The Pros and Cons of Car Covers Explained

A parked car with a protective covered parked in the grass near a building with sunshine

Depending on where you live, you might see a covered car in just about every driveway. Despite being so common, there are a lot of questions that first-time buyers have when it comes to car covers. Are they worth it, are they usable for everyone, and what’s the point of a car cover?

The primary benefits of a car cover revolve around keeping your car safe. The cover will prevent scratches, corrosion, pollen, dirt, dust, and faded paint due to UV exposure. However, a car cover can be a fairly expensive purchase if you opt for a high-quality cover, and it still takes time and effort to apply and remove the cover daily. In addition, the cover only works if you apply it correctly. Putting it on wrong can actually lead to scratches and rust.

In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about car covers. I put together a thorough list of pros and cons which should ultimately help you make your decision. Let’s get started with some definitions.

What Is a Car Cover?

A car cover is a length of material that goes over your car. It can be made out of different fabrics, synthetics, cotton, and plastics.

You drape the product over your car to protect your car. You’ll often see it used in pricier cars or classic cars, but it can be used on any car that gets parked outside.

How it Works

The cover itself is pretty easy to understand. It goes over your car and keeps different environmental factors away from your car’s precious paint.

After picking up a car cover, you’ll want to unfold it completely. You’ll be able to see if the sides have any elastics or hold-downs. Some covers work like fitted sheets, but others are just a sewn piece that’s roughly the size of your car.

Close up of the car protection cover with the driver side mirror visible custom cover

You’ll put the cover on your vehicle, working your way around the car. The idea is to pull it all the way down, so it completely covers your vehicle. You might have to fold in your mirrors if your car cover wasn’t made for your specific make and model.

Once covered, you’ll use any included straps, buckles, zippers, Velcro, or strings to fully tighten the cover. At that point, you’re all done.

Car cover

The cover acts as a sacrificial layer for your car. If small branches fall on your uncovered car, it will easily scratch your paint. While covered, it’s a different story.

High-quality covers can take a surprising amount of abuse without damaging the car underneath.

Since car covers are made from lightweight materials, you should fold up the cover and store it between uses. It can go in your trunk or somewhere in your garage.

Who Is the Car Cover Made for?

When it comes to car covers, there’s a pretty universal need for them. You’ll understand this better when I get into some of the benefits, but there are a lot of great reasons to own a car cover.

I would say that anyone who ever parks outside can benefit from a car cover. If you already park in a garage, you’ll get the same benefits as a car cover.

A car parked underneath a tree on the side of the road with a protective car cover to prevent rain branches and leaves from damaging the vehicle

They’re also great for car collectors or anyone with multiple vehicles. If you don’t have enough garage space for all your rides, you can cover all the ones that get parked outside.

If you have old vehicles, you’ll also benefit from a car cover.

Basically, anyone who has a car that isn’t parked in a garage should consider a car cover.

Which Car Can Be Covered?

As you’re shopping around for car covers, you’ll learn pretty quickly that any car can be covered. There are “universal-fit” options that advertise a wide breadth of cars that can be covered with a single product.

A ford car half covered with a protective car cover against a black background

Alternatively, you can find a cover that’s specifically made for a certain year, make, and model of vehicle.

That means that you can find a cover for just about any car. Even Lambos have aftermarket car covers that guarantee a fit.

Knowing Where to Shop

It also helps if you know where to start shopping. You can go to your local Walmart or auto parts shop, but I think you’ll be disappointed. They typically only carry universal options, and the quality tends to be on the lower side.

I’m not affiliated with the guys at CarCovers at all, but it’s the place that I would recommend. I’ve personally shopped with them a few times, and they have the best list of covers from what I found through my research.

Carcovers.com homepage for protective car cover recommendation

You plug in your car’s specifics, and you get a long list of options that you can buy. You can also go through the customer reviews to get a better idea of what’s going on (a cover for a Civic has over 27,000 reviews, for example).

Obviously, you can shop wherever you want to, this is just my two cents.

Pros of Using a Car Cover

Let me start with some of the benefits of using a car cover.

Keeps Your Car Clean

The biggest reason to use a car cover is to keep your car clean. I know I’m not the only one who hates pollen, dust, and tree sap. When you park outside, your car is a tarpit for all of these annoying substances.

It’s common to wake up in the middle of Spring and find a nice layer of pollen caked onto your car. You can either go through the process of removing the pollen, or you can prevent it altogether with a cover.

Close up side view of pollen on the side of a black car

The cover will hold on to all the contaminants before they get on your car. Once you remove the cover, the pollen goes away from your car.

People often talk about how much energy they save on washing their car when they swap to a car cover instead.

Protects From Small Damages

I hinted at this idea earlier, but car covers are great at preventing small damages to your car. Falling debris will easily scratch your car’s clear coat and can get deep enough to cause some real damage. If this happens, you could be looking at a major rust problem in the future.

Instead, the car cover can absorb these damages. More expensive options have layers of materials built on top of one another to give you the best level of protection.

It won’t stop damages from someone side-swiping your parked car or a tree falling on your vehicle, but the minor stuff can be avoided pretty well with a cover.

Protect Your Paint

Not only does it protect your paint from minor damage, but it also protects your paint from UV rays. I wrote a longer article about how bad direct sunlight is for your car. The key takeaway is that exposure to sunlight will cause your paint to fade and chip away. It might not seem like a huge deal, but it can destroy your resale value and take a lot of pride out of owning your car.

A Porsche 911 parked on the side of the street with a protective car cover

In addition, paying to repaint your car is really pricy. You’re probably better off with a car wrap if you are facing that situation.

Or you can completely avoid the situation with a car cover. The material is typically light, but it doesn’t allow UV rays to sneak through the cover to your car. As a result, you don’t have to worry about fading paint as long as you properly use one of these covers.

A Good Way to Avoid Corrosion

Car covers can also keep moisture away. If you have an older truck, you might realize how quickly it rusts. When moisture gets on a surface and stays there long enough, corrosion will start to form.

If the rust gets bad enough, you’ll fail a vehicle inspection. The rust can eat holes through supportive structures in your vehicle (which is a very bad thing).

Adding a cover on top of your car will keep the moisture away from your vehicle and prevent rusting. There is a caveat here that I’ll discuss later.

Essential for Classic Cars

Older vehicles don’t have the same levels of protection that modern cars do. Their paint is much more susceptible to scratches, corrosion, and fading. If you want to keep your classic car looking brand-new, then you’ll need to use a car cover.

Classic American retro car under car case on the street bump and headlight visible under the car cover vintage red vehicle

This is even more important if your classic car isn’t your daily driver or you park it in a shed or barn. The longer it sits around, the more reason you have to cover it.

Boosts Your Resale Value

If you combine all these benefits into a single idea, it would be this: a car cover can boost the resale value of your vehicle.

By preventing fading, rust, pollen buildup, and damages, your car will sell for more. Even if you don’t plan on selling your car, you’ll want to maximize your resale value.

Easy to Carry Around

A lot of car covers get sold in a little package. The cover will be folded up neatly and take up a tiny square of space.

Army issued duffle bag car protective cover bag

Between uses, you can fold or roll up your cover and make it really compact. A lot of owners will just keep it in their trunk since it’s so small, making it easy to carry around.

It offers protection on the go. Wherever you want to park, you can be protected with a car cover.

Simple to Use

The actual process of putting on a car cover is really simple. It takes some practice to do it efficiently and make sure your car is fully covered, but it’s still an easy process. If you can make a bed, you can put on a car cover.

Cons of Using a Car Cover

I just covered a lot of different benefits of using a car cover. To give you the full picture, I’ll also lay out the negatives.

Need to Pick the Right Cover

The biggest takeaway is that you need to very carefully pick out the car cover that you’ll use. You need something that will last a long time, offer real protection for your car, and fit correctly.

Car parked on the side of the road with leaves palm trees and other cars visible with a protective car cover on

Picking the right cover boils down to picking a budget, getting the right material, buying from a trusted company, and ensuring it fits your exact vehicle. Putting a Ford F150 cover on your Porsche 911 will never end well.

There’s a Cost Associated

Even though these covers aren’t super expensive, there’s still a cost associated with buying a car cover. Alternatively, just parking your car outside is free.

If you go for less-expensive covers, you’ll find yourself replacing them more often, so the cost will start adding up. A customizable, high-quality car cover will be a couple of hundred dollars. For a typical car cover, expect to pay around $70 or so.

Extra Effort to Cover and Uncover Cars

In addition to the cost associated, there’s also a level of effort that you’ll need to use. Covering and uncovering your car is simple enough, but it’s still a time commitment.

Granted, it’s only a few minutes of your time. Still, it can get annoying when you’re standing in the freezing rain, trying to get your cover off and fold it up before leaving for the day.

Car cover on a car parked next to a BMW SUV with very cold ice and snow showing how effective it is in protecting the vehicle

Once you’ve owned and used the cover for long enough, you’ll speed up the process of applying and removing the cover.

Again, this only matters when you compare it to parking outside uncovered. When you’re done shopping, you just jump in your car and leave. With a cover, you’ll need to put down your groceries and uncover your car before going.

Someone Can Steal it

You won’t find any car covers with padlocks on them. Any level of security that can be built in can just as easily be removed from a thief.

This means that anyone can come along and steal your car cover. All you can do is hope that your car alarm picks up on the rattling and goes off. Without that, there’s no level of protection that keeps your cover on.

If you splurge for a $400 cover, that money can quickly disappear if a thief wants to take it.

Using the Cover Wrong Can Scratch and Rust Your Car

The big caveat is that a car cover only works if you apply it correctly. Leaving gaps or large wrinkles on any top surfaces can cause moisture to pool up and seep under the cover.

Since the cover provides a cooler, dark space under it, the moisture can sit there and start creating rust.

At the same time, it’s easy to leave too much slack on any area of the cover. If the wind picks up, the cover can start beating into the side of your car. This can cause a lot of scratches.

Close up of a blue car door handle with fine scratches visible against the light caused either by animals or car cover scratches

I just want to reemphasize how important it is to correctly use a car cover. Just draping a tarp over your car or incorrectly fitting a car cover can lead to some big issues.

Make sure you spend the time to learn how exactly to put on the car cover before continuing to use it.

The silver lining is that this is really the only way that a car cover can hurt your vehicle. As long as you put it on and take it off correctly, you don’t have to worry about any of these damages.

Tough to Find the Right Size

Some of the more popular makes and models of cars have specific car covers. These cover manufacturers will take precise measurements and create a product that was made just for your car.

Of course, these options also cost a lot more money.

A car parked inside a car dealership with a high quality custom fabric protective car cover black case
Custom-fit interior car cover

If you go for a more “general-use” cover, then you’ll have to spend some time to find the right size. Going for a cover that’s too big can result in the scratching I was just talking about. If it’s too small, it won’t even fit over your car. You can try to force it, but it won’t work (like putting a twin-size sheet on a king-size bed).

It’s also important to understand that the style of your vehicle really matters. Vans, pickups, SUVs, hatchbacks, sports cars, and sedans all require distinctly different covers.

A universal-fit car cover isn’t as universal as the name might suggest.

Should You Use a Car Cover?

Honestly, I don’t see any real downsides to using a car cover. As long as you pick out the right one and don’t mind spending money on it, then you get to reap all the benefits. I would say that you should only get a car cover if you’re willing to go through and learn exactly how to apply it.

A blue colored plastic car protective car cover covering a small hatchback vehicle in a parking lot near a fence

I mentioned it a few times, but applying your car cover incorrectly can lead to surface damage and rust on your car. I would also urge you to steer away from the really inexpensive options. They’re typically made with inferior materials that can scratch your car. Pretty counterintuitive for a cover to do that.

Even though there are exactly 8 benefits and 8 drawbacks that I just spoke about, I would say that the decision is pretty clear (for me, at least). A car cover can help you, save you money, protect your car, and boost your resale value.

Conclusion

I’m a huge fan of car covers. I love the level of protection that they offer, even though they’re really easy to put on and simple to store. At this point, I hope I made your decision-making process a little easier. If you want to learn more about car care products, take a look at the rest of my site. Also, you can check out a shortlist of top products that I highly recommend.

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Ernest Martynyuk

An automotive enthusiast who's been tinkering with vehicles since I was 15-years old. Repairing automotive electronics has been my main job for over a decade now and have a passion for everything technical regarding cars.

8 thoughts on “The Pros and Cons of Car Covers Explained”

  1. My question is in re to the heat generated. When the car is out in the sun, uncovered, temp shows 100-103f. When it’s covered it showed 139f (!)
    A) is it normal?
    B) any risk for damage?
    Thank you

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    • It’s not common for a car cover to heat up the car’s temperature. That’s one of the main benefits of a car cover. Reducing the amount of UV-rays and how much heat is being absorbed by your car. Unless the car cover is very poorly designed, I don’t see how a car being shaded from the sun can be hotter than a car without one.

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  2. You made a good point when you said that you must store your car cover in between uses since it is made from lightweight materials. This must be something that my husband must consider since he mentioned last night that he wanted to shop for a tarp for his truck this coming weekend. e will surely want his tarp to last for a long time, so your tips are helpful.

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  3. I had the personal experience of a car cover fading paint on cars (produced a “milky” spot). Do you have any information on why this happens and how to avoid it? The reviews were excellent on the car cover and it was not cheap.

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    • It depends on the quality of the clearcoat of your vehicle. If there is any moisture on the inside, the clearcoat might absorb some of that hence why it looks milky. If the car cover was put on when it was raining or the inner liner was already damp, it can create that issue. The best car covers have a good scratch-free inner liner that should help reduce that.

      Remove the car cover on a bright and sunny day to let both the clearcoat of your vehicle as well as the inner liner of the car cover dry out completely. Also, give the car a good wash. Once the vehicle is completely dry again, I would also recommend applying some sort of wax on top of the clearcoat to help it protect the surface of your car.

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