London - A disgruntled motorist has won hundreds of pounds in compensation from Mercedes after he discovered the ‘leather’ seats in his car were partly made of plastic.

In a ruling that could pave the way for more claims against car manufacturers, the UK's independent Motor Ombudsman concluded any seat advertised as leather should be 100 percent made of leather.

Upholding the driver’s complaint and awarding him £850 (R15 000) compensation, it said that the description of leather seats used in Mercedes sales brochures was ‘misleading’.

Kerry Costello, 72, paid just under £35 000 (R635 000) for a nearly new Mercedes Benz E300 Cabriolet with ‘black leather’ interior last February at his local dealer in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

Mercedes charges a premium of £912 50 (R16 500) for customers who opt for leather seats on new cars, as opposed to those made of synthetic material called Artico, which is similar to vinyl but made to look and feel like leather.

The retired businessman said he became suspicious after reading a story in the Daily Mail, which revealed how another Mercedes owner was so sceptical about his ‘leather’ seats he sent samples to be analysed in a laboratory.

The tests found that parts of the seat upholstery were made of polyurethane. Mr Costello went back to Mercedes to ask whether his seats were made from leather or partly from plastic, but failed to get a satisfactory response – so he took his complaint to the Motor Ombudsman.

Mercedes told the ombudsman that the seat was leather ‘but uses other materials to give it rigidity and structure’.

It stressed that Mr Costello did not pay directly for the leather seats option as it was a used car – so he did not incur a loss.

But the arbitrator said it considered the description of the seats ‘misleading’, adding: "I think that if documents say the interior is leather, the assumption would be that this is fully leather."

Mr Costello, who is married to wife Lyn and now writes crime thriller novels, said: "I paid a lot of money for this car and expected an accurate description of what I was paying for. If other drivers follow the same path as me I expect they will get the same result."

A Mercedes spokesman said it complied with rules which stipulate what can be described as leather upholstery in cars.

Daily Mail