When a car’s steering wheel is encased in leather, it is commonly referred to as a leather steering wheel. In most cases, the steering wheel itself is not leather. Rather, it is covered in leather, whether by design from the car’s manufacturer or by optional upgrade from the owner. Many automotive dealers consider a leather car interior a mark of some prestige, usually worthy of a higher sale price. A leather steering wheel completes the luxury look in many cases and can be a selling point for many luxury car shoppers.
Most of the leather steering wheel’s function is aesthetic. The leather used to wrap the steering wheel commonly matches the leather of the car’s upholstery or at least coordinates with dashboard trim and other accessories. These kinds of steering wheels are commonly part of auto upgrades and are often features of luxury packages that can be added onto new cars.
A car owner need not always purchase a leather upgrade in order to get the luxury of a real leather steering wheel. Enthusiasts can often outfit their cars with a number of custom accessories sold and installed by vendors unaffiliated with the car's original dealer. Drivers can sometimes purchase leather steering wheels in unique styles, colors, and sizes to personalize the look and feel of a car interior.
One need not always go to such great expense for a customizable look, however. Many manufacturers sell leather steering wheel covers in a variety of colors and sizes. A steering wheel cover is a tube-like piece of leather that is designed to slip over a car’s existing steering wheel.
These kinds of steering wheel covers can often be self-installed and are typically removable without much effort. They are not usually designed to be permanent features of a car or truck the way that manufacturer-installed leather steering wheels are, though most require stitching or other more permanent fastening. A laced leather steering wheel cover laces to itself, not to the wheel, which makes it removable with some effort.
Most steering wheels are made to certain standard size specifications, though steering wheel features tend to vary from car to car. Steering wheels commonly house cars’ horns, as well as cruise control and, on some models, audio playback controls. In order to remain universal, most leather steering wheel covers are designed only to cover the wheel’s outside rim. This provides the feel of a luxury steering wheel on the driver’s hands, but not always the look.
There are a number of reasons why a leather steering wheel is preferable aside from looks. For starters, leather is largely stain-resistant and repels oils and dirt. Stains on a genuine leather steering wheel, whether from dirty hands, sweaty palms, or ordinary wear-and-tear, can usually be sponged off with relative ease. Leather also maintains a rather constant temperature, making it easy to grasp in both hot and cold weather.