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Are your car seat covers dangerous?

Make sure that your seat covers don't create safety issues with your airbags.

A seat cover can hide old stains and protect your upholstery, but in an accident, it could interfere with the airbags if you don’t buy the right cover. The safest options are to choose seat covers designed for your car’s make and model from a reputable seller or avoid using them. Before buying a seat cover, research and understand the airbags that your car has, so you can choose a cover that fits your car to a T.

Are seat covers safe for airbags?

No, most aftermarket seat covers aren’t safe, unless they’re customized to work with the types of airbags in your car.

Many cars have airbags built in to the side door or roof to protect from torso and head injuries, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. These airbags deploy by bursting through the upholstery thanks to carefully structured stitching that gives way to side impact.

Also, if your car has seats with airbags built in to them, anything covering your chair may smother critical airbags. The same problem could happen if a chair is reupholstered or repaired.

If these airbags deployed underneath a seat cover, they may not protect your body from injury. Or they could inflate at an unpredictable angle or with more force than it should.

Ways to check if your car has side airbags

Car manufacturers began fitting side-impact protection systems as early as 1994, so chances are that your car has this added protection. To determine if your car has side airbags:

  • Examine the door side of the chair. There should be a tag, marking or plastic plate that reads SRS or Side Airbag.
  • Check your owner’s manual to confirm. If you’re unsure or don’t have your owner’s manual, contact the manufacturer to verify your model’s safety features.

Where to find seat covers compatible with airbags

To find airbag-compatible seat covers, look at the handful of suppliers that have commissioned independent crash testing for their designs and published the results.

Along with seat covers tested for safety, find companies that design seat covers specifically for your car’s make, model and year — ensuring that the covers won’t block the airbags built in to your car.

To make seat covers safe for airbags, some seat cover makers cut out large sections of material to leave an opening for the airbag to inflate. Other manufacturers employ a breakable seam in their covers similar to the factory seat trim.

    How much are custom seat covers?

    You can find custom seat covers for your car model starting at $200 to $300, while generic seat covers typically start at $100 to $200. It’s a small price to pay for a safer car, and custom seat covers protect your seats with a snug fit.

    Another alternative is partial seat covers that only cover the lower seats of your backseat, which could run in the $50 to $100 range. These are a great option for protecting your seats from messes and dog hair without interfering with your car’s safety features.

    Other pitfalls to avoid with airbags

    Follow these tips to make sure that your seat covers fit and that you and your passengers are protected properly by your airbags.

    • Check how the seat cover fits. Most covers must securely attach to the chair. If they’re loose, they could slip and present the same danger as a generic seat cover.
    • Avoid universally fitted seat covers, which are unable to accommodate for the varying locations of each manufacturer’s airbag.
    • Look for airbag recalls. While you’re thinking about your car’s airbag safety, check whether your airbags are up for a recall. Check your car’s VIN on the NHTSA site to see if your car qualifies for replacement airbags.

    For example, defective airbags made by Takata were installed in 37 million vehicles, and not all car owners have repaired the problem.

    Bottom line

    Any delay in the airbag fully inflating could mean the difference between walking away with minor injuries or sustaining more severe ones. Stay safe on the road by making sure that you have the right seat covers designed for your side airbags.

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    Common questions about seat covers and airbags

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