Our Testing Methodology
We tested a 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. We also did a bit of research-based picking as we couldn’t get covers for all the categories we wanted. Let’s get into how they did.
Best Car Covers Reviews & Recommendations
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 Buying Guide
First and foremost, you want to keep in mind the fit. Car covers come in custom, contoured or semi-custom, and universal sizes. 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 is a factor. 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.
Types of Car Covers
There are three main types of car covers: 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.
How Much Do Car Covers Cost?
Car covers range from under $20 to over a thousand dollars for your top-spec, OEM-produced supercar covers. Solid, middle-of-the-range models will likely set you back under $200.
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: Do car covers cause rust?
If moisture is trapped underneath the car cover, rust may occur. This is an issue you might run into if a vehicle is stored outdoors with covers on for long periods of time, but it can be prevented by periodically inspecting the vehicle to ensure it’s dry and moving it to a new space if necessary.
Q: Can I use a car cover daily?
Yes. However, it’s important to be aware that repetitively dragging a cover over the paint raises the potential for scratches, and you should act carefully.