If you don't have a garage or a carport, then there's nothing to protect your vehicle from the elements. A car cover will protect your car from environmental damage and preserve its value.
Car covers vary in their size and fit, as well as their protective features. Some covers are designed for daily use and protection against weather, while others are better suited to protecting vintage cars in your garage. Choosing the right cover means considering your vehicle, environment, and needs.
Our concise buying guide points out the features you need to take into account when making your choice. We've also made a few recommendations. Our favorite, OxGord's Signature Car Cover, has several features you normally find on expensive custom-fit models yet remains very affordable.
Considerations when choosing car covers
Types of covers
Car covers can be used for daily protection (if you need to keep your car on the street or in your driveway), or they can be used as a general-purpose cover for vehicles stored in a garage over extended periods. These basic covers are far and away the most popular variety (and the ones we've focused on), but they're not the only type available.
Others are designed to give a higher level of physical protection -- typically from hail, debris, or heat. These usually feature tougher, heavy-duty fabrics, though that's no guarantee that they'll stop all damage if the storm is severe. There are also inflatable car covers that cocoon your vehicle in a protective air bag.
Polypropylene and polyethylene are the most common outer cover materials, giving varying levels of rain protection. Cheaper car covers may just be a single layer, which are fine if they're on and off on a daily basis, but they are not recommended for long-term storage because they can trap harmful moisture. There's also a danger that they can scratch the paint.
More expensive covers have multiple layers, allowing breathability and offering cotton fleece on the inside to minimize the chances of scratches. They do a good job, but bear in mind that if the car isn't clean when the cover is put on, any trapped dirt and grit could still abrade the surface.
There are also 100% cotton and cotton-lycra mix covers available, but these are designed for indoor use only.
Getting the right size is obviously important, but there are two approaches.
The majority of car covers quote a size range and may be specifically designed for a range of sedans, SUVs or trucks -- but because these are kind of a "one size fits all," they can be fairly loose.
The alternative is to buy car covers specific to your make and model, but these are invariably more expensive. Additionally, while they look better, they won't necessarily offer a higher level of protection.
If it's for daily use, an elasticated or drawstring hem is quick and convenient. However, if it starts to get windy, it may not offer a good enough hold. Straps offer additional security against high winds.
Most antennas on modern vehicles can be retracted, but that's not always the case. If yours doesn't, you need a grommet to prevent it from damaging the cover. Many covers include them -- but not all.
A cord and lock may be provided. They don't offer a great deal of security, but will often put off the opportunist thief.
The cheapest car covers are single-layer models for around $25 to $30. Good-quality multi-layered versions cost around $45 and up, and even those for large SUVs and trucks seldom top $100. Those that do are either custom-fit or inflatable, and these can cost over $700.
Q. Are car covers washable?
A. To a degree. Most people suggest washing them on the vehicle. A soft brush and detergent is probably best, as pressure washers could cause damage to the cover. Check the manufacturer's recommendations. We didn't find any that were machine washable.
Q. Can a car cover be repaired if I get a tear?
A. As long as it's not too severe, it should be possible. Duct tape is a simple solution, and a variety of vinyl/poly repair kits are available. Iron-on patches can be used if the inner cotton layer is damaged. Be careful of the amount of heat, though -- it could cause problems for the poly outer.
Car covers we recommend
Best of the best: OxGord's Signature Car Cover
Our take: High-quality protection for larger sedans.
What we like: Water-resistant polypropylene, plus a micro-porous breathable layer and fleece that won't damage paintwork. Drawstrings for "Semi-Glove" fit. Antenna patch, storage bag, lock, and grommets for security against wind and theft.
What we dislike: Bulky. Not completely waterproof. Confusing warranty.
Best bang for your buck: Leader Accessories' Car Cover
Our take: Cheap, basic car cover available in a wide range of sizes.
What we like: Offers good protection against airborne contaminants and bird droppings. Effective windproof buckles and an elasticated hem for snug fit. Made from breathable, biodegradable material. Storage bag included.
What we dislike: Not waterproof. Long term durability is suspect.
Choice 3: Kakit's SUV Car Cover
Our take: Durable multi-layer protection for taller vehicles.
What we like: Five UV- and water-resistant layers including a soft fleece lining. Double-stitched seams for extra strength. Includes antenna patch, useful anti-theft lock, and storage bag. Three year warranty.
What we dislike: Slow to fit. Care required to avoid scratching paint.
Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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