Why, you might ask, would someone want to bother with the expense and effort to “upgrade” something as utilitarian as the shifter and brake boot or your center console cover / arm rest cover?
Regular readers may recall that back in December I replaced the original, cloth seat covers in our Tacoma with a set of leather seat covers from an on-line firm called LeatherSeats.com; you can find the details in this blog entry.
It suffices to say, the change to the interior look and feel of the truck was transformational. This is because the stock seat covers were, quite frankly, awful… awful in every way: look, feel, cleanliness and durability. Even though they were purportedly an upgrade from the stock seats as part of the TRD Sport package, they were grey while everything else in the cab was black and had a very dated insert fabric design that reminded me of the graphic’s used in the movie TRON. Moreover, the fabric was of sub-par quality and already piled-up on the driver’s seat and the amount of dirt I extracted from the cloth seat covers with my carpet cleaning machine was, well, disgusting. Mind you, this was on a truck only owned for 18 months and driven only 10,000 miles during that time. So, going from that to a set of freshly cut, high-grade soft and supple black leather seat covers with perforated inserts was, as I said, transformational:
Of course, now that the seat covers brought the overall level of quality in the Tacoma up to Lexus standards, the vinyl shifter and brake boots looked absolutely cheap and tacky and the hard rubber center console lid / arm rest looked out-of-place as well, never mind being about as comfortable to rest an elbow on as a brick. So, although not originally planned, the need to find a firm that made real leather replacement covers for the shifter, brake level and armrest came to the fore.
REDLINE GOODS – YOUR ONLY OPTION?
As I began my search I could only find one firm in the business of making full sets of aftermarket leather shifter & brake lever boots and arm rest covers for the Tacoma trucks: Redline Goods, an e-tailer operating out of Poland. There were other companies who made shifter boots, but none appeared to be making all three boots which you’d logically want to come from the same company at the same time so the leather they used on the three different covers would be very similar.
The pricing seemed reasonable given the obscure nature of the market and Poland is actually a great place for textiles. Moreover, it appeared as though there weren’t too many brands and models of vehicles for which they didn’t have patterns which suggested they knew their business well.
My needs were simple: black leather with black stitching. I placed my order back on 29 January and the three pieces of leather arrived in a large, white padded envelope on 20 February. I paid the $19 up charge to have the wire frame pre-installed in the brake lever boot as I didn’t want to mess around with trying to extract and then re-insert it myself. But, overall, I was pleased with the quality of the three covers I’d received.
It wasn’t until the evening on Wednesday, 20 February, when I carved-out some time to do the boot installations. Having taken the interior of the truck apart a couple of times now, this wouldn’t be all that challenging… or would it? I read Redline Group’s installation instructions just to be sure what I had in front of me, and it was pretty straight forward.
The brake lever boot was a fast & easy swap-out; however, the shifter boot was a bit more entailed. I had to disassemble the gear selection console and then remove the shifter boot housing from the sub-console and then separate the glued-on vinyl cover from the boot housing. The new leather boot and the housing had to be sprayed with 3M heavy-duty adhesive so they could be bonded together before everything went back together. That added a good 40 minutes to the project but the result was worth the effort. The leather boots look and feel great and truly were necessary given the quality of the leather seat covers I’d installed.
The arm-rest cover turned out to be a bit more challenging, if only because I wasn’t happy with how it looked and felt after installing it per Redline Good’s instructions. I’ll skip the gory details and note I put it all back together with the arm rest cover installed over the original arm rest top, which looks good. But, it was still a work in progress at the end of the day as I needed to purchase some 1″ thick densified polyester batting from the fabric store to be installed between the leather cover and the original hard rubber cover. In order to make this all work I was drawing on my experience from working on motorcycle seat covers to come up with a better fit, feel and finish vs. slapping the piece of leather over the plastic lid/arm rest with a thin layer of foam.
On the following night, it took me about an hour to remove, modify and reinstall the armrest but it turned out better than I expected. As mentioned, I decided to ignore Redline Good’s installation instructions and treated the armrest recovering project just like a motorcycle seat installation, fixing the leather cover in place after pulling it tight over the foam and molded top of the armrest using an electric staple gun and 1/4″ staples. This is the only way I know to get leather properly stretched and aligned over some type of plastic or fiberglass foundation, akin to a motorcycle seat pan. The plus here was the way the console top / armrest was made, the leather-covered and now padded console top / armrest would be pressed back over a plastic inner lid held in place by six screws, with both upper and lower lid parts sandwiching the hinge assembly that attached the console cover / armrest to the center console housing. Again, once I had it all put back together it looked really nice and now had a lovely, plush top that’s easy on the elbows!
Bottom Line: The minimal time and expense required to make this change was well worth it. The boots look like proper boots and share the natural leather look and feel with the seat covers. The armrest has the same natural leather look and is, for the first time, soft and comfortable as well as being a little taller than it was before.
Frankly, I’m not really sure why Redline Goods advocates and instructs you go glue their leather cover to the hard, barely padded inner cover top of the original console top / armrest, or use glue at all. But, it’s their product so if you read this and opt to deviate from their installation instructions you do so at your own risk. I’ve briefly described the technique and will note you can find videos to show you how tack & stretch upholstery installations are made: that’s all this is. Yes, it will take a little elbow grease to press the inner cover back on to the now leather-covered and padded hard rubber armrest and you’ll find you need to trim away some of the rubber tabs on the cover, but I think the end result is a great looking and feeling armrest that looks factory correct with the leather seats and shifter/brake boots.