Nothing quite turns a passenger’s stomach like finding a french fry tucked in the seat…and then watching you eat it. Food debris and dirt get caught in all those little car crevices that you’re scared to slip your hand into, and the joint between the seat back and bottom is just that type of abyss. And that says nothing of the ketchup stain you tasted to discover what it was. Gross.
One of the top vehicle accessories designed for protection has to be car seat covers. Aside from undercoating and waxing your sparkly paint job, there isn’t a single item that can keep your car looking as fine as your prom date did.
But when you begin searching online for a car seat cover set for your car, it doesn’t take more than a few seconds to realize you might just be in over your head. No matter what car you drive, there can be dozens or even hundreds of options to sift through.
Do you really need seat covers? Which car seat covers are best for your needs? And what’s the best material to choose from? Here’s the ultimate shopping guide for car seat covers to help you select a set.
It’s a valid question to ask. You need to protect your seats, not just that you should. There really are just two options: applying Scotchgard protection to your upholstery or choosing a good set of car seat covers. It’s a no-brainer though. Scotchgard spray can prevent stains and make cleanup easier, but it needs to be reapplied, can’t protect from cuts and scratches, and definitely can’t do anything to change up your car’s bland factory interior.
Fact: Car seat covers can prevent spills from soaking in and becoming stains. Fact: Seat covers are an extra layer of protection to prevent damage to your car’s upholstery. Fact: You can change up your car’s interior look with cute car seat covers. Fact: you just read this paragraph in Dwight Schrute’s voice.
Aside from Dwight, why does it matter anyway? Why do you need to protect your seats?
When a sales manager pores over your car for a trade appraisal or a buyer kicks your tires, what problems are they going to find? You can guarantee the outer edge of your driver’s seat that’s worn through from sliding in and out of your car is going to play a factor in resale value too, but it’s one of those things that happens in life when you drive. A rip-free interior maintains your car’s high value. A single upholstery repair can cost $150 or more, and replacing a factory seat cover could easily reach $600 to $1000.
If you’re trading in your car, that’s how much you can expect to have slashed from your appraisal with a rip in just one seat. High-quality custom fit seat covers can look like the original and help you retain top dollar for your car.
When Timmy dropped his grape juice box on the backseat – the spot that looks like a murder investigation? That could be a thumbs-down moment from an otherwise would-be buyer. That greasy mayo stain from last week’s burger doesn’t help either. And the dog’s scratching on your leather backseat is going to irritate you until it’s fixed or covered.
The unavoidable times that life throws at you can really suck. But durable or water-resistant car seat covers can keep them from affecting your car’s original interior so you can laugh about them…eventually. And buy apple juice instead.
When you buy a car, it doesn’t necessarily look the way you want it to. That’s even more obvious when you buy a used car and have to accept how the interior looks, or don’t buy it. Like a wise guy once said, “You can’t go to the used car factory and make a different one.” Or something along that jist.
Slap on a set of seat covers and you can make your car look as classy, sporty, or personal as you’d like. A small investment customizes your car so you can stand to look at it every day. Or, you can class up the joint with leather car seat covers.
The sun damages your car’s interior from day one. It happens everywhere, but especially in places like SoCal where you get an average of 284 sunny days per year. Or in South Texas where your seat scorches your derriere from sitting in the blazing sun.
Even if you know how to protect leather seats – by covering them up – it only delays the damage. Unless you cover them with the right material, that is.. Those UV rays invisibly destroy your car’s seats if they aren’t covered like a tiny rebel army of upholstery invaders. The first line of defense? Yup, UV-resistant car seat covers.
Do you drive a fleet vehicle or a leased car for work? It has to be returned at its maturity date and you’ll be on the hook for any excessive damage… like that massive coffee stain on your seat that perfectly matches last Friday’s khakis. Keeping your car’s seats in perfect shape will keep your hard-earned company money in your wallet.
It’s probably unwise to blindly buy the first car seat cover set you see – what if RealTree Camo doesn’t exactly thrill your first date – who you discover abruptly is vegan? The smart thing to do is narrow down the covers that are best for your needs. Here are a few considerations when making your selection
Alright, let’s address the elephant in the room, or rather, the cow. Genuine leather car seat covers are manufactured out of just that – genuine cowhide. That can offend some people’s consciences while others aren’t affected.
Like any material, there is an upside and downside to choosing leather car seat covers. First, the pros:
- Leather is an extremely attractive feature. If you’re selling your car, you’ll be beating away the buyers if you’ve added leather seat covers. Plus, who doesn’t love the smell of leather?
- It’s upscale and takes your ‘89 Civic from shabby to chic. Well, probably still shabby-chic.
- Custom leather seat covers look like they belong, factory-finish style.
And for you, Negative Nancy, the cons include:
- Obviously, the cost. It isn’t cheap to harvest, tan, and manufacture car seat covers from genuine leather.
- The finish is susceptible to damage. While they protect your seats, the leather can easily get scratched, or fade and crack in the sunlight.
- If they stain, they can be more difficult to clean because leather is porous. No indigo jeans, my friend.
The best uses for leather seat covers aren’t for the average economy car. They’re more suited for upper trim level sedans and entry-level luxury cars that didn’t have leather upholstery from the factory. Although there’s a premium cost for leather, it’s a small price to pay for the upscale feel you’re adding.
Daily care is simple for leather – a quick wipe with a damp cloth gets most spills and messes mopped up in seconds. Long-term,you’ll want to condition the leather to keep it from deteriorating, just like you would for a middle-aged lady’s skin.
No, leatherette isn’t made from mini cows. It’s a lookalike product that simulates leather, so no need to be up in arms about these faux leather car seat covers. Then what is leatherette? It’s made of recycled plastic in most cases, better known as polyester – yes, the same stuff your t-shirt is made from.
Leatherette seats look like the real deal and mostly feel like it too, depending on the quality of manufacturing. If you prefer the fuzzy suede-like leatherette called Alcantara, that’s available too for some cars. Top brands include Coverking and Saddleman leatherette seat covers.
It’s not exactly the same as leather, but it can be used in the same applications – jazzing up an old jalopy, for example. If you’re looking for the cheapest set of seat covers for your car, these aren’t them. It’s a premium synthetic material but they’re a more affordable option to genuine leather.
But because leatherette isn’t porous like leather, you don’t have to worry about stains setting in – just wipe ‘em clean.
Bear Grylls has a canvas prospector tent – is this the same stuff? Willy Shakespeare famously said, “What’s in a name? That which we call canvas by any other name would smell as dank.” Or something like that, but we digress. It’s not the same canvas.
The canvas used in tentmaking and boat sails may be manufactured from the same material, but canvas car seat covers aren’t anything like that coarse, smelly canvas from yesteryear. It’s a term that covers pretty much all sturdy plain-woven materials. That could be the good ol’-fashioned cotton weave or hemp, or newer synthetic materials like polyester.
Picture a toddler trying to rip a phone book. That’s how tough canvas is to tear. Ain’t gonna happen without supernatural forces intervening. It’s ideal for drivers whose cars carry tykes who have no regard for the word ‘gentle’, or the car that carries heavy oddball items. Canvas is also commonly treated to be waterproof, whether that’s important for your passengers or your spilly self. It remains breathable, especially when it’s made of natural fibers.
Should you get your canvas car seat covers soiled – and we’re not judging – they’re easy to clean. Toss ‘em in the washing machine and hang to dry, and you’re back in business.
Now, you’ve probably heard of another material on the market that’s very similar to canvas. Nylon is also woven, however, it’s made of synthetic polymer strands. Think plastic. The feel is different than canvas too – it’s much smoother.
In the nylon category, there are two major players, ballistic and Cordura:
- Ballistic nylon is a multifilament, high tenacity fabric which is fancy jargon for coarse-weave nylon that’s uber strong. In fact, it was developed for the Vietnam War in the search for a bulletproof material for soldiers. It didn’t work. While it’s extremely tough, your ballistic nylon seat covers aren’t going to stop rounds from your favorite caliber.
- Cordura was also designed for the battlefield in World War II. Needless to say, it’s also tough as hell. Its original purpose was for tires but has since spread into use for everyday life. Cordura is used to make boots, backpacks, and of course, nylon seat covers.
Of the two, ballistic material is heavier and is more tear-resistant. Cordura, on the other hand, is more abrasion-resistant which makes it ideal for heavy use. Cordura seat covers are easily dyed for a wide range of colors while ballistic nylon originally parroted Henry Ford’s famous quote: “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants, so long as it is black.” It was tough to find ballistic seat covers in any other color than black previously, but now they’re available in neutral colors and camo patterns too.
The other nice thing about nylon seat covers? The fabric is nearly impossible to stain or discolor. After all, it’s essentially strands of plastic, and that’s also good for water resistance.
If you find you get pilling and abrasive wear on your car seats, Cordura is a great choice for your car seat covers. Or if you’re a traveling sword salesman who unceremoniously tosses their sample product on the backseat, ballistic nylon car seat covers may be the option you want. And it might be a good idea to stop throwing swords.
If you manage to get your nylon seat covers soiled, it’s simple to get them clean again. Unlike canvas, it’s not recommended to saturate the fabric, so don’t throw them in the washing machine. Use a mild soap-and-water solution and lightly agitate the stain with a nylon-bristled brush. Steam-cleaning your seat covers will work too, but be sure to re-treat it for water, dirt, and stain-resistance.
Neoprene vs neosupreme: you aren’t alone if you’re wondering what the difference between neoprene and neosupreme seat covers is. At a glance, they look like the same thing. The two materials are like Mackintosh apples and Granny Smith apples, though – different enough that you can’t interchange the two.
- Neoprene fabric is the stuff wetsuits are made of. A formal name for it is chloroprene rubber-grade neoprene or CR-grade neoprene. It’s the top quality in this type of material, both waterproof and padded.
- Neosupreme, on the flip side, is a neoprene-polyester blend. It’s less expensive and is water-resistant, but not rated as waterproof. Don’t take your car seats scuba diving or they might get wet. But, if you accidentally spill your drink after scuba diving, these seat covers will have your back.
Neoprene seat covers are naturally more expensive because they’re the real deal. With car seat covers made of genuine neoprene, you get the best protection against spills plus the extra padding on the backside is kinda nice. It’s the better choice if you’re seriously outdoorsy and get into your car sopping wet. That’s super uncomfortable, we’d imagine.
Neosupreme seat covers keep the costs down for a similar look and feel, but it just isn’t quite up to par with the real stuff if you’re looking for top-notch protection. Rated as water-resistant, you’ll find that some exposure to liquids will eventually get through. Hopefully, it affords you enough time to clean up the spill before it gets into your factory seat material. It’s fine if you get caught in the rain, want a sporty look inside your car, or need a little extra protection from the kiddie carpool.
Keeping neoprene and neosupreme seat covers clean isn’t as simple as other materials, but it’s not likely to be necessary as often. Neither can be machine washed. When a spot-clean with water isn’t enough to do the trick, neoprene seat covers can be treated with wetsuit cleaner to freshen them up. A mild detergent can be used on neosupreme before letting them air dry.
Remember back in the 80s and 90s when everyone had fuzzy sheepskin seat covers on their luxury cars? Whether you’re old enough to recall an ‘88 Cadillac Eldorado rumbling past with tufts of white or gray fluff stuck to the seats or not, it was a thing. Guess what? It still is.
But today’s sheepskin car seat covers are tactful, not tacky. They’re fitted to the seat well, not the loose, wrinkled nightmare from Uncle Gary’s 17-foot land yacht. And yes, they’re made of genuine sheepskin like these Superlamb car seat covers.
Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “These sheepskin seat covers are meant for cold-weather climates or those crazy Canucks, eh?” You’d be surprised to know that sheepskin is known as “nature’s thermostat”. It’s perfect for staying cool in the summer and it’s the ideal insulator in the cooler months. Seriously.
They aren’t your least expensive car seat covers – they’re among the most expensive at around $800 per pair – and you wouldn’t use them if you’re driving around your Cane Corso’s slobbering face. The good news is that they stay fresh for a long time with minimal care. You can hand wash sheepskin in cold water and a touch of detergent. Normal care is limited to light brushing. Read more about them in our Sheepskin Seat Covers Tech Center article.
Mesh seat covers have the look and feel of neoprene, and they’re billed as the ‘affordable alternative’. They’re light and stretchy, and they’re obviously perforated – that’s what mesh is, isn’t it? It’s yet another use for polyester, the same material you’ll find in much of your clothing.
Available in almost every color under the rainbow, mesh seat covers are low maintenance. Most types are machine washable and can be hung to dry. Some have a light foam backing to boost the comfort level if your seat is less padded. They are certainly less expensive than bulking up for winter by eating pizza and wings.
The pros of choosing mesh car seat covers include:
- Their extremely reasonable price point. You won’t have to sell children to afford them (obviously not your own children).
- They’re breathable, preventing that disgusting back sweat or allowing your heated seat to emanate through.
- Mesh is easy to care for and remains stylish.
There are a couple of cons to mention also:
- Mesh seat covers aren’t waterproof or water-resistant. They can slow down a spill but probably won’t catch it all.
- They’re less durable than other options. Fido’s not allowed to scratch the seat. Period.
- Being stretchy, they don’t look and feel like a factory upholstery option. Then again, neither do sheepskin!
Whether you’re a budding basketball star or an armchair quarterback, mesh seat covers achieve that super-sporty look inside your car.
We’ve discussed different materials for seat covers, but what about fitment? You’re here for advice on choosing the best set for your needs, which means you clearly care about keeping your car looking good and well protected.
Every car will have multiple options to choose from. Some will be custom fit for your make and model or even sewn for your direct order. Others are a universal fit, meaning they’ll fit most any car’s seats as long as they’re the same style.
Let’s take a look at both types to help you decide which works for you.
The term ‘universal’ is somewhat misleading. A low-back bucket seat cover isn’t going to fit a backseat bench no matter how hard we tried… we mean, no matter how hard YOU try. Overall, though, it refers to seat covers that can be made to fit similarly-styled seats across multiple models and even car makes.
It makes sense to buy universal car seat covers in some situations, and in others, it’s akin to lighting a stack of Benjamins on fire. Here are pros and cons for going the universal route.
- Universal fit seat covers are less expensive than custom-fit covers. The one-size-fits-all mantra drives manufacturing costs down since they can be mass-produced.
- There’s almost no wait time. You’ll find a range of universal fit car seat covers in stock on AutoAnything all the time, ready for delivery.
- They can be swapped between vehicles. It’s especially nice if you have a pooch that slobbers in your Mazda and Mercedes-Benz alike and you want to just quickly move your seat cover between vehicles.
- You won’t get a factory fit and finish. Maybe that’s a good thing if you don’t like your upholstery…
- Because they can be less fitted on your seats, it can make cloth seats underneath more susceptible to pilling and wear from friction.
You’ve settled on buying car seat covers – that’s great. Whether you’re interested in cute seat covers with your team’s logo, your favorite Looney Tunes character emblazoned on, or even if they’re plain, we can give you a few suggestions. ProZ mesh seat covers are available in many colors and fit very well. Aries canvas seat covers offer strong protection against everything life throws at you. To add some style to an otherwise bland interior, the leather surface and stretchy sides on Saddleman universal leather seat covers are a nice touch.
Typically, for a snug finish that’s ‘toight like a tiger’ you should select universal car seat covers that are pliable but not overly stretchy. Neoprene, for example, holds its shape very well but has some give when it’s pulled or sat on. Same applies for some nylon products and neosupreme. Leather and canvas are both quite stiff and have no stretch, so you’ll want to measure your seats against the product descriptions to ensure the snuggest fit possible.
Whenever the word ‘custom’ is used, it’s usually synonymous with expensive. For custom fit seat covers, that certainly can be the case, but it doesn’t have to be. There are affordable options, plus the custom fit is hands-down a better finish.
‘Custom fit’ is also misconstrued sometimes. Many of the custom car covers you see on the virtual shelf are called custom because they’re sewn for your particular car’s seat design. They’re usually pre-made and already in inventory before you click the ‘buy’ button.
But not always. Some custom fit seat covers are actually made on a per-order basis. You submit your order and soon after, a Singer sewing machine is prattling out a set of custom leather seat covers for your Buick. Or, at least, that’s how we imagine it happening.
Pros for custom seat covers include:
- A factory-like finish for your car’s seats. If only the factory already did it so you didn’t have to…
- High-quality non-stretch materials are well-suited to custom applications.
- They take into consideration important details like maintaining side airbag operation, headrests, armrests and more.
Downsides for custom fit seat covers can be:
- Their higher cost – sometimes. Premium options like genuine leather car seat covers or sheepskin covers could be at the high end of your budget..
- Tougher installation. Because they’re typically not as stretchy as your run-of-the-mill universal covers, it can be a cuss-filled afternoon getting them installed.
At AutoAnything, we have a few favorites to suggest in the custom-fit realm. Seat Designs neosupreme seat covers look great, feel great, and fit the budget-conscious buyer too. Coverking genuine leather seat covers can ratchet your car’s trim level up a notch with factory-looking fit and finish.
How to Care for Car Seat Covers
Once you have your seat covers installed, you want to keep them looking their best. Age catches up with everything and everyone except Betty White, and Botox isn’t an option for seat covers. So, how do you best are for your seat covers?
Every type of material has its own set of care instructions. Improper care can and will ruin the look, feel, and fit you’ve so diligently bought and paid for, so it’s important to know the right type of care for your seats.
- Leather is straightforward – wipe up messes with a damp non-abrasive cloth. Don’t use soaps as they’ll dry out the leather. Speaking of which, you’ll need to apply a leather conditioner to keep it supple and moist (yes, we used two of the most offensive words in the English language in one sentence).
- Leatherette is a non-porous leather-like material and cleans up as easy as leather. A simple wipe-up with a damp cloth does the trick.
- Canvas seat covers are commonly treated to be waterproof and messes are sopped up with a wet cloth fast. Deal with a spill quickly or it can soak in and set a stain. A wipe-down with water and mild detergent can freshen them up.
- Nylon is resistant to stains but can still look grimy after a while. Clean Ballistic and Cordura seat covers by taking them off, machine-washing, and hanging to dry. The important step is taking them off first. The whole seat won’t fit in your washing machine.
- Neither neoprene or neosupreme are machine-washable. Neoprene can be wiped clean with water while it’s safe to use mild detergent on neosupreme. Always air dry thoroughly before reinstalling. Learn more by reviewing our How to Clean Neoprene Seat Covers article.
- Sheepskin is cared for best by simply brushing it. It’s therapeutic too. Hand-wash your sheepskin covers in cold water if there’s something crazy offensive to your eyes or nose.
- Mesh seat covers also can’t be laundered. A moist cloth with mild detergent can be used for spot treatment, then air-dried.
If you’ve picked the best seat covers for your needs, you shouldn’t need to do a thorough cleaning very often. To keep them looking their best for years to come, try to keep extensive cleaning to a minimum. A quick wipe when you have a spill or wash your car is fine but don’t launder them fully more than once a year if you can help it.
Spot-cleaning and treating stains – now that’s a different story. Always, always, always deal with spills right away no matter if you have neoprene, leather, canvas, or any other kind of car seat covers.
Read the care instructions that come with your seat covers to know how best to remove stains. For nylon, canvas, neosupreme, and mesh, use a mild detergent and water to spot clean while your covers are still installed. For genuine neoprene, use only wetsuit cleaner to remove stains.
How to Repair Rips in Your Seat Covers
The ugly truth is that your seat covers can be damaged. But that’s what they’re there for, right? To take the hit instead of your car seat? And in many cases, you can fix a rip instead of buying a whole new set.
If it’s a seam that’s ripped, an auto upholsterer can usually sew it to look good as new. You might even be able to do it yourself on lighter materials like mesh and nylon, although if your sewing skills are like ours, you’ll avoid it like the plague.
If there’s a tear or cut in the middle of a panel, it can be fixed by stitching it closed or sewing in a patch. Again, not a job for most DIYers, but no biggie for an upholsterer. You’ll see the evidence of the rip after the patch-up is done – a battle scar on your seat cover. But chicks dig scars, right?
After any rip, treat the repaired area if you want to restore its water resistance. Or don’t. That’s your call.
Car seat covers from AutoAnything come with a manufacturer’s warranty against manufacturer’s defects, commonly ranging from 12 months to 3 years. While that’s great news if something unexpectedly goes wrong, you’re more likely to need to replace your seat covers for other reasons.
If you have multiple holes in your seat covers from wear or damage, it’s probably less expensive to replace them than to keep patching them up. It looks better too.
How long will your car seat covers last? That’s all up to you. Treat them well and you’ll get years of service out of a set. It’s more likely you’ll replace your car than need to buy new seat covers. Like all of the best car interior accessories we sell at AutoAnything, we’ll be here when you need to get new ones for that car too.