If you own a Tesla manufactured from 2016 – 2019, there is a strong likelihood that you are thrilled with the amount of money saved by eschewing the fuel pump. However, despite the overwhelming positives of owning this pioneering electric vehicle, it is not all roses, as those who purchased a Tesla manufactured in this time frame have experienced some issues with bubbling in the leather seats.
Synthetic leather, such as that used to cover Tesla seats manufactured from 2016 – 2019, is notorious for “bubbling,” which is caused when the finished leather surface of the seat separates from the base fabric. There can be many causes of bubbling, such as too much sun, excessive pressure, or incorrect cleaning.
Leather bubbles can give an ungainly appearance to an otherwise pristine Tesla, especially since such bubbles can form within a few months. Once bubbles have formed, there is not much owners can do other than replace the seat covers completely, a process that may or may not be covered by warranty. As such, it is essential to use the correct care to maintain the appearance of your leather Tesla seats.
Tesla & Leather Seat Quality
Despite the cutting-edge technology used in manufacturing Teslas, the synthetic leather used to cover seats in models from 2016 – 2019 is comparatively commonplace. Synthetic leather is used as a solution for giving the appearance of luxury while providing an economical upholstery solution for mass manufacturers.
In addition to Tesla seats, synthetic leather can be found in a wide range of passenger vehicles and many affordable clothing and furniture brands, with bubbling common wherever synthetic leather is found. Due to issues with its leather seats, as well as an effort to go 100% vegan in its manufacture, Tesla discontinued the use of synthetic leather in August 2019.
What Causes Tesla Leather Seats to Bubble?
As mentioned, bubbling occurs when the top, finished layer of the seat that gives the leather appearance separates from the underlying fabric base, creating air pockets that give shape to the unsightly bubbles. There are many reasons that this occurs.
1. The Synthetic Leather was Low Quality
The sad truth is that the synthetic leather covering your Tesla seats is likely of low quality. While bubbling is common across products upholstered in synthetic leather, it is not universal, so it is likely that the adhesive used in Tesla’s artificial leather is not strong enough to withstand the wear of daily driving.
While Tesla initially considered seat bubbling the result of improper use and not covered by warranty, the widespread complaints of bubbles from Tesla owners has led to the company covering replacement seats under warranty, so check with your dealer before purchasing a replacement out of pocket.
2. Too Much Sun
Regardless of the quality of the synthetic leather upholstering your Tesla seats, several factors can create a perfect breeding ground for bubbles to form.
At the top of this list is too much sun. Just as too much UV exposure damages your skin and leads to health problems, so too does sunlight damage the components of your Tesla’s leather seats.
Synthetic leather is fabricated with many essential oils that keep the finished product soft and pliable. As the sunlight dries out these oils, the leather runs the risk of cracking and bubbling.
Therefore, keep your Tesla parked under a cover as much as possible and use window shades when parked outside. In addition, periodically treat your leather seats with a leather UV-ray protectant.
3. Excessive Pressure
When synthetic leather is consistently placed under pressure, it tends to stretch out. As such, when the finished layer is no longer tight and snug-fitting over the base fabric, air can easily accumulate and form bubbles.
This is an issue for car seats because there will be areas of the chair that can be under pressure for hours at a time. The headrest, armrest, and intersection of the back and seat are just a few of the areas that face the brunt of the seat’s stress and are in danger of stretching out.
While it is not realistic to rest and condition your leather seats for every hour they are in use, there is a way that you can minimize the pressure your seat faces.
Sharp, direct pressure is known to expedite leather stretching, so make sure you do not make a habit of sitting on sharp wallets or keys. If you find yourself continually resting your elbow in the same place on the armrest, try to take periods where you drive with the armrest up.
4. Incorrect Cleaning
While you may think that your assiduous attention to cleaning your Tesla’s leather seats will help preserve them for the long run, there is a strong possibility that your cleaning efforts are actually expediting the formation of unsightly bubbles.
First of all, most standard cleaning methods should not be used to clean leather seats. Many harsh soaps, detergents, and chemicals will cause your Tesla seats to bubble, crack, and/or fade.
Here is the cleaner I personally use, and recommend: Car Guys Cleaner
You likely have a surplus of disinfectant wipes and think it may be a good idea to clean your leather seats with these; this is not a good idea, as the vast majority of standard disinfectant wipes contain alcohol, and alcohol is known for its dehydrating properties. These wipes will absorb the leather’s oils and adhesives, expediting the formation of bubbles.
Even if you have wipes and conditioners designed specifically for leather, it is essential not to overdo the cleaning. A general rule is to clean your leather seats once a week with a leather-friendly cleaner and have your seats professionally cleaned twice a year. Anything more than this can lead to the same drying caused by cleaning with alcohol-based products.
What to Do If There Are Bubbles on My Seats?
It is best to try and prevent the formation of leather bubbles through proper care and attention to detail. However, there will be instances in which bubbles rear their ugly heads, regardless.
The first step is to check with the dealership and see if reupholstery is covered under warranty. As mentioned, Tesla is covering an increasing number of bubbling seat replacements due to the prevalence of the issue.
If your case is not deemed a warranty fix, there are a couple of options. If the damage is severe, you may have to take your Tesla to a professional leather upholsterer. However, if the bubbles are small and just starting to form, try this simple DIY solution:
- Clean the seats of all dirt and debris using an appropriate leather wipe.
- Use a microfiber cloth to dry the surface completely.
- Place a heavy item on the bubble(s) for several hours.
- Remove the weight and observe if further treatment is necessary.
This process, while not perfect, can help the finished surface re-adhere with the fabric base in mild cases of bubbling.
Despite the many benefits and progressive, cutting-edge technology used in Tesla manufacturing, one common problem that plagues those Teslas made between 2016 and 2019 is bubbling in the leather seats.
This is a common issue found in many products that use synthetic leather in mass upholstery, and partially due to the prevalence of this bubbling, Tesla discontinued the use of leather seats in August 2019.
While it is likely that low-quality synthetic leather is the root cause of your bubbling seats, too much sun, excessive pressure, and/or incorrect cleaning may also be leading to the formation of bubbles. So, be mindful of these concerns as you attempt to keep your Tesla leather seats looking pristine.