People have a love-hate relationship with car covers, and it’s the manufacturers’ fault, well some of them at least. This is all very unfortunate, because mother nature really has a thing for your car paint. From dive-bombing birds to weepy trees to vicious sandstorms, she has a bullseye on your car.
Why are manufacturers the issue? The root of the problem lies within the well-known equation:
Happiness = Reality – Expectations.
Car cover manufacturers play word games that drive up (pardon the pun) expectations, leaving customers less happy than they should be. This is counterproductive because even a budget car cover can help preserve the looks and resale value of a big investment, namely your car.
Artificial Expectation #1 – “They Said My *@#&! Car Cover Is Waterproof”
Some manufacturers use the term, “waterproof,” in their product listing copy, when what they actually mean is “moisture resistant.” By the way, iPhone does the same thing, but most people don’t leave their iPhones out in the rain for several days straight, so it’s not as big of a deal.
First, we need to step back and talk about car covers. If you’re an average driver, under no circumstances do you actually want a 100% waterproof car cover. These covers are typically made out of a single layer, non-woven material. The implication of “non-woven” is there are no “pores” for moisture to evaporate.
Even if the rain is repelled, humidity and condensation cause moisture to develop underneath the cover. If the material does not “breathe,” that moisture will not evaporate and ultimately will cause corrosion (especially where the paint is already scratched) and mildew.
To prevent this, manufacturers use multi-layered, finely woven materials to create car covers. Car covers usually have anywhere from 1-7 layers. The rule is the more layers and the finer the weave (i.e., the smaller the pores), the more moisture resistant a car cover is.
However, even the best, moisture resistant covers will have water seep through in a hard rain. So, back to our story. Many manufacturers will say “waterproof” when hawking a 5-layer cover when what they really mean is “your car will be a lot less wet than it would be otherwise.”
People in rainy areas like Florida, Louisiana and the Pacific Northwest are often shocked to find their cars wet after they purchased these type of covers. In reality, they protected their car from all but the heaviest of rains, wind and flying debris. If pitched properly by the manufacturers in the first place, customers would probably be happy with that level of performance.
Artificial Expectation #2 – “The @#$*&! Thing Won’t Fit”
Car covers come in two broad categories – custom fit and universal. Custom fit covers are like a made-to-measure suit. They are designed for a specific make and year model. Cutouts for mirrors, spoilers, antennae, etc., are all exactly in the right place. The fit is snug and secure, and moisture and debris are unlikely to get underneath the cover.
Universal covers, on the other hand, are meant to fit a wide variety of makes and models. They are also much more affordable. Where manufacturers’ shoot themselves in their collective feet is that they ask for a make and model before recommending a small, medium, large, etc.
This action, without relevant warnings, implies a false sense of precision. A Honda Civic, Toyota Camry, Chevy Malibu and Hyundai Sonata may vary in length by 4-5 inches but would be recommended the same cover. Often straps and grommets are included to tighten up the fit, but that can be a pain from an ease-of-use standpoint.
The key here is awareness. Realize that for a much cheaper price, there will be tradeoffs. Read through the comments as upset consumers tend to leave longer (and more entertaining?) reviews. They will often note that it “works great for a Malibu” but is “horrible on a Civic.” Also, only purchase from a retailer with a fair and generous return policy.
Artificial Expectation #3 – “But I’ve Had This Shirt Since Eighth Grade”
No one expects a t-shirt they wear every single day to last for 10 years. The same goes for a plastic table cloth that gets heavy use. For some reason, many consumers get upset that a budget car cover that costs south of $39 needs to be replaced occasionally.
If someone told you they could protect the exterior of your multi-thousand dollar investment in your vehicle for $20 per year, most people would think that is a great deal. More affordable car covers, on average, will have fewer layers and will be made from good, but not ultra-premium, materials. Replacing them every two or so years is not unreasonable.
Financially, you are still likely to come out ahead of someone who spends hundreds of dollars. Car owners that do buy ultra-premium, multi-layer car covers for hundreds of dollars have every right to expect better longevity. But, they’re also paying for it.
Materials engineering and technology are improving every year. What you pay for a budget car cover today buys you a product that is much more effective than a similar product 10 years ago. Keep in mind the ratio of what you’re paying to the dollar value of your investment, and it’s much easier to be content.
If some, not all, manufacturers did a better job of pitching their products, expectations would be more realistic, and happiness would be higher. It’s unfortunate because the noise of some needlessly unsatisfied customers prevents others from protecting their cars.
Car covers do a lot for your car. They:
- Keep cars cool
- Mitigate photodegradation of car paint
- Prevent door dings and scratches
- Frustrate thieves and vandals
- Protect the interior (especially the dashboard).
Be aware of the widespread confusion around the terms “moisture resistant” and “waterproof.” Think about how much rain your area receives each year and how big of a deal moisture is to you.
Regarding fit, read through the reviews. These are very popular products, and it’s most likely someone with your make and model has tried a leading car cover. Failing that, ask the manufacturer directly. This is very easy to do with Amazon and other leading retailers.
Lastly be realistic about your purchase. If you buy a $20, or even $60, car cover that gives you protection and peace of mind for 2-3 years, that’s wonderful. You got a really good deal.
Being informed and aware will help you keep your car looking better for longer.