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Are your car seat covers dangerous?

That seat cover could be a ticking time bomb.


Fact checked

A seat cover can hide old stains and protect your upholstery from new ones, but in an accident, it can also inhibit the airbags that are supposed to protect you.

What’s the problem with car seat covers?

Anything covering your chair may smother critical airbags built into the front seats on modern cars. The same problem could happen if a chair is reupholstered or repaired.

Cars commonly have airbags incorporated into the door side of the front seat backrest. These airbags deploy by bursting through the upholstery thanks to carefully-structured stitching that gives way in the event of a side impact.

These airbags are designed to protect the head and chest area in an accident. Vehicle manufacturers began fitting side-impact protection systems as early as 1994.

Now imagine what would happen if these airbags deployed underneath a seat cover. First, they wouldn’t work as they should, leaving the body less cushioned from injury. Second, they could inflate at an unpredictable angle and with force, pushing the passenger in an arbitrary direction.

Does my car have these seat airbags?

To determine if your car has side airbags installed in the seat bolster, examine the door side of the chair. There should be a tag or marking that reads SRS or Side Airbag. There may also be a plastic plate that covers the airbag compartment.

You should also check your owner’s manual to confirm. If you’re unsure, contact your car’s manufacturer to verify your particular model’s safety features.

Takata airbag recall

Your car’s airbags may be up for a recall. 37 million vehicles were equipped with defective airbags from Takata. Check your car’s VIN on the NHTSA site to see if your car qualifies for replacement airbags.

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Can I use seat covers at all?

Yes, but it’s essential to check if your seat cover is safe for use with SRS airbags. Follow these tips to protect your airbags.

  • Some seat cover makers cut out large sections of material to leave an opening for the airbag to inflate.
  • Some manufacturers employ a breakable seam in their covers similar to the factory seat trim.
  • 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.
  • Look for seat covers from the handful of suppliers that have commissioned independent crash testing for their designs and publish the results.
  • Avoid universally fitted seat covers, which are unable to accommodate for the varying locations of each manufacturer’s airbag.
  • Be sure you’ve oriented the correct cover to the appropriate seat.

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 will protect your seats better 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.

How do I know if my car is safe?

Older models are statistically less safe in car accidents. Check your vehicle’s car safety rating. If you’re not happy with the level of protection offered, use our car loan comparison to compare deals on newer, safer models. Now might also be a good time to reevaluate your car insurance coverage to make sure you have complete coverage in case of an accident.

Bottom line

Any delay in the airbag fully inflating could mean the difference between walking away with minor injuries or sustaining more severe ones. If you have side airbags, stay safe on the road by making sure your seat covers fit properly and allow them to burst through.

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Frequently asked questions about seat covers

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