Do you really need car seat covers, and if so, when should you use them? When you acquire a new car, odds are you want to keep it pristine as long as possible. Maybe you ban passengers from consuming food and drink; maybe you make your friends take their shoes off so as to not sully the carpets. Such are the extremes we might go to in order to keep our cars like new.
That level of diligence ultimately fades, however. Soon enough crumbs build up in the seat crevices and mud cakes the floor. Our cars can only stay so perfect when we rely on them daily.
For that reason, many are inclined to install car seat covers to protect the upholstery. These covers promise to be the first line of defense in the event of spills, crumbs, stains, and whatever other maladies might otherwise affect your seats. They also protect from general wear and tear.
If you’re on the fence about installing car seat covers, the following points are worth bearing in mind before making your decision.
Advantages of Using Car Seat Covers
Car seat covers come with a number of advantages. Let’s consider each in turn.
Protecting Your Upholstery: Stains and Wear
This is easily the number-one reason to go out and purchase a set of car seat covers. The most durable upholstery on the market is vinyl, but it’s rarely found outside of base-model pickup trucks and other low-trim vehicles.1 Leather and cloth upholstery are far more common – and also far more prone to staining, wearing, and aging.
Leather is the worst. Genuine leather is buttery soft and brings a rich, warm look to your interior – when it’s new. As it ages, leather toughens up, cracks, and darkens. Leather-cleaning products such as Lexol can only go so far; all the scrubbing in the world can’t fully restore worn-out old leather.2 Sometimes this patina is attractive, but in your car, it just looks unsightly.
Cloth seats typically wear better than leather over time, but they aren’t nearly as easy to clean if you happen to stain the fabric. You can purchase special cleaning products like this from ArmorAll, but you can’t just wipe up a mess with a little soap and water as you can on leather.
Car seat covers address both of these concerns. Protected from the sun as well as the constant ingress and egress of passengers, leather stays soft and clean when properly covered. Covered cloth seats ensure that the original fabric doesn’t stain when you inevitably spill a soda.
Protecting Your Upholstery: Pets and Children
While you might be reveling in keeping your new car new, your dog and newborn couldn’t care less. Nothing breaks in a car more than pets and children, so protecting your seats from their abuse is critical if you want to maintain the condition of your interior.
Pets are particularly bad with their shedding, and getting a quality rear car seat cover for your furry friend is an excellent way to keep hair and saliva (and heaven forbid anything worse) off your rear seat. When it’s time to tote passengers, pulling the seat cover will expose an unblemished rear seat.
Those with children learn firsthand that toys and snacks are bound to find a way onto the floors and the seat before you’ve even finished strapping the little ones in. This is another instance where a rear car seat cover makes perfect sense; let the cover take the brunt of the mess to ensure your upholstery stays clean and stain-free.
Not everyone shops car seat covers for practical purposes. Like anything else with aesthetic qualities, style is a big selling point of car seat covers. How many trucks have you seen with camo car seat covers? How about VW Beetles with Hawaiian prints? People love to match the persona of their vehicle with an appropriate seat cover. And if stereotypes don’t cut it, the breadth of seat-cover designs affords the chance for car owners to express their own personalities.
Disadvantages to Car Seat Covers
Like anything else, car seat covers do come with some drawbacks. Here are the big ones we think deter people from using them.
We get it: you’re probably wondering why we’re criticizing their style when we just left off praising them. Simply put, different strokes for different folks – and it seems more people dislike the look of car seat covers in their car than those that like it.
It isn’t hard to see why people might not appreciate the sight of car seat covers in their cars. For one, the car seat covers don’t often fit perfectly. In order to fit a variety of makes and models, covers typically fit a little loose, and that can give them a baggy appearance even when pulled as snug as possible. Over time, getting in and out can exacerbate the ill-fitted look.
If the look of seat covers just doesn’t float your boat, you might want to leave your seats uncovered.
We’ve discussed this before, but the wrong car seat covers can impede the functionality of your side-impact airbags, which are typically packaged into the frame of the front seatbacks.3 Universal-style car seat covers that fully cover the sides of the seat are the worst offenders; they may even affect the angle the airbag deploys, potentially harming you or the front passenger.
The best way to avoid potential safety issues is to purchase seat covers that are designed for use with side-impact airbags. These aren’t as common as traditional car seat covers, but they have begun proliferating on the market. A set such as these from FH Group is a great example of seat covers designed with airbags in mind.
So – Are Car Seat Covers Worth it?
We’d say so. Sure, their style may not be to everyone’s tastes, but seat covers help preserve your investment by keeping your interior in great shape and protecting it from the rigors of daily driving.
That protection isn’t just aesthetic – it’s quantifiable. If you’ve leased, this could mean saving hundreds in potential fees when it comes time to turn in your car. Those who’ve purchased outright won’t need to fret about decreased value due to an interior mishap.
The potential savings cinches it for us. If messy is your default, you’ll find seat covers can be a lifesaver when a drink goes sideways or your fries go rogue. And for those with children or pets, the benefit of seat covers is almost priceless, regardless of how you feel about their design.
So check out our list of best seat covers. After all, it’s better to have a pristine car interior and soiled seat covers than vice versa. You’ll thank yourself come trade-in time.
Ride Digest uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
- Simoniz. A Guide to Choosing the Best Material for Your Car’s Seats. Holtsauto.com. Published July 3, 2020. Accessed June 30, 2021.
- Popely R. What Are The Pros And Cons of Leather and Leatherette? Cars.com. Published September 1, 2016. Accessed June 30, 2021.
- Turner B. Your Corner Wrench: Seat covers and airbags do not mix. Driving.ca. Published September 5, 2017. Accessed June 30, 2021.