Picking the perfect budget car cover can be challenging. There is a dizzying number of manufacturers to choose from; they all seem to make the same claims; and you’re trying to protect a big investment, your car, on a tight budget.
This article has been written to help you cut through all the noise and make the right choice for both you and your car.
A Quick Review of the Benefits of Car Covers
From vandals to storms to dive-bombing birds, we have outlined in gruesome detail all that can happen to your car and car’s paint if left unprotected (see infographic from our recent survey of frequent drivers).
The good news is the car covers can mitigate most of the potential damage. Key benefits of car covers include:
- Dust protection – Prevents accumulation of dust which acts like a fine-grade of sandpaper.
- Weather protection – Lessens oxidation and fading due to UV radiation, rain, snow and ice.
- Natural hazards – Keeps acidic substances like bird poop and tree sap from “etching” your clear coat.
- Theft deterrent – Adds an additional barrier for thieves and prevents them from seeing valuable items inside of your car.
- Value protection – Maintains condition which helps resale and trade-in value.
- Interior protection – Stops UV rays from warping and fading plastic and leather dashboards.
Types of Car Covers
At the highest level, there are two ways to categorize car covers:
- Indoor vs. Indoor/Outdoor
- Custom Fit vs. Universal Fit.
Indoor covers primarily need to protect against dust. Mildew from water condensation and accidental scratches from garage clutter or pets are also common issues.
As we discussed above, outdoor covers need to protect against, well, just about everything. They key is to match the most likely threats where you live and drive against the strengths of a particular car cover. For example, in Arizona a highly-dust proof cover that reflects the sun would be ideal. Protection against snow would be a luxury and not worth the added cost.
Custom fit covers are tailored to the exact dimensions of a particular model. They are designed to fit snugly with no issues around mirrors, antenna, spoilers, etc. Many, if not most, custom fit car covers fall outside of the budget category.
Universal fit covers, on the other hand, are designed to work for as many different cars as possible. These covers may be advertised as fitting a certain make and model (e.g., 2018 Mustang), but what they are really doing is using 5 or 6 size categories to fit cars that fall within 12-24 inches in length of each other .
As a result, these car covers don’t always fit perfectly. A Toyota Camry is 190.9 inches while a Chevy Malibu is 193.8 inches. Even a few inches can affect snugness. To take up any slack, universal car covers often include grommets and straps. The good news is for all of these tradeoffs, universal car covers are 50% to 60% cheaper than their custom fit cousins.
Key Product Attributes
There are five product attributes that account for most of the differences among car covers:
- Fabric Quality (Number of Layers)
- Fabric Quality (Type and Weave of Materials)
- Liner Softness
Generally speaking the more layers in a cover, the more protection it offers. Multiple layers make it harder for moisture and dust to penetrate, thus keeping your car cleaner. They also offer more padding against dings and scratches. Three layers are relatively common with premium covers often having 5-7 layers.
The type of fabric is also key. Fabrics should be good quality and tightly woven. The smaller the weave or “pores,” the more difficult it is for dust and moisture to penetrate. Single-layer, non-woven covers trap moisture between the cover and car paint, causing mildew and corrosion. They are best avoided.
Liner softness is huge. For most cars, the outer clear coat is about 40 microns thick (a micron is one thousandth of a millimeter). Low-quality liners tend to be abrasive and can cause scratches to the clear coat. Polypropylene liners are the cheapest and somewhat abrasive. Poly-cotton liners are middle of the road and very functional. Nylon fleece and cotton are the highest quality and are the least likely to cause scratches (although lint is sometimes an issue).
Fabrics need to “breathe,” so any trapped moisture can dry out. Moisture can get under the car cover in several ways. In a hard rain, some moisture will soak through even the best multi-layer fabric.
Also, in humid environments, condensation forms underneath the car cover. Left alone, this moisture will cause any existing scratches to rust more quickly and create the conditions for mold and mildew to thrive.
One thing to keep in mind is that breathability and number of layers are somewhat of a tradeoff. This means that the more layers a car cover has, the less it “breathes” and vice versa. Depending on where you live, how you drive etc., one of the attributes may be more important than the other. We will discuss this in more detail below.
Fit is important. A more snug fit means less flapping which means it’s less likely unwanted moisture or debris to hit your car as the cover “flaps up.” Also, if you have a lower quality liner, a tighter fit means less rubbing against the paint.
Lastly, color is not just about aesthetics. Color choice has real implications about how well a car cover actually protects. Lighter colors such as classic grey and tan, reflect more light resulting in less UV radiation. They also create a cooling effect.
Considerations in Choosing a Budget Car Cover
Now that we know the types of covers and the most important product attributes, we need to know how to choose the perfect car cover. Answering a few key questions up front, greatly increases the chances of getting the right car cover for both you and your car.
- Do you mostly park indoors or outdoors?
- What is the climate like where you live?
- Will your car sit for long periods of time?
- What other potential hazards does your car face?
If you primarily park indoors, dust, water condensation and accidental scratches are the biggest concerns. The implication for finding the right car cover is that you want a fabric that is specifically designed to be dust resistant and one that is highly breathable. Something like a light, 3-layer fabric with a soft inner-liner might be ideal.
If you primarily park outdoors, think about the climate where you live and the biggest risks to your car/paint. If you live in the Sun Belt, intense sun and wind are the problems. In Miami, it’s rain and salty air, and Washington D.C. is awash in pollen.
It is important to make sure that the strengths of the car cover you buy match the climate conditions where you drive and park. In the South where rain storms and intense sun are the norm, it would be important to have more layers and a UV protective color. A 5-7 layer car cover made with highly reflective polyester or acrylic fibers would work well.
Driving and parking habits are another key consideration. If you travel a lot and do not park in any one place for long periods of time, a light cover that is easy to install will suffice. If your car is going to sit for long periods of time, a thick cover with a top quality liner is crucial.
Lastly, always take any special circumstances into account. One example is if you have to park near a construction site for an extended period of time. Construction sites project a lot of highly abrasive concrete dust into the air. In that case, buy a car cover with the best dust protection and breathability that your budget allows.
A Selection of Budget Car Covers
We consider “budget” car covers to be priced around $40 or less. These covers will not offer the utmost in protection or durability. The best ones, however, provide solid protection at an unbeatable price.
Here are some of the better ones for your consideration. These are all indoor-outdoor, universal fit models.
|Car Cover||Model||Usage||Price||ASA Rating|
Solar Shield Breathable
Basic Guard 3 Layer
Quick Note on Budget Car Cover Reviews
When people complain about budget car covers, it is generally because of two things: their “waterproof” car cover is not actually waterproof and/or it doesn’t fit as expected.
As we noted above, you don’t actually want a waterproof car cover. A truly waterproof, non-woven cover does not allow trapped water to evaporate, resulting in increased corrosion and mold.
Virtually all covers you will see are “moisture resistant” meaning some moisture in a heavy rain would seep through. The more layers a cover has, the more resistant it is to moisture.
Some manufacturers unhelpfully advertise their covers as “waterproof” when they are actually “moisture resistant,” creating unrealistic expectations. People not surprisingly expect 100% waterproof (because that’s what they’re told), when that’s not what they need. Manufacturers could save themselves a few headaches by using the correct term, which is “moisture resitant.”
Lastly, many drivers on a budget cannot afford a custom-fit car cover. Universal covers can be a little bit tight or loose depending on the make or model. Read the reviews carefully as certain universal covers fit certain models of cars better than others. You might find a perfect match. Also, always buy from a retailer like Amazon that has a very generous return policy.
Hopefully this guide to buying budget car covers has helped you learn more about the various types of covers and the most important product features.
Remember, think about how you use your vehicle and the climate where you live and match the relative strengths of a particular car cover to the conditions you face. Do that and you will absolutely choose the right car cover for you and your car.