Wheelskins Steering Wheel Covers Can Be a Nice Upgrade if You’re Patient With the Installation
A hands-on test of one of the oldest DIY steering wheel reconditioning options available.
If your steering wheel is frayed, faded, or just plain ugly you have options: Live with it, get a cheap slip-on cover, get a fancy sew-on cover, do a legit reupholstery job, or get a new wheel. A fancy sew-on cover from Wheelskins his a sweet spot of “medium price” and “decent result” and it’s fun to install, but it takes some patience and a certain kind of car to really have it look right.
Disclaimers, disclosures: Wheelskins sent us one of its steering wheel covers, and a swatch of leather color samples, for free when somebody there found out I’d post what I thought about the product. I made no promises of a positive review; I personally couldn’t care less whether you buy one or not. But it’s possible our company gets paid when you click our link to buy one – I’m purposefully ignorant of any such deals to minimize unintentional bias.
Where to Buy Wheelskins Steering Wheel Covers
Wheelskins premium steering wheel covers are available on AutoAnything.com (and elsewhere).
Quick and Dirty Rundown
If your car’s on the older side, maybe nice-but-not-mint, and you don’t mind the cockpit looking deliberately customized, a Wheelskins steering wheel cover could be a sweet little upgrade. If you have a performance-oriented machine, something newer, aggressively styled, or you’re just going for an ultra-crisp aesthetic in your interior, this product may not satisfy you.
If you were going to put an off-the-shelf $10 steering wheel cover on anyway and you’re looking at this thinking “eh, is it really worth five times the price and two hours of installation,” yes, it absolutely is. I actually spent a long time picking out a slip-on cover for my Montero, touched options at like six different auto parts stores (I’m totally serious). Now, having replaced one I liked with a Wheelskins one, I can tell you for sure that the sew-on deal is superior in both look and feel.
Bottom line: If you’re thinking about putting a steering wheel cover on your car and you care enough to have clicked this blog, yeah, it’s pretty much worth giving one of these a shot. Now I’m going to give you some more detailed impressions plus (tips on a smooth installation) and considerations that might not be obvious before you have the thing in your hands.
As soon as I got the Wheelskins box out of the mail I was impressed. Solid packaging, and I appreciated the fact that the company was putting a “warning: hand sanitizer’s bad for this wheel cover” sticker right on the box now that people are commonly using that stuff very frequently.
The wheel cover itself, and the giant needle, waxy thread, and installation paper were all nicely presented and felt good. The leather appears robust – it’s not going to blow your mind like the cockpit of a $200,000 Aston Martin does, but it gives me the impression it’ll hold up and looks reasonably slick.
I don’t want to get too off-track here, but I need to disclose that my left hand is partially crippled from an off-road crash in 2018. It’s relevant because I’m missing a finger and have to admit I am somewhat limited in dexterity, which definitely played a part in why it took me about two and a half hours to install this thing even though the box promises it should take “about 60 minutes.”
That said – I do work with my hands a lot still. Sewing one of these up nicely, even for somebody with two fully functional sets of fingers, will be time-consuming and somewhat challenging. Don’t expect to finish with one hour as promised, and I recommend staying sober while you work. One beer max and no smoking.
The instructions are very easy to follow so I won’t bother with a play-by-play, I’ll just give you some supplemental pointers if you want to do as good a job as you can.
Be slow (at first) when you pull the thread through the holes. It’s waxy and sticky, presumably for durability and hole-passing, but if you pull it too fast it can get all bunched up and take forever to untangle (yes, this happened to me).
When the instructions say to “stretch the wheel cover at the spots that have those thumb-bumps near the ’10 and 2′ position,” really stretch the everloving hell out of it there. I thought I did stretch it, I pulled as hard as I could, but I’m kind of scrawny I guess (or it’s just that tough) so don’t be shy.
Take your time around the areas of the wheel spokes. You need to be tactical about how deep you want to try to go, this will make sense when you’re sewing, so don’t rush.
Have fun! Give yourself a lot of time to do this, and don’t be super hard on yourself if you screw it up. Honestly, if you do a truly terrible job, just cut your thread with a blade (careful not to damage the steering wheel itself) and call Wheelskins and I bet they’d send you a new thread for cheap. Then you could just start over! That wouldn’t noticeably hurt the leather, I’m sure of it.
To do my installation I downloaded a couple of Star Trek: TNG episodes onto my phone, put my headlamp on (yeah I gotta work on my car like a coal miner because my garage is as dark as a cave) and I just let the soothing, familiar voice of Patrick Stewart keep me company while I beautified my truck cab. Nice little evening.
Product In Action
My new steering wheel cover feels good in my hands; in fact I underestimated how much I’d appreciate the feeling of real leather versus the rubbery synthetic material of my old cover around my Montero’s wheel. A Wheelskins cover would be an upgrade from most stock ’90s steering wheels even if they were new, I reckon.
My mostly-good-somewhat-OK installation execution looks decent – but perhaps partially because my truck’s a little rough around the edges and older. Somebody who’s into cars would right away be able to tell, “oh, that’s a hand-stitched steering wheel he did in his driveway,” but my whole cab feels like it was “built in my driveway” (so to speak) so the vibe fits.
My wife disagrees and thinks I did great (thanks babe) so it’s also possible I’m just harsh on myself. Hopefully some of you will give me your honest opinions the comment section.
Regardless, I think that the older the vehicle is, the better a Wheelskins cover is going to work aesthetically. In fact, I can’t wait to order one for my Scout and I might end up doing one for my 300ZX. I had that much fun putting it on! I know, I’m a little strange, but I do enjoy sewing and as far as sewing goes this is very easy.
Value for Money
There are a lot of auto upholstery places in Los Angeles where I live, so if I really wanted the best-feeling steering wheel I’d commission a pro custom job – I called two places, both estimated around $400 to re-cover a wheel. Since the Wheelskins costs about $70 and about three hours of your life (ordering, studying instructions, assembling) and isn’t going to come out quite as glamorously, I think it’s more about “what ratio of spend-to-quality do you want” rather than “which is the best deal.”
Same goes for a cheap slip-on cover. I had one for years, and honestly, I really liked it… until I tried the Wheelskins one (now I’m like, dang, what the hell was I thinking with that janky cover). But I never had any slippage between the wheel itself and the cover. But the leather wrapping is far better, in both looks and feel, like I said.
So, simply follow the decision tree I started to lay out earlier: Want the joy of a fun sewing project and to make a somewhat modest car seem a little nicer? Then this is probably a good buy for you. If you need your car looking absolutely perfect, have no patience for manual projects, or think $70 is an insane price to pay for an automotive luxury, then skip it.
What to Know Before You Pick One
The installed Wheelskins looked better in real life than it does in the photos on the company’s website. That’s not a marketing fault, it’s just an inherent result of the wheel’s look. A Wheelskin’d cover, now that I can see one with my own eyes, flows with the interior of a car better in person but it’s hard to articulate more than that.
That said, and again acknowledging that my installation job was probably B- quality, it will be obvious to you and other car nuts (if you care) that a Wheelskins is an aftermarket add-on. So, consider embracing a high-contrast color or design.
As you can clearly see by my photos, the grey Wheelskins color ain’t exactly the same grey as what’s on my seats or dash. Now, since there are several different greys in my cab already (hell, my OEM wheel ring didn’t even match my OEM airbag), this is not the end of the world from a visual perspective. But point is: it’s likely going to look a little jarring at first whether you go for an attempted “factory color match” or one that contrasts with the rest of your interior (or complements it). So if you’re sold at this point, think about a bold color, why not!
I Can’t Believe I Wrote 1,500 Words About Steering Wheel Covers
Seriously. I almost want to apologize except not really, I freaking love inexpensive decorative mods like this. All my cars are covered in ’em. Now I’m looking forward to reading your opinions and related experiences in the comments!