If your steering wheel’s ratty from years in the sun, not to mention grease from your fast-food-loving hands, one of those slip-on steering wheel covers you can pick up wherever is a convenient solution. It’s also grossly inelegant. But there are ways to rock it without looking completely awful.
The best way to restore your steering wheel is to have a professional upholstery shop do it, but that’ll probably set you back a few hundred bucks.
If you really want to recover your wheel yourself the objectively correct way, YouTuber Chris Fix did a beautiful walk-through. But his method, which includes removing the steering wheel completely and spending a long time sewing, involves a not-insignificant amount of labor.
One step simpler than Fix’s method would be to get a stitch-on cover that goes over your wheel’s existing rim material. You can find covers specifically cut to your vehicle, it will arrive looking like a molted snakeskin, then you just follow the instructions so that the new material is cinched up real tight around your wheel. That’s probably the real sweet spot for the best work-to-result ratio. I’ve heard the Wheel Skins brand is good but I’ve never used its products or seen them in person.
You can also get a type that you wrap around with a stiff pipe cleaner-like wire, but that really only looks good on 1979-and-older cars.
But! If you have zero tolerance for manual labor but some tolerance for comparison shopping, here’s the optimal low-buck low-effort method.
Clean Your Steering Wheel
Before you pop a cover on, use a safe cleaner on the wheel and see what happens. At a minimum, you’ll make sure nastiness doesn’t get trapped between the wheel and the cover you’re thinking about.
By “safe” I mean one that won’t make the wheel slippery, be it leather, plastic or Alcantara-style materials. Hah, imagine putting a big pink fuzzy cover on an Alcantara wheel!
If you’re lucky, a cleaning might make your wheel nice again and you won’t have to use a cover at all. But if you still want one, proceed to the next step.
Squeeze All The Steering Wheel Covers You Can Find
I inspected the inventory at my two local O’Reilly’s Auto Parts stores, a PepBoys, and even a Ross (a discount department store which sometimes has random automotive accessories), and noticed that each store had a dramatically different selection of wheel covers. So, if you have a few shops around you, it’d be worth checking more than one to get a wider selection.
After putting my hands on every wheel cover I could, I also realized that there’s a huge range in how different the various cheap aftermarket steering wheel covers felt.
The “ultra-suede” knockoff I’d been eyeing online, because I thought it might feel like Alcantara (as foolhardy an assumption as you’d think), was way too soft. It was like holding a rolled-up towel. Hard pass–leather or a synthetic leather’s the way to go.
The Bodyglove-branded “wetsuit-material” one felt nice, but it was too soft to communicate the sense of responsiveness you’re going to want from a steering wheel. I also had a “Baja-blanket” patterned one on my old Toyota Tundra which I actually really liked, but, I sold it with the truck, and that’s not the look I’m going for with this Mitsubishi anyway.
Get The Smallest Size You Can
Universal steering wheel covers come in a few sizes, designed to fit range of wheels. Scoop one up that your wheel’s on the upper end of if you can. For example, my Montero’s steering wheel is about 15 inches so I focused on wheel covers that were for “14.5 to 15.5-inch wheels” to get a tight fit.
I found my wheel’s size info online and corroborated it, and I’m sure you can find your car too, or you could always just measure it. But who am I kidding–you’re not trying to mess with a tape measure, this tutorial’s for the lazyfolk.
Stick Close To Factory Coloring And Texture
Cheap steering wheels range from plain to lame to hilarious; you’ve seen the animal-print ones, Hello Kitty, and so forth. Maybe the play is to lean into the goofiness and get something silly, which is a strategy I totally endorse.
But if you’re going for earnest nice-looking, or at least as close as you can get, stay away from the “R-RACING”-style nonsense with ridiculous color accents and fake carbon fiber.
I ended up finding one at PepBoys which, frankly, looks remarkably close to the rest of my Montero’s interior. The big bumps around the edge are a little odd, and I wouldn’t recommend messing with covers with weird gimmicks like that, but the coloring was too good a match to pass up and on top of that–I really liked the way it felt.
I picked it up for about $12, which was apparently a good deal because it’s a whopping $16.75 on Amazon.
If you find a wheel cover with any sort of embellishment, be it a little stitch line or grip-bumps like mine has here, it’s imperative that you line the thing up nicely or you’re going to be going nuts every time you look at it.
Or, maybe you won’t. Maybe I’m the only person on Earth in the middle of the Venn diagram bubbles for “extremely cheap and lazy” and “extremely particular” when it comes to fitting automotive accessories and this whole post is a waste of time. But we’re almost done anyway, so let’s press on.
Fitment Is Also A Pain
Squeezing this stupid cover onto my steering wheel took a good bit of effort. Man, you really have to crank on those things if you got a tight one. But, if I can do it with one working hand and one badly-weakened hand, you able-bodied drivers out there should have no trouble at all.
It’s Not A Permanent Solution
If you really care about the looks of your car’s interior, as I do, you’ll probably start to get sick of the incompleteness of the way these covers end up looking. So don’t count on stretching one out and calling your project “done.”
But, in a pinch, it can be an easy improvement if your steering wheel feels and looks bad. And of course, your old wheel will always be there when you go to rip your cover off and try one of the more challenging restoration methods.