: this all must be done within the confines of your car. Although I can cook a mean Quiche and thread a needle with one eye closed, I never got the results I wanted. As the thread started to unravel, I gave up. 

So I let an experienced seamstress go to work on the project. About halfway through, she complained that it would be easier for a rich man to pass through the eye of a camel (or something like that) and gave up. Though I think Florida’s oppressive heat played a part in her surrender, you have been warned.

Another problem arose: the wide spokes of my test vehicle’s helm. If your steering wheel spokes are thin, the Wheelskins covering will not be greatly affected by lack of grip on the spokes. BUT if the spokes are very wide, the covering will stick out due to insufficient pull on the cover (dummy stitches indeed). A small piece of Velcro could have solved the problem, but Wheelskins [thoughtlessly] neglected to provide it.

After I finally completed the installation I found that the join of the two pieces of leather (at 10 and 2) was uncomfortable, forcing me to change my grip on the wheel. While I understand that one must suffer for one’s art, my thirty-year-old wheel helmsmanship habits proved too strong to change. I tried reversing the cover to place the larger swath of red leather on the bottom. To say the result looked awkward would be like saying a duck-billed Platypus is a rather odd sort of creature.

Overall, I liked the look and quality of the Wheelskins cover. But I can only recommend the product with two big ass caveats. First, measure twice, order once. Second, keep in mind that the end results depend entirely on the wheel being wrapped and the installer being warped (i.e. an indefatigable OCD seamstress). Try to attach the wrong Wheelskins cover to your wheel or screw-up the install [NB: don’t drink and stitch], and you’ll be ripping the cover off in a few days. Just like I did.

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15 Comments on “Wheelskins Cover Review...”


  • avatar
    Alex Dykes

    I would be inclined to think you’d be just better off buying the leather wheel in the first place.

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    I put one on a month after purchasing my plastic-wheeled base Mazda5 – the quality of the Wheelskins is better than the OEM leather wheel.

    I got the Europerf in black/black which looks and feels great, except just like Mr. Posner, I wished I had gotten a plain cover. The joints where the segments are sewn together are obtrusive at 2 and 10 o’clock – took me months to get used to. Spokework is a PITA, have to be careful there, took me almost an hour and broke the needle towards the end using it to tighten the laces. End result is slightly off center:

    http://www.mazdas247.com/forum/attachment.php?attachmentid=104152&d=1175106069

  • avatar
    Chaser

    They made two color combinations specifically for my 1st gen. xB. I went with the grey and black. Install took a while but was very easy. Beats me why everyone else seemed to have problems. My only holdup was the fact I kept accidentally beeping the horn and scaring myself s***less every few minutes. 6 months later I’m still loving the cover.

  • avatar
    Redbarchetta

    I was inclinded to thinink this is a stupid product until I saw starlightmica wheel. Yours looks very nice. The Momo leather wheel on our Legacy GT is already showing wear like the car was driving 100k but we only have 30k on the car. Cheap thin leather doesn’t last and I think I have very acidic sweet.

    I can sew so the install doesn’t worry me. How thick is the leather, does it still look good after a year os daily use?

  • avatar

    I’d rather have an upholstery shop make/redo one for $200 or so. Or get the factory wheel from eBay for about the same coin.

    But thanks for the review. :)

  • avatar
    Chaser

    $200 for a cover? Please…this thing cost me $35. And not every car has the factory option for leather. Seriously, I think the install was made out to be harder than it actually is. You’re running some heavy thread through large holes with a needle, then pulling it tight. Not exactly genetic engineering, that.

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    Redbarchetta:

    Thanks; the leather is about 1.5+mm thick and glove-soft, if you’re really interested in sewing you can buy it by the square foot for custom projects. If I were to do it again, I would buy direct from the manufacturer and purchase a second needle+thread so that you could cross-stitch the cover baseball style. Crazy glue can be had with a brush to tack down loose leather over the spokes.

    Bummer about your wheel falling apart. I’ve had a leather wheel shredding thanks to my wedding ring, perhaps the car was trying to tell me something?

  • avatar
    glenn126

    I got a wheelskins two-tone for my first (2005) Prius, and had on H#ll of a time putting it on – not because of wheelskins, but because I always have been ham-fisted when tailoring anything. (I ended up hiring seamstresses for ALL of my military life sewing). But I digress. For my 2008 Prius, I could not abide by the plastic wheel, so within a couple of weeks, I broke down and got another wheelskins. The first one lasted over 48,000 miles and still looked like new. The second sew-job was almost as bad as the first, which I had a small “lumpiness” at about 5 o’clock on the inner part (leather join) on the wheel. On the 2nd one, I was getting all proud about the fact that I’d done a much better job – until I finished it up and whoops, a little boobie lump at about 2 o’clock.

    Sigh.

    Still, I’d recommend them any time you can’t stomach the feel of plastic in your hands constantly.

  • avatar
    Garret

    I have had great success with Wheelskins. Just be patient and use a thimble to push the needle. If a car guy cannot do this he is in trouble. By the way, the quality is way better than factory (Honda) material.

  • avatar
    confused1096

    I put one of these on a classic Cadillac years ago as a stop gap until I could find/afford a new steering wheel. I looked good on that car, I wound up never buying a new steering wheel. I was a PITA to install, desert heat and no working AC did not make for a fun morning.

  • avatar
    David

    My 05 PT Cruiser didn’t come with a leather wrapped wheel so I purchased a solid black Wheelskins cover. The solid cover only has one seam so I placed at the bottom of the wheel. With patience during the stitching process I obtained a good result and am very happy with it. I would have preferred a factory supplied leather wheel but this product is a very good substitute when factory original isn’t available. I have also installed the same one-piece black cover on a VW with great results too. Patience is the key to a good application, and for goodness sake apply the product in full daylight so that you can see what you are doing, and don’t work in a location where people will see you and come up to ask you “whatca doing?” because that will throw off the concentration needed for a good job. Have fun!

  • avatar
    Koblog

    How dare you denigrate the fly yellow AMC Pacer!

    Actually, an excellent post. Very informative.

    And entertaining.

    Didn’t expect to chuckle that much reading about an aftermarket steering wheel cover.

  • avatar
    Jim Leslie

    I have a 1995 Lexus LS400 and my steering wheel was simply aging. The cost to replace the wheel including labor was an amazing $500 so I decided to see if there was a quality wheel cover available. I purchased a two-tone Wheelskin and put it on yesterday. I’m very pleased with the result. It’s not difficult to put on whatsoever but it does take some time. Mine took about an hour and a half.

    I would like to offer a couple of comments that might help anyone else considering this product with the installation.

    1) the cover comes with both thread as well as a sewing needle. The wheelskin comes with the stitching holes already made…BUT…I recommend users take the sewing needle and go all around the wheelskin and put the needle in each of the stitching holes BEFORE actually installing it. This will widen the stitching holes and make them more visible/accessible when the wheelskin is mounted on the steering wheel.

    2) When you actually mount the wheelskin on the steering wheel and begin stitching, don’t pull the stitching tight immediately. Stitch the entire wheel and leave the thread a little loose. This will enable you to make adjustments to the Wheelskin in the event that it’s initially slightly off-center. There is plenty of thread to do this so don’t worry.

    3) Lastly, take your time. It’s a very good product and it does exactly what I wanted it to do.

    Note: My 1995 LS400 is painted chrystal quartz and has a dark brown dash with tan leather seats. The two-tone Wheelskin colors that I chose were “brown” for the top/bottom and “tan” for the side panels. It’s a good match for the car. Overall, I’m very satisfied with this product.

    Hope this helps!

    Jim Leslie

  • avatar

    We have Wheelskins covers on all 3 of our cars. They definitely increase the comfort and “feel” of the wheel when driving. They also improve the look of plastic or worn leather steering wheels. If, as Mr. Posner, you are challenged by the manual effort of installing the covers, perhaps you may need to find someone more skilled to install your cover. The manufactuerer does point out the difficulties one may experience with wide spokes. It seems that Posner didn’t read that part. The Wheelskin cover on my car is more than 5 years, and 100,000 miles of age. If it ever wears out – I’ll buy another one!

  • avatar
    WheelskinsRipOff

    I purchased a wheelskins cover supposedly made custom for my 09 Buick Lacrosse. As I was installing the wheel cover I noticed that is made 10 inches smaller than the actual steering wheel, and ended up ripping the seam during installation. I took approx. 30mins to slowly stretch the cover over my steering wheel and it still ripped. I called customer service and complained but was told I didn’t follow instructions so I am stuck with a $50 product that is absolute crap and does not work. Stay away from wheelskins, wal-mart steering wheels covers are atleast returnable if they don’t fit. THANKS WHEELSKINS.


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