A car cover acts as a defensive shield against ruinous forces that can damage paint and interiors. From blizzards to indiscriminate birds, these relentless enemies strike exotic cars and everyday drivers without prejudice.
Covering up helps keep your ride looking new no matter what you drive, and there are options for every budget. Outdoor and all-weather car covers deflect the relentless sun and stormy weather, while indoor car covers repel dust and moisture that can cause damage even if your car is garage-kept. Choosing the best protection for your vehicle depends on fitment and material, and not all car covers are created equal.
While draping a $300 cover over a $600 car is a questionable financial decision at best, a low-quality, ill-fitting car cover is a waste of time and money that will do more harm than good. We’re here to help you choose the right car cover for you.
This hands-on car cover review draws on our experience through the neverending California sun and harsh New England winters. Factory direct custom-fit covers weren’t available for any of our test cars (they never were), so we picked up a variety of semi-custom, universal fit, and partial windshield covers for hands-on indoor and outdoor testing.
Winter must have gotten the message — it served up perfect conditions. Read on to find out how our test covers held up against a brutal Nor’easter that brought over two feet of snow.
About Our Hands-On Review of Car Covers
We tested a selection of semi-custom and universal car covers under normal and what turned out to be punishing conditions. Our best car cover test fleet consists of a tall and boxy SUV, a subcompact hatchback, and a turbo specialty sports coupe. We limited the budget to around $100 and went for outdoor covers that could also be used indoors. Fabric quality, overall fit, stitching, and additional features like tie-downs or side zippers were essential factors.
The best car cover is the one made by the company that built your car; however, factory fitted covers are usually reserved for high-end luxury, sports, and exotic cars — and have a price tag to match.
Relative obscurity influenced our car cover selections. Since the 1989 Mitsubishi Montero, 1982 Toyota Hatchback, and 1987 Mitsubishi Starion never sold in large numbers here in the states, custom-fit car covers are an expensive, made-to-order proposition.
Wrestling with a full-size cover on a street-parked or daily driven car isn’t always feasible, so we also picked up a few windshield snow and ice covers. These partial covers are designed to keep snow off the front windshield, so you don’t have to start your day with scraping ice off glass and frozen solid windshield wipers. Nature unleashed ideal conditions for a real torture test of partial snow and ice windshield and full-size covers.
Benefits of Car Covers
- Protect Your Investment. A simple car cover helps prevent short and long term damage that can reduce your car’s value in the used car market. Even the best outdoor car covers eventually disintegrate under relentless sun, rain, and snow. A sacrificial car cover saves your paint and interior.
- Long Term Defense. Letting an automobile sit unused for extended periods can cause as much or more damage than regular use. This is especially true if the car is left exposed to the elements. Car covers can help stop excessive moisture buildup and prevent damage from automotive atrophy.
- Deflect Debris. Tree sap, sprinklers, bug guts, pine needles, and any number of villainous forces can cause permanent paint damage. Debris buildup from pine needles or leaves retains moisture that accelerates rust and can cause mechanical problems. A car cover stops damage before it starts.
Types of Car Covers
Unless you’re shooting for the barn-find look, indoor covers are the answer for short- and long-term storage out of the elements. Indoor covers prevent dust buildup and offer moderate protection against accidental scratches. The lightweight fabric covers are not water or weatherproof but can act as a vapor and moisture barrier that prevents condensation buildup and mold.
Protection against the elements requires different materials and construction than indoor covers can provide. Outdoor covers range from multi-layer weatherproof versions to single-layer water-resistant types. Sun, rain, snow, and ice present formidable challenges for outdoor car covers, so consider your climate for the best protection. Breathability and hold-down straps are vital.
These partial covers fit over the front windshield and cowl to prevent snow and ice buildup while you sleep, so you don’t have to scrape off the ice when you wake up. Smaller versions cover the windshield only, and larger versions feature a sunroof, side window, and mirror pockets. The covers are inexpensive and easier to use than full-size covers and are an excellent choice for winter.
Southern California based AstroAI offers a wide range of automotive tools and accessories with a team focus on quality and reasonable price. The AstroAI product range includes everything from an extensive lineup of multimeters and tire pressure gauges to car wash tools and sun shades. Visit the AstroAI store for the latest product lineup.
Based in Hong Kong, the Favoto company product lineup includes a range of automotive and motorcycle accessories. MP3 players and Bluetooth FM transmitters offer in-cabin entertainment, and Favoto car, motorcycle, ATV, and even boat covers help protect against damage inside and out. Favoto also provides a selection of motorcycle locks with alarms.
California-based CarCovers.com was established in 2008 with a focus on an exhaustive range of covers and sterling customer service. The company offers a range of surfaces for everything from cars, trucks, and SUVs to ATVs, motorcycles, and boats. The semi-custom covers are available in a wide range of fabrics and types by make, year, and model.
Car Cover Pricing
- Under $25: Economy grade universal fit car covers with limited durability.
- $25-$150: Semi-custom and some custom fitments. Larger vehicle sizes
- $150 and up: Custom fit or manufacturer original equipment option.
Car covers come in Custom, Contoured or Semi-Custom, and Universal fitments. Custom-sewn aftermarket covers can meet or exceed the manufacturer’s fit, and semi-custom or contour covers are the next best choice. Universal fit covers are designed for vehicle types, rather than a specific year, make, and model.
Four Seasons, Four Corners
Four corner tie-downs are mandatory on outdoor and all-weather car covers. The stronger, the better; don’t bother buying an outdoor car cover that doesn’t have them. Elastic hems alone are not enough unless you like fighting with maple trees and the brambles over car cover custody after your cover takes flight. Center anti-theft eyelet grommets might deter criminals but rarely prevent the car cover from coming loose and collecting grit as it flops around on the ground.
Material and Breathability
Where you live and where your car is stored are the two most important factors in choosing a material that offers the most protection. Indoor car covers don’t need to fight the elements and are made of softer fabrics. Outdoor covers range from single-layer water-resistant fabric to multi-layer weatherproof material that’s more like a tarp than a windbreaker. Look for breathability with outdoor covers. You don’t want to wrap your car up like a steak in plastic wrap.
- Mirrors: Mirror pockets seem like a great idea but can be problematic in practice. The pockets don’t always line up with the mirrors. Tucking them in turns them into puddle pockets, and leaving them out leaves your covered car with a pair of sad floppy ears. More stitching and seams mean more possible failure points.
- Measured Success: “Measure twice, cut once” is the builder’s motto, but it seems like no matter how many times we measure the fleet for universal car covers, the product measurements don’t quite measure up. Use the maximum or “fits up to” size when ordering to avoid loose fit.
- Coming and Going: Look for a car cover with a front or rear tag. We’re not sure why this isn’t a feature on every single thing that needs to be unfolded and stretched over something else in a specific direction, but few car covers come with this simple, time-saving feature.
- Antenna Hole: If your car has a steel shaft-type antenna on the fender, then you’ll either have to remove it or punch a hole in the cover for proper fit. It’s been a few years since cars came with shaft antennas, so look for an antenna patch with your car cover if needed. We removed our antennas for testing purposes.
Car Cover Tips
- Shake off dust and debris before removing and storing your car cover to prevent contaminating the inner layer with potentially abrasive materials.
- Wash and wax your car before covering it. You don’t want any grit or grime scraping around in between the car cover and the paint, trim, and glass. Wax adds another layer of protection.
- Get into the habit of folding up the cover from the same end of the car every time to avoid which end is which confusion. Fold from the back, unfold from the front. Or vice versa.
- Clean the cover itself semi-frequently to prevent tree sap, bird droppings, or bug guts from piling up on your car cover. Excessive buildup can leech through the material and cause damage that you won’t see until you pull off the cover.
Q: Can a car cover damage my paint?
Only if neglected. A dirty, low quality, worn out, ill-fitting, or improperly fastened car cover can scratch or scuff the paint. Dirt trapped in between the car and the cover acts like sandpaper. The wind whipped fasteners and tie-down straps can slap against the paint like loose rope hitches on a flagpole.
Q: Can I use an outdoor car cover indoors?
Yes. Most outdoor covers can also be used indoors. Make sure both sides of the cover are thoroughly clean and dry. Breathable fabric is important. You don’t want the cover to trap moisture inside the car during indoor storage. Super-duty blizzard proof car covers are best for outdoor use only.
Q: How do I clean a car cover?
The same way you wash a car. Rinse first and use car wash soap to remove crud and grime. Rinse again, reverse the car cover, and repeat. Hang dry. Wash the car too. It will probably be filthy after washing the cover. Some indoor car covers can be machine washed but check with the manufacturer first.
Q: Will these covers fit my car?
Order car covers by year, make, and model or vehicle type and measurements. A sedan, hatchback, SUV, pickup truck, and CUV or crossover require covers that fit their unique shapes. Measurements come next. The measurements in your owner’s manual are a good place to start. Vehicle type and length are usually enough to get close to universal covers.
Factory direct car covers are the best choice for luxury or sports and exotic rides but not available for most cars. Custom-fit covers are a close second and can meet or exceed original equipment quality and fit. Semi-custom covers take up the middle ground, and universal fit car covers are an excellent budget protection option.