seat18.jpg (18433 bytes)Upholstering Miata Seats

Crazy Red Italian

Copyright 1995-1998, Crazy Red Italian & Eunos Communications

The most common reason you might want to re-upholster your Miata seats is to install a custom, aftermarket leather interior. After all, the factory leather comes in a very limited number of colors. (Tan, tan, red (in '93), and tan.) Or your stock cloth seats might be a bit faded and pilled, and you just bought a used set from someone else who just upgraded to leather. Whatever the reason, you can pay an upholstery shop several hundred dollars to do the work, or you can tackle it yourself. The job isn't especially skill intensive, however it requires a lot of patience, 6 to 8 hours of your time, and maybe a couple of Band-Aids.

These instructions are written for all Miatas from 1990 to 1999, with the exception of the '95 M edition. The photos are from a '99 Miata installation. The differences are minor and we'll try to point them out as we go along.

Required Tools

There are 6 major steps to installing your new seat covers. The   steps are:

  1. Remove the existing seat from the Miata.
  2. Disassemble the seat.
  3. Remove the existing seat covers from both the seat cushion and   back.
  4. Install the new seat covers on both the seat cushion and back.
  5. Reassemble the seat.
  6. Replace the seat in the Miata.

You can feel free to remove and later install both seats of the Miata at  one time, but we strongly recommend completing steps 2-5 for the passenger seat before starting step 2 on the driver seat.

Step 1: Remove the existing seat from the Miata.

This holds for both the driver and passenger seats, and applies to all  1990-1999 Miatas except for the Merlot Mica 1995 M-Edition.

Remove all loose items from on and around your seats. Remove the floor  mats. Remove any items from the map pocket behind the passenger seat.   Remove any loose items from the parcel shelf behind the seats. Be sure  your Miata is parked in a safe location where you can open the doors all  the way, and leave the car for at least one day.

If your Miata has headrest speakers, disconnect the speaker wiring   harness. For factory installed speakers, there is usually a plastic  connector either at the bottom of the back of the seat back, or under the  seat. For aftermarket speakers, there are a variety of possibilities. On  some cars, you may actually have to remove the speakers first, and fish  the wiring out from the seat.

seat01.jpg (15397 bytes)Each seat slides on tracks. Each track is held to the floor by one large  bolt in the front, and one in the back. On a few Miatas, plastic covers  are installed over these bolts. Slide the seat all the way back. You  should see the bolts in the front of the seat tracks. If there are covers  over the bolts, pop them off. Use a 14mm socket to remove these bolts.  These bolts can be installed very tightly. I strongly recommend you use a   6-point socket instead of a 12-point socket. This will reduce your  chances of rounding the socket head. You can get a 6-point socket (often  called an impact socket, as they are used on impact wrenches) at most  hardware stores.

seat02.jpg (15604 bytes)Slide the seat all the way forward, and tilt the seat back forward. You  should see the bolts in the back of the two seat tracks. Remove these  bolts with your 14mm socket.

Set all 4 bolts in a secure, convenient location where you will find them
later. We like to just put them back in the holes they came out of.

The seat is now loose in the car. Be sure the seatbelts are out of the way. Carefully lift the seat up. Be sure there is no wiring still holding  the seat to the car. Carefully lift the seat up and out of the car. If  your top is up, you will need to tilt the seat side to side. Be careful  not to scratch anything (door panel, center console, etc.) with the seat  tracks as you remove the seat.

Both seats are removed in the same fashion.

Step 2: Disassemble the seat.

You will need a large, clean indoor surface on which to work. Unless you  have a large work bench or large table which you are willing to possibly   damage, you will probably need to use the floor. Remember, the bottom of  the seat has metal tracks which can scratch your floors!

You will now remove the seat back from the cushion. Be sure the seat back  is titled all the way forward. You may suffer severe injuries if you do   not tilt the seat forward, and the tilt mechanism later springs closed.

Be sure as you remove all the parts, screws, and bolts, from the seats  that you keep track of where you put them. Small plastic Zip-Loc sandwich bags are great for storing small parts.

Disconnect any wires, such as the headrest speaker wires, which may   connect the seat back to the seat cushion. Often these wires are attached  to the metal pan under the seat with plastic clips and electrical tape.  It is usually easier to remove the electrical tape than the actual clips.

seat03.jpg (12415 bytes)The back of the seat is held to the seat cushion on each side. Start by  removing the single Phillips head screw (the '99 has an 8mm nut) with large washer from the hinge  point on the side of the seat which does NOT have the seat tilt lever.  You can leave the rest of the plastic parts in place for now.

On the tilt lever side of the seat, remove the two visible Phillips head  screws from the plastic shroud which covers the tilt mechanism. On the   seat back is a smaller plastic cover partially under the larger shroud.  seat04.jpg (14932 bytes)Rotate the shroud slightly to expose the Phillips head screw which holds  the small cover to the seat back. Remove the Phillips head screw and  slide the smaller plastic cover upwards and off the metal tilt arm  attached to the seat back. You should now see the two large bolts which  hold the seat back to the metal arm of the tilt mechanism. Remove these   two bolts with your 14mm socket.

seat05.jpg (15264 bytes)Looking down from above the seat, rotate the side of the seat back you  just unbolted either forward or backward so that the seat back moves free  of the tilt mechanism metal arm. Now slide the seat back sideways out of  the hinge point on the other (non-tilt arm) side. The seat back should  now be free and clear from the seat cushion. Set it down in a safe place.

On the non-tilt arm side of the seat cushion, push the round plastic   fitting out of the hole where the seat was attached. Then slide the  plastic cover up and off the short metal arm.

seat06.jpg (17069 bytes)Back on the tilt-arm side of the seat, rotate the plastic shroud enough to  access the two large bolts which hold the tilt arm mechanism to the seat  pan. You will need to pull/pry up on the plastic shroud as you rotate it  around. Be gentle when you so this - do not force the shroud or it may  break! You will need to do one bolt at a time. While you may be able to  access these bolts with a 14mm socket wrench, the likelihood is that you  will need to use a 14mm box-end wrench to get them off. Do NOT attempt to   move the tilt arm or pull the tilt lever. Severe injury may result!

Once the two bolts are out, the tilt arm mechanism and its shroud should  be free of the seat cushion. Set it aside.

seat07.jpg (18113 bytes)Finally, remove the seat tracks from the metal pan of the seat cushion.  Turn the seat cushion over. Be careful not to scratch anything or damage  the short seat's metal arm. Study the tracks and the metal wire which  connects the track sliding mechanism. Keep your fingers out of the  mechanism or risk injury! Each track is attached to the metal pan with  one bolt at the front, and one at the back. Slide the tracks all the way   forward to expose the two bolts which hold the back of the tracks to the  seat pan. Use a 12mm socket to remove the bolts. Now slide the tracks all  the way back to expose the bolts at the front. Remove these bolts with  your 12mm socket. You can now lift the tracks off the seat pan. Set them  down in a safe location. Do not bend or kink the slide mechanism's metal  wire!

The seat is now disassembled.

Step 3: Remove the existing cloth seat covers from both the seat cushion  and back.

Both the OEM cloth seat covers and the new seats are attached to   the actual seat mechanisms (the pan, foam, etc.) by upholstery staples  known in the trade as hog rings. The seat cushion of the Miata is held to  the pan and cushion foam by approximately 25 rings, and the back is held  by approximately 35 rings. To remove the existing cloth covers, you will  need to cut these rings.

First of all, you MUST wear some kind of safety glasses or goggles when  cutting these rings. They will fly in many directions as you cut them. It   is recommended that you use a towel and place it over each ring as you  cut it. This will prevent them from flying off. Another suggestion is to  use a magnetic pointer (or even a magnetic screwdriver) to fish any and  all loose pieces of ring out from the foam of the seat.

The hog rings can be very difficult to cut. It can be done using regular  cutting dikes, but it requires a LOT of hand strength and brute force.   Instead, if you can, use a pair of compound action cutters with a  straight tip, such as aircraft tin snips. These cut much more easily than  regular cutting dikes. You can find these kinds of cutters at most  hardware stores for about $10. (There are several different kinds of  cutting heads available - try to get as straight and small a tip as you  can. Be sure you can take the cutters back if they do not work for you.)

seat08.jpg (18898 bytes)Start with the seat cushion. Turn the cushion over so that you can work  on the metal pan. Use your cutting tool to cut all the hog rings holding  the existing seats to the pan. Notice where these rings are - make a  diagram if you need to remember the locations. Use your towel to cover  each ring as you cut it so that it doesn't fly off. Throw the cut rings  in the trash. Once all the rings are cut, pull the cloth fabric over the   edge of the seat so that it is free of the metal pan. You should now be  able to lift the seat cushion foam (with the cloth still attached) up and  off of the metal seat pan. You will need to work the cloth up off the  short metal arm at the back of seat - be sure it doesn't get caught up on  that.

seat09.jpg (13630 bytes)The seat cushion cover is attached to the TOP of the foam cushion along  three lines (4 lines for the '99), two running front to back along the sides, and one running  side to side at the rear (and one running side to side at the front on the '99). Fold the cloth up and over the center of the seat so you can see the rings on the sides of the seat. Notice how they   are attached to a metal wire embedded in the foam. Again, make a diagram  if necessary. Cut these rings, along the sides of the top of the seat  cushion, being sure to cover them so they don't fly off. You may want to  use a magnet to fish any loose pieces out of the foam. Finally, cut the  rings along the back of the top of the cushion in the same fashion. You  should not be able to lift the cloth seat completely clear of the foam  seat cushion. Keep it handy as a reference when you are ready to install  the new seat covers.

Now move to the seat back. (Ignore this step for the '99.) Unzip the headrest of the seat back and remove  the panel which covers the headrest speakers. Remove the headrest  speakers, if any, from the headrest and set them in a safe place. Be sure  you know how to reinstall them.

seat10.jpg (18416 bytes)Turn the seat back upside down and start  at the bottom. You will notice that there are three pieces of the cover  here - the center portion of the seat back and the two side bolsters.   These are clipped to the back of the seat back cover with the usual hog   rings. Cover these rings when you cut them, and remove them from the seat.

Turn the seat back over and fold up the center flap. It is held to the  foam insert with hog rings, so cut them in the usual fashion and remove   the insert. Each side bolster cover is attached to the seat likewise with   several hog rings, and there are several rings up at the top of the  center seat area. Finally, from inside the headrest, cut the three or  four hog rings below the headrest speaker recesses. The seat back cover  can now be pulled up and off the seat back. The cloth covers should now  be off the seats.

Step 4: Install the new seat covers on both the seat cushion and   back.

Important note: the driver's side seat cover is different from the passenger's side. Be sure you know which is which before you proceed. If you have trouble, match up the new seat covers to the ones you just removed. Look for which side of the seat bottom cover has a slit for the metal arm. The seat back is more difficult to differentiate. The only thing we could find is a small difference in the material at the seat bottom. Looking at it from the back on the bottom, the left side flap is slightly different from the right side flap. This is difficult to explain. You'll have to match them up to see.

You will now install the new seat covers. Start by comparing each new  piece with the corresponding original cloth piece. Start with the seat   cushion. Each cushion is manufactured with a slit in the seat  where the short metal arm of the seat pan will protrude. If the foam  backing is not also split under the seat cover, then use a sharp blade to  slit the foam so that the arm can later be slid through. Also notice that  there are many holes and slits in the original cloth. These are not  replicated in leather seats. However, later you will need to make a   few holes in the leather to accommodate attachment bolts. You do not need  to do that now.

Each new piece of the cover also contains several types of attachment  material, known as listing and welting. The outer exposed attachments   generally consist of a strip of vinyl with a nylon cord along the edge.  Many of the inner attachments consist of a folded fiber-cloth strip sewn  lengthwise along the seam. These strips can be used without any  additional reinforcement, or can accept a wire or nylon cord inside along  their length. If you decide to reinforce the inner strips, use a fairly  thin wire or cord similar to that used on the exterior pieces. You can  even use wire coat hanger material if you like. Or you can simply use the  material as-is.

Start by placing the seat cushion cover loosely over the foam cushion.  Straighten the cover on the foam. Leave the bolsters folded up for the   moment. Press the seams on the butt of the seat into those parts of the   cushion. Check the sides and the front and back of the center of the seat   cushion area. Be sure everything is fit and straight. (Also be sure you  have the correct cover for the seat you are working on!)!Once the cover is in place, you can start attaching the hog rings. Start  on top at the back of the center portion of the seat. Install a similar  number of hog rings as those you removed, generally 3-5 rings. To install  the rings, use your hog ring pliers. Place a ring in the fitted nose of  the pliers. Choose where you plan to install the new ring - generally in  the same location you removed one. Carefully poke one end of the ring through the attachment welting/listing. Then, pressing firmly into the  seam, push the pliers all the way down until you are confident the ring  brackets the wire embedded in the seat itself. Then, still pressing down,  squeeze the pliers until the ring closes around the wire, thereby  fastening the new seat cover to the seat itself. Check your connection.  You may find you missed the wire and got only foam. If necessary, cut the  ring out and try again. Fastening hog rings requires a touch that comes  with experience and practice. Be patient.

After doing the rear, do each of the sides on top of the center seat   cushion. Then fold over the bolsters covers onto the foam bolsters. Work  each bolster at a time, being sure the foam is pushed all the way up into  the cover. The tendency for the cover will be to not fit smoothly on the  bolster, which will be scrunched up inside it. Pull the cover over so  that the bolster is all the way inside the seams of the cover. Work the  foam to be sure it is not bunched up. Then work out any kinks in the  bolster cover so that it is smooth over the foam underneath. The fit of  the new leather is not designed to be as taut as the original covers.

Caution: The edges of the metal seat pan are very sharp! This is why we mentioned the Band-Aids in the beginning.

Now place the foam insert back in the metal seat pan. You may need to  work the cover over the metal arm. You will need to press down firmly   because the slit in the new leather is cut just a little bit smaller than  the arm itself. Be sure the edges of the metal pan are pressed into the  slits on the bottom of the foam cushion. Be sure the fit is good. Once  firmly placed on the pan, you can fold over all the edges of the cover  including the front, rear, and sides. Turn the seat cushion over so you  can work on the metal pan. Before you start attaching the new cover to  the bottom of the pan, locate all the bolt holes you will later need to  access when putting the seats back together. There are two bolt holes on  the side of the pan (opposite side from the short metal arm) where the  tilt mechanism will later be attached. There are also the four bolt holes  on the bottom of the pan where the sliding tracks will be bolted. Some of  these will be covered by the new leather. Don't poke holes in the leather  now, because it will move as you attach it, but be sure you can find  these bolt holes later without seeing them!

On the bottom of the seat, pull the sides tight and place the welting  near the hog ring attach points. If you want the seat to be tighter, you   can actually fold the welting under the seat cover and pull it tighter.  Start fastening the seats to the pan with hog rings at the side attach  points. Do both sides and be sure the seat is still straight and firm.  Check your progress as you go. After doing the sides, do the rear.  Finishing up the corners is the trickiest part. It is kind of like  wrapping a birthday present, trying to get the paper folded and cleanly  taped so that your box looks nice. The same is true here. You may want to  experiment, with one piece of leather over another, or perhaps even  folding them under and butting them together. You may even want to attach  one piece of leather directly to another without attaching them to the  pan. Do not be too concerned if some of the padding or welting ultimately  shows - remember this is under the seat on the floor! Fold over the front  and rear of the seat cushion, making your package look as pretty as  possible, and attaching at the various hog ring points.

seat14.jpg (13256 bytes)Your seat cushion should now be covered in new leather! The seat back is covered in a similar fashion, but it is extremely critical that you make  sure the cover is straight. Check your progress all along the way! If you  are off by even a fraction of an inch, the seats will look very obviously  crooked because of the horizontal stripes across the back, which will now  be sloping.

Now for the seat back. Start by unzipping the headrest of the new cover, and sliding the cover  over the seat.(Again, skip this for the '99, since there are no zippers or headrest speakers.)  If there are headrest speaker wires in the seat, be sure  they are properly in place. Be sure you have the correct cover - the  passenger seat is the one with the map pocket. After sliding the cover   most of the way onto the seat, make a first pass at getting it straight.  Turn the seat over and look at the way the back of the cover fits onto  the seat back. Be sure all the seams at the edges line up with the actual  edge of the back of the seat back. Then turn the seat back to the front.  Look at the stitched seams on the edge bolsters and be sure they are even  on both sides. Press the foam bolsters of the seat into the cover and  pull the cover tight. Again, press and push until everything is straight  and smooth. Continually check to make sure the cover is straight on the   back. If you want, lay the foam insert back in the seat back and check  the fit of the center panels - be sure the lines look straight. Also,  before you start stapling hog rings, you might want to familiarize  yourself with the location of the two bolt holes on the tilt arm side of  the seat back, and the metal pivot rod on the other side. You will need to later make holes in the leather at these three locations.

After making your first pass at placing and positioning the cover, start  stapling hog rings. Work in reverse order from when you removed the   originals. Start with the rings up in the headrest. After they are done,   double check the entire cover and pull it down again tight on the seat.   Inside the center seat back area, place the rings in the top of the  recess. Then work the side bolsters one at a time. Finally, place the  center foam insert firmly back into the recess in the seat back, and tuck  the leather in over it. Then, while keeping the foam from sliding on the  cover, fold it up so you can attach the cover to the foam insert with hog  rings on each side.

Turn the seat back over, and pull the back down tight while pulling the  center and bolsters up from the front. Look up under the flap at the   bottom of the back, and locate the attachment welting/listing. The front  and back will be stapled to each other without actually being attached to  the seat itself. And again, as you did on the cushion, decide how to make  your package look prettiest. Generally it is wisest to start with the  center, but not complete its edges until you are ready to do the  bolsters. When stapling the back, you may find it easiest to poke the hog  ring through the listing on the back side of the cover (which is hidden  under the flap) and then bring the front around to meet it, or do the  opposite, putting the staple through the welting from the front and then   reaching in to grab the back. Do what works best for you.

After the center is started you can move to the bolsters and finish up  the job. The cover is now attached to the seat back. Make sure it is   straight! Replace the headrest speakers, if any, and replace their cover.  Be sure the cover is placed firmly under the seam in the cover so that it  does not stick out. Find the best fit and zip the headrest cover closed.  Your seat cushion and back are now both finished being covered.

Step 5: Reassemble the seat

Reassembly is basically the reverse of the disassembly in Step 2. Begin with the seat bottom cushion. Turn the cushion over so the bottom is exposed. Re-attach the tracks, taking care not to bend the wire between them. Depending on the seat covers, the bolt holes for the tracks may or may not be cut. If the bolt holes are covered with seat material, you'll have to poke a hole in them. Feel around until you locate the holes. Punch through them with an awl, then open them up with scissors or a razor blade until the holes are just a tad larger than the bolt holes. Install the tracks with the 12mm bolts.

The '99 track also has two 14m bolts on the side where the seat belt receiver attaches. Again, carefully locate the bolt holes, open them up with an awl and scissors, and tighten the track on the side.

Find the bolt holes on the tilt-arm side of the seat cushion and open them up. Carefully lifting the plastic cover to expose the 14mm bolts, re-attach the tilt-arm to the side of the seat cushion. A box-end wrench works best here. Tighten the bolts.

On the non tilt-arm side, push the round plastic grommet back into the metal arm.

seat16.jpg (18350 bytes)You're now ready to attach the seat back to the cushion. On the non-tilt arm side of the seat back, there is a metal protrusion which will slide into the grommet. Cut the material to allow the metal piece to come through. Once the metal part is free, slide it into the grommet and secure it with the Phillips head screw (or 8mm bolt if its a '99.) Don't tighten it all the way yet.

seat17.jpg (17402 bytes)Line up the seat back with the tilt-arm mechanism. Get a rough idea of where the holes should be. Then feel around for the two 14mm bolt holes in the seat back side. We found the best way was to place the seat back into position and use an awl to punch through the holes. Again, open up the holes a bit with a blade or scissors and re-attach the seat back to the tilt-arm. Tighten the two bolts, then go back to the non tilt-arm side and tighten the screw.

Slide the plastic cover back over the tilt-arm with the two 14mm bolts. Carefully rotate the larger plastic cover to expose the hole at the bottom of the smaller plastic cover Secure it at the bottom with the Phillips head screw. Then secure the larger cover with the two Phillips head screws removed way back when you started.

Step 6: Reinstall the seats

If you've gotten this far and you still need to read these instructions in order to complete the job, you may be in trouble. Why? Because you're done with all the hard stuff and all you have to do is bolt the seats back into the car! Four more 14mm bolts and you're done! Just don't forget which is the passenger's seat and which is the driver's seat! Now sit back and admire your handiwork, and rejoice in the fact that you just saved several hundred dollars and probably ended up with a better job!

Back to Garage

19 July, 1998