Can you imagine spending an awful lot of money buying something really nice and then covering it up so it can’t be seen? Well, that’s exactly what a lot of people do with their cars, trucks, vans, and SUVs. They spend a ton of money buying a vehicle with really nice cloth, imitation leather, or real leather seats and then they cover them up completely with a set of car seat covers. So, why do people buy car seat covers, what different types of car seat covers are available, and are car seat covers worth buying in the first place?
A set of well-fitted seat protectors do an excellent job of protecting your car seats from general wear and tear such as cracking or splitting, but they can also stop things like stains, pet hair, sun damage, liquid spills, and body fluids like sweat from getting onto or into your seats.
Dirty, smelly, or damaged car seats will reduce the value of a vehicle, so buying and fitting a set of car seat covers could actually be an investment that ends up saving you money in the long run.
What this article is and isn’t about!
There are lots of articles online about car seat covers that are basically an excuse to get you to click on links to Amazon and elsewhere so that the site then gets an affiliate commission.
This is not one of those. I always have links to a couple of affiliate offers such as for new and used car buying quotes in your area and government auctions for buying bargain-priced used vehicles, but this is definitely not one of those “Best Car Seat Covers” where it’s just a list of different seat covers with affiliate links.
A big part of my background is from selling Land Rovers and Range Rovers in rural settings, and seat covers were considered an essential accessory for a lot of my customers in those days. You know, mud, dogs, and all that?
This article is about what types of seat cover there are, what they are used for if they are any good, and the pros and cons of fitting or not fitting covers.
Different types of car seat cover
If you think there are a lot of different types of upholstery you can have in a new car these days, just wait until you start looking at the car seat covers that are available. Because they are easily (relatively – more of that later) removable, covers are available in lots of different colors, patterns, and materials that would never get the nod from the designers at major automakers.
If you fancy a set of leopard print car seat covers then good for you, but you’d have to admit that you’d be limiting the number of potential buyers you’d have for your car if your actual seats were leopard print and not just removable covers.
Removable seat covers allow you to customize the interior of your car to reflect your personality in a way that’s temporary and easily reversed, which then means you don’t have to find someone with the exact same taste in order to resell your car when the time comes.
Of course, the main reason people buy and fit seat coverings is to protect the original upholstery from cracks, splits, holes, animal hair, liquid spills, dust, dirt, and even more unpleasant contaminants such as bodily fluids.
Expressing your personal taste and protecting your car’s original upholstery are not the only reasons why people fit car seat covers though. If your vehicle didn’t come with heated seats you can buy a set of heated car seat covers that will deliver that luxurious heated feeling in cold weather for considerably less than it would cost to fit new seats or buy another car that comes with heated seats.
And even if your vehicle came with heated seats, a lot of the time it will only be the front seats that are heated. If you want those in the back to have the same level of comfort it’s easy to get a seat of heated car seat covers that will also have the added benefit of protecting the original upholstery.
Why do people buy car seat covers?
The main reasons why people buy and fit car seat covers are:
- To protect the original upholstery – from various hazards such as rips, scratches, cigarette burns, spills, hair, dust, dirt, and bodily fluids like sweat.
- Cover up existing damage – replacing original seats can be very expensive so plenty of people buy seat covers to cover up existing damage caused by general wear and tear.
- Changing the look of the interior – most car interiors are a fairly dull black or gray, so some people like to jazz things up a bit by fitting a set of funky seat covers.
- Adding heating to non-heated seats – fitting a set of heated seat covers is a quick, easy, and cost-effective way of adding heated seats to cars that don’t already have them.
- Increased practicality – light-color car upholstery can look extremely luxurious and high-end, but light interiors are not especially practical, especially if you have kids or dogs in the car regularly.
- Protect resale value – Ripped, scratched, worn, stained or smelly upholstery will have a seriously negative impact on your vehicle’s resale value, so a set of car seat covers will protect your resale value as well as the actual seats.
Are seat covers worth buying?
Car seat covers are definitely worth buying on several separate levels, but especially from a financial point of view. A set of car seat covers will allow you to use your vehicle to its full potential without worrying about what harm could be done to your vehicle’s resale value through wear and tear to the seats.
Although damage to bodywork can be expensive and inconvenient to get fixed, getting seats professionally repaired or reconditioned can easily prove to be even more inconvenient and eye-wateringly expensive.
Every single time I got a new Land Rover company car I fitted at least a set of rear seat covers. And since leaving the retail auto business, I continued to do the same with my new cars ever since we got a dog.
Believe you and me, when you’ve had a car, truck, or SUV for a few years and you want to change it for a new one, you’ll be delighted when you remove those waterproof covers to reveal the original seats underneath that look as good as new. And you’ll be even more delighted when you realize how much they’ve also protected your vehicle’s resale value.
How do I choose a car seat cover?
The best way to choose a cover for your car seat is to first think carefully about what you want the covers to do. Are you buying them for purely practical reasons, for how they look, or for both? When you start to shop for a set of car seat covers you’ll be amazed at just how many different styles, colors, patterns, and different fabrics are available.
In my experience, the one important factor that many buyers overlook is the fit of the car seat covers they are looking to buy.
Tailored car seat covers
You will find seat covers that are specifically tailored to fit your exact vehicle, and that can even come down to the exact vehicle model, trim level, and model year. These look the best because they obviously fit the best, but you will be limited in terms of different colors, designs, and materials.
What I will warn you about is fitting them yourself. These properly tailored car seat covers are made to fit exactly and they are sometimes only a little larger than the seats they are made to cover. This ensures a great fit, and when they are fitted they can look almost as if they are the original upholstery.
However, you might find they take you an hour or two to fit and you might get pretty frustrated during the process. I used to get our technicians to fit them for me when they were doing the pre-delivery inspection on my demo car.
Unfortunately, the service manager soon got wise to the fact that the allowed fitting time for the covers wasn’t nearly enough to cover the true cost of the technician’s time and then they just got left in the back seat for me to fit them myself.
Seat covers that ‘fit’ your specific vehicle
Next, you have sets of car seat covers that claim to fit your exact vehicle but they are not an exact fit by any means. There are plenty of websites where you can enter your vehicle’s make, model, and year and they will present you with a range of covers that will fit your car seats.
The problem is the fit is just based on fairly rough dimensions and the same car seat covers will be sold as fitting a lot of different vehicles that happen to coincide with those dimensions.
I’d say that any sort of fit is better than no fit at all, but those “one size fits all” seat covers are usually far too generous and they’re not exactly an aesthetic enhancement for your vehicle interior.
Universal car seat covers
If you’re not bothered about the fit and you’re more bothered about low cost or a wide range of available materials, colors, and designs, a set of universal car seat covers will offer you the greatest choice. Please be aware though, that these seat covers might not protect your seats as much as you might like as dog hair, dirt and liquids could still be a problem as these universal seat covers move and ride up and can leave areas exposed until you put the cover back in place.
Heated car seat covers
You’ll probably find that heated seat covers are more about heat than the cover. You’re unlikely to find any properly tailored car seat covers that are heated. What they tend to be are relatively loose-fitting covers that stretch over the seat base and back and are kept in place by elasticated bottoms. The heating element does its job but they’re not going to be quite as effective when it comes to protecting your seats as a proper set of tailored, waterproof car seat covers.
Massaging seat covers
You might see seat covers advertised that have a massage function, but like the heated car seat covers, these are more about massaging than covering. In fact, most of the time they are little more than massage cushions so I’m not going to waste time discussing them at length here.
Are car seat covers dangerous?
At first, you might wonder how seat covers could possibly be dangerous, but in some cases, they can be. Modern cars are getting more and more airbags in all sorts of places these days and any aftermarket seat covers that inhibit the effectiveness of an airbag are not a good idea.
If you have car seats that have airbags in them and the seat covers you are thinking of fitting would go over the airbag then please think again.
How to wash car seat covers
If you are wondering how to wash covers then you must really, really need your car seats covered up. Car seat covers are there to protect from spills and stains, but if your car seat covers are going to get that dirty you might need to buy two sets.
Washing instructions should always be provided when you buy a set of covers, but cheaper sets from somewhere like China might not be provided so you might have to make an educated guess. But if your seats are getting abused so much in daily life that you are going to need to wash them, make sure you have a second set to fit while the other covers are drying.
Do you have to buy car seat covers in a full set?
Once again, if you’re buying cheap car seat covers you’ll have less choice and you might well have to buy a full set, even if you only want the front or the back covers, but they’re so cheap it probably doesn’t matter.
Unfortunately, properly tailored covers may also present the same issue. These sets are expensive to design and produce and it’s not uncommon for them to only be offered in full sets to make it worth the expense and effort for the manufacturer.
Even so, the extra expense of having to buy more covers than you intend to use will be more than offset by the effect seats that are like new will have on your car’s resale or trade-in value.
What cars are easy to buy seat covers for?
You’ll be able to find car seat covers for any vehicle of any age, but how well they fit and how many choices you have will vary considerably. If you have a big-selling mass-market car that isn’t too old you shouldn’t have much problem.
If you search online for something like Nissan seat covers, Volkswagen seat covers, Ford seat covers, or something more specific such as Honda Civic seat covers, you’ll be presented with an almost inexhaustible list of options.
Likewise, vehicles that are prone to heavy use such as minivans, trucks, or off-roaders are also very widely catered for. Perhaps surprisingly, I started to find it difficult to get properly tailored covers for my Land Rover LR4s towards the end of my time in that area of the industry. Land Rover used to have them in the accessory brochures all the time but they became harder to find as the vehicles went increasingly upscale.
What are car seat covers made from?
You have far more materials to choose from when it comes to aftermarket coverings than you will ever have with factory upholstery. It used to be the case that most new cars offered buyers a choice of black or light interiors, but more and more are now only offering dark interiors because that’s what people prefer, as I’ve written about in this article.
There are high-quality materials used for seat covers, durable materials, practical materials, and some largely decorative materials. I would assume that most people will be looking for waterproof covers, but the materials that are the most waterproof are not necessarily the most attractive or most comfortable.
Fake and even genuine leather covers are available, and these will offer decent protection against spills and stains as well as good protection against wear and tear. However, you will find they can be pretty expensive, especially genuine leather covers.
Man-made materials like nylon and polyester are the most popular, but you will find more exotic materials such as vinyl, Draylon, corduroy, denim, and even rubber.
Should you buy a set of covers for your seats?
If the interior of your vehicle gets a lot of abuse from adults, children, dogs, or even cargo being loaded and unloaded it’s hard to make a case for not fitting a decent set of covers. I’d always go with waterproof ones, but that’s down to my circumstances and what I use my vehicle for.
But even if you don’t have kids or a dog or if you rarely even have anyone sitting in the back, a set of front car seat covers is a good idea if you do a lot of driving. It’s amazing how quickly some car seats can start to look tired and worn after repeated use and it would be a shame to have rear seats that look like new and only make it more obvious how worn the front seats have become.
Is there a case for not having car seat covers?
If I had the kind of money where I could afford a Bentley, Maybach, Lamborghini, or something equally exotic and ostentatious, there’s no way at all I’m going to be covering up those seats. If you can afford to buy cars at that level the resale value probably doesn’t matter, so why wouldn’t you choose to enjoy the expensively upholstered seats that come with such cars?
Where should you buy seat covers from?
I’d always suggest you start with the manufacturer or a dealership that represents the brand of car you have or that you’re looking to buy. If anywhere can supply properly tailored car seat covers that are produced especially for the vehicle you have it will be there.
But if you want to spend less or if the manufacturer/dealership doesn’t sell sets specifically for the vehicle you have, there are literally thousands of places you can buy all different types online. And like just about anything in life, it’s probably stating the obvious to say you pretty much get what you pay for.