Hands-On Review of The Best Car Covers for All Seasons
Protect your ride inside and out.
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BY Mike Bumbeck / LAST UPDATED ON July 23, 2021
Mother Nature has countless ruinous forces. Some, like extreme weather and dive-bombing birds, can seem downright malevolent to those wishing to ensure their ride stays pristine. But there is a solution: the car cover.
Though designed to insulate and protect, not all car covers are created with the same exacting standards. And there are major differences between outdoor and indoor car covers, with those outside covers deflecting the relentless sun and stormy weather, while indoor car covers repel dust and moisture.
Some are made of thick, heavy material that provide a solid seal against the elements but might harm your car’s delicate surfaces like paint and chrome. Others are made of lightweight, easy-to-manage cloth that’s gentle on finishes, but might fall apart after a season or two or absolutely should not be used outside the garage. And the price range is all over the place. You can spend from as little as about $40 to easily eclipsing the total value of your used car for something bespoke to your make and model.
With such variability, and so many choices available, which car cover is right for your vehicle and you? How can you tell if you’re getting a good value on a quality product that’s right for your needs? Well, those questions have led you to the right place as The Drive has hand-tested several to see which is worth your hard-earned scratch. Luckily (for you, the reader, not so much for our intrepid author), a harsh New England snowstorm lent us a hand.
Semi-custom fit outdoor car cover with weatherproof outer layer and soft inner layer.
- Semi-custom fit by year, make, and model
- Can be used outdoors or indoors
- Patented gust strap wind protectors
- Costs more than universal fit car covers
- Tie-downs are not as easy to use as buckle type straps
Universal fit weatherproof cover with multi-layer reflective material and buckle tie-downs.
- Heavy-duty all-weather polyester material
- 6-point tie-down with buckle straps
- Sedan or SUV fitment
- Mirror pockets don’t always line up correctly
- Universal fit is not as good as semi-custom or contour fit
Outdoor cover with heavy-duty all-weather protection and universal fit by vehicle type.
- Hatchback contour for better fitment
- Driver side zipper seam for easy entry and cover removal
- Weatherproof fabric
- Tie-down straps require tying knots to secure the cover
- Fabric stiff in frigid temperatures
Why Trust Us
All of our reviews are based on market research, expert input, or practical experience with most products we include. This way, we offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
How We Tested Each of These Car Covers
We tested our selection of car covers under normal and, what turned out to be, very punishing conditions. Our car cover test fleet consists of a tall and boxy SUV (1989 Mitsubishi Montero), a subcompact hatchback (1982 Toyota Corolla), and a turbo specialty sports coupe (1987 Mitsubishi Starion).
Clearly, this isn’t the average stable of cars: no CUV, no minivan, nor full-size truck present. However, given the fact that these cars don’t have large aftermarket support, nor did the OEMs ever build bespoke covers when new, it actually allowed us the opportunity to test out a handful of widely available universal and near-custom covers.
To narrow down the scope slightly, we limited the budget to under $200 and went for outdoor covers that could also be used indoors. Wrestling with a full-size cover on a street parked or daily driven car isn’t always feasible either, so we also picked up a few windshield covers. These partial covers are designed to keep snow and sun off the windshield and out of the interior, so you don’t have to start your day with scraping ice off glass or finding a cracked dash.
As for what we’d be looking for, fabric quality, overall fit, stitching, and additional features like tie-downs or side zippers were essential factors. Luckily for us at the time of the test, nature unleashed ideal conditions for real torture. Let’s get into how they did.
While everything here stood up to the force of evil…I mean, a freak nor’easter, there was a clear winner: the CarCovers.com Platinum Shield cover. While the Platinum Shield cover was the most expensive of the set, which at the time of writing cost $194.95, the material was the best we handled and it felt positively durable.
Add that the inner lining was velvety soft, ensuring the paint stayed pristine (well, pristine for a 40-year-old SUV), as well as the lovely drawstring bag to keep everything tidy when not in use, it was the clear winner.
Car Cover Tips
We’ve picked up a few tips and tricks over the years, and before we dive into any of your further questions, we thought we’d offer that knowledge to you, our dear readers, free of charge.
- 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.
FAQs About Car Covers
You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers!
Q. Can a car cover damage my paint?
A. 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. Wind whipped fasteners and tie-down straps can slap against the paint like loose rope hitches on a flagpole, too.
Q. Can I use an outdoor car cover indoors?
A. 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.
Q. How do I clean a car cover?
A. 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. Some indoor car covers can be machine washed but check with the manufacturer first.
Q. What are some benefits of car covers?
A. A simple car cover helps prevent short- and long-term damage that can reduce your car’s value in the used car market. 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 and accelerates rust and mechanical problems.
Q. What are the types of car covers?
A. There are three: indoor, outdoor, and windshield 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. 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 tie-down straps are vital considerations.
Windshield 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. They also offer sun protection from baking your interior. 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.
Q. What are some top brands?
A. AstroAI, Favoto, CarCovers.com, as well as your own car’s OEM!
Q. How much do car covers cost?
A. Car covers range from under $20 to over a thousand for your top-spec, OEM-produced supercar covers. Solid, middle-of-the-range models will likely set you back under $200.
Q. What are some key features I should look out for?
A. First and foremost, fit. 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.
You’ll also want to look for four corner tie-downs, the stronger, the better. 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.
And lastly, material. 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.