Monday, August 24, 2009

Is the leather armrest on your Yukon/Tahoe cracked? I've got the solution

I like my Yukon and I've always enjoyed my Chevy and GMC vehicles, but they do not use the best quality leather when wrapping the seats, meaning that around 40,000 or 50,000 miles, depending on use, the leather on the driver's armrest will probably start to crack. Not only is this leather cracking aesthetically unpleasing, but it also is uncomfortable on your arm; and if you store the armrest back in the seat, the geometry of the cockpit doesn't feel right.

My first sop in my quest to fix this problem was Pep Boys: although they admitted that this is a very common request (look at suburban streets in Colorado and every other driveway seems to have a Yukon or Tahoe in it), the only solution that they had was to stretch a lambskin steering wheel cover over it -- no. Then I ordered a neoprene cover, but because it was designed to fit over the leather without the armrest being removed, the velcro straps kept coming loose and it kept falling off (plus it looked really goofy). Finally I found The Seat Shop on the internet.

I'm not an extraordinarily mechanically-inclined guy, but I can generally get around with good instructions, however, what scared me about messing with the seat is the fact that it has side airbags. When I looked at the leather cover on The Seat Shop's site, it was clear that the armrest needed to come off in order to install it. Luckily the guys at The Seat Shop anticipated the problem of installation and helpfully provide fully documented videos on how to install the products that they sell. Based on watching the video, I went ahead and ordered the cover and gathered my tools. When the cover arrived, I took my computer out to the car (connected to my home wifi), set it on the seat, cached the video, and paused it throughout the removal process.

Here are a few tips about removal and installation:
  • Have the video handy somehow -- a nice laptop screen in the vehicle with you is helpful.
  • The leather of your seat cover has a lot of give, so don't be afraid to really stretch it to get at the ball and joint mechanism.
  • Before you start removing parts and pieces, you should jam a plastic shopping bag or some white paper into the opening behind the joint that leads into the seat -- anything you drop will sind up contained within the area around the joint and not fall into the seat.
  • You have to remove a rubber o-ring (they call it a "rubber band") -- don't lose it. I recommend using some 90 degree needle-nose pliers and/or tying a string to it before you remove it. Luckily if you do lose it (I didn't), it's about the size of a standard scuba tank o-ring, which you should be able to locate (probably free of charge) from a nearby scuba dive shop.
  • After to remove the rubber o-ring, you have to remove a u-shaped clamp. I recommend loosening the clamp as shown and then bending a paperclip around the convex "u" portion as the clamp is under pressure and jumps when you remove it.
  • Pull the armrest off.
  • Put the clamp and o-ring back on the joint as soon the armrest is off and tuck the leather from the seat cover back in.
  • Follow the instructions in the video to apply the leather sleeve (note that you really have to stretch the leather and get the sleeve zipped on before going any further). Once the sleeve is on, cut (yes, cut) the leather as shown in the video.
  • Put the armrest back into place and push in on it hard until you hear the clamp click -- when you move the armrest up and down, it should not move laterally once the clamp is in place.
I messed up this process and lost the u-shaped clamp, which is not a part that GMC stocks. There are a few options, though I employed the last one:
  • Lean your seat all the way forward, unclip the leather cover from the bottom, and fish around until you find the clamp. You can watch the cover installation video to try and get the cover back together or can leave it unclipped once you recover the clamp.
  • The Seat Shop can fax you instructions on how to modify a medium binder clip to work -- basically you just clip the thing with some wire cutters and create (as best you can) your own u-shaped clamp.
  • AutoZone sells a package of u-shaped window handle clips -- the largest clip in the package is almost too small, but it works; you just have to be patient on getting the o-ring around the flanges.
During this process I did have a chance to talk to one of the guys at The Seat Shop. Not only are they very friendly guys, but they really are knowledgeable about what they are doing. He ran through all of the options above and was luckily able to get me headed in the right direction to get my armrest working. Additionally, I had initially ordered the wrong color, so he sent me a new cover in the correct color free of charge. He did tell me that a lot of his business is direct to consumers that then take their products to an installer; he told me that he makes covers by purchasing 20,000 yards of leather and sewing off of that as opposed to local shops that buy in much smaller yardages and charge a lot more.

I'll tell you that the quality of the leather on The Seat Shop covers is visibly and texturally superior to what GMC uses. If ever my seats start to crack, I will be ordering replacement covers from these guys and having them installed. Note that, although my vehicle already has a third row of seats, The Seat Shop also sells the brackets, parts, and covers to install an aftermarket third row in your vehicle.



Mike Schmidt said...

Very cool. I have the exact same problem with my Tahoe and I've been considering actually trying to find Denali seats out of a 2001 Tahoe to completely replace the pleather that GM uses.

Would you grade the leather replacement as a good or high quality leather?

Ross said...

It appears to be high quality leather -- the finish is much finer than the stock GM stuff that's on the seats and trim now.

Anonymous said...

having the same problem with a 2000 Denali with dark pewter armrests...only thing, The seat shop does not stcok that color and only available in a lighter grey. The guy at the Seat Shop did say he would try to help in some other way and I do believe him. I am hoping to find a solution and get better results. I am going to contact the Seat Shop again and go from there.