Should I Use a Car Cover Outside? Only If You Do This First

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Should I use a car cover outside is one question that is frequently asked in car forums by those people, like me, wanting to protect their car from bad weather, or an unrelenting sun. This is particularly so if you have no garage or carport to shelter your wheels. In this article, We will explore the pros and cons of using an outdoor car cover and help you decide if it’s right for you.

Generally, you should use a car cover outside if your car is exposed to extremes of weather – such as heavy snow or rain, or intense sun – and you don’t have a garage or carport for permanent shelter. But it is important to use it correctly, and observe the following guidelines to avoid damaging your car:

  • Choose the correct type of car cover for your circumstances
  • Ideally, choose a car cover that doesn’t touch your car’s paintwork, such as a car tent
  • If it’s a car body hugging car cover, use it on a clean, dry car
  • Ensure it’s tied down correctly
  • Check it on your car regularly
  • Buy the best cover you can afford
  • Ensure the car cover is breathable and waterproof
  • Keep the cover clean
  • Custom car covers will give the best protection

Read on to find out why, and when, you should use a car cover outside, how to use it correctly and the different types of outdoor car covers.

Should I Use a Car Cover Outside?

Whether you have a brand new car or an old one, it’s important to take care of it. You want to keep it looking good for as long as possible. Ideally, you’ll want indoor storage, and to garage it when not in use, but what do you do if you’re not lucky enough to have a garage, or the garage you do have is full of “stuff” and there is no room for your car?

You could build a carport in your drive, or acquire a temporary carport or garage. These are the safest option for the problem of sheltering your car from the worst of weather, but they may not be the cheapest. 

A more economic way of maintaining your car’s appearance is to use an outdoor car cover, especially when your car is in outdoor storage. This will help to shield your vehicle from rain, snow, light hail, tree sap, and bird droppings, as well as UV rays from the sun. 

How Does A Car Cover Protect My Vehicle?

Rain on the car’s paintwork can cause watermark residue if left on to dry under a hot sun and over a long period of time the acidic pollutants in rainwater, together with the dirt in the atmosphere brought down by the rainfall can have a detrimental effect on paintwork.

Ice and snow can form an abrasive layer on the paintwork that works together with any residual dirt on the car to sandpaper the paint’s surface when the car moves.

The problem of color fade in cars over time is made worse by the sun’s rays. It is a very complex scientific subject, but basically darker colors tend to absorb more of the sun’s uv rays and therefore fade less. On the other hand, red and green colored cars will tend to fade more in the sun.

Bird droppings are also known to degrade car paintwork because of the presence of uric acid and harmful enzymes.

Tree sap falling on your car, particularly from maples, walnut trees,  limes, and birch trees should be avoided, as it can be particularly difficult to remove the sweet, sticky residue successfully.

A good quality car cover, used properly, can help to avoid these problems and keep your paintwork brighter for longer.

What’s The Best Way To Use a Car Cover Outdoors?

So should I use a car cover outside?

Whilst a car cover can be very useful in keeping your car clean and safe from the worst of the weather, it needs to be used properly to avoid causing damage. Here’s what to know:

It’s best to use a car cover outside when your car is stored for a period of time. That way you can ensure your car is clean and dry before putting the cover on, and you’ll be avoiding friction between the cover and your car’s paintwork.

If you’re using your wheels for daily commuting, think about getting a car tent or even a temporary carport to shelter your car (see below) – this will be more convenient. 

Ensure your car is as clean as possible before putting the cover on. It’s better to leave it off rather than cover a dirty car, as the act of pulling the cover on could well scratch the paintwork, as could the movement of the cover against the car due to wind. Try using a waterless car cleaner if you’re unsure, such as these:

Wet or Waterless Car Wash Wax Kit 144 oz. Aircraft Quality for your Car, RV, Boat, Motorcycle. Guaranteed the Best Wash Wax. Anywhere, Anytime, Home, Office, School, Garage, Parking Lots.

Meguiar's G3626EU Ultimate Waterless Wash & Wax Anywhere 768ml

Put the cover over a dry car wherever possible. Even with breathable covers, moisture could still be trapped and may cause water staining or worse, rust.

Keep the cover as clean as possible, washing it according to the manufacturer’s instructions after long periods of use.

When You Shouldn’t Cover Your Car Outside

A car cover should only be used when your car is clean and dry. If there’s any moisture left on the car surface, it will create a breeding ground for mold and mildew, and any dirt and dust may scratch the car as the car cover is pulled on. So before using your cover, make sure to give your car a good wash and dry it off completely.

If you use a cover regularly – particularly when every day commuting – it may be best considering another type of car cover outside. Next we look at the different types of outside car cover.

What Are The Types Of Outdoor Car Cover?

What is an outdoor car cover? An outdoor car cover is one that provides protection for your car against adverse weather. To do this, it needs to have a number of essential criteria, and a few nice to haves. These are set out below, but first what type of cover should you use?

Full Body Outdoor Car Cover

These cover the whole car and are usually elasticated around the fenders and tied with straps and buckles under the car, all of which ensure the cover is secure in high winds. They give a layer of protection against the car’s paintwork.

Highly rated examples are the iCarCover 18-Layers Premium Car Cover (US) and the iCarCover 30-Layers Premium Car Cover (UK)

iCarCover 18-Layers Premium Car Cover Waterproof All Weather Weatherproof UV Sun Protection Snow Dust Storm Resistant Outdoor Exterior Custom Form-Fit Full Padded Car Cover with Straps (205" - 214" L)

Half Car Cover

A half car cover covers the top half of your vehicle. It has the advantages of being quick and easy to put on, and protects the windshield and the windows from snow and ice. This will save you time in the mornings, as you won’t have to get the de-icer and scraper out, and it will be easier and quicker to stow away.

However, it doesn’t cover the lower half of the car, so protection for the paintwork is limited. Some may see this as an advantage because it will mean you won’t have to risk damaging the paintwork getting it on and off a dirty car.

Highly rated half covers are the Tofern Half Size Waterproof Car Cover (US) and the Runsnail Waterproof Half Car Cover (UK)

Tofern Half Size Waterproof Car Cover Top Winter Summer Car Cover - SUV L

Windshield Cover

A windshield cover does exactly that – it protects your windshield from snow and ice accumulation. While it may mean that you still have to clear the side and back windows with a de-icer and a scraper, you’ll get away quicker in the cold mornings as a result of the windshield being frost-free, and it won’t take long to put the cover away in the morning and fit it at night.

The other advantage is that they can double up as a sun protector and keep your vehicle cool.

One that is currently an Amazon bestseller is the OxGord Windshield Snow Cover(US) and in the UK.

OxGord Windshield Snow Cover Ice Removal Wiper Visor Protector All Weather Winter Summer Auto Sun Shade for Cars Trucks Vans and SUVs Stop Scraping with a Brush or Shovel

There is also a rear windshield cover available that complements the product above – here’s a well received example, the EcoNour Rear Windshield Snow Cover (US) and (UK)

EcoNour Rear Windshield Snow Cover | All Weather Back Window Frost Cover Offers Complete Protection from Snow, Ice & Other Winter Debris | Winter Car Accessories That Fits Most Sedans, SUVs & Vans

Hail / Inflatable Car Cover

To protect your vehicle against hail – which could strip a car of its paintwork in extreme conditions – you’ll need a special type of car cover that inflates. This provides a protective bubble of air and material around your car.

One such cover that is highly rated by its users, is the Hail Protector CAR1 (US) and (UK). Users generally like the covers, but complain about the time it takes to install and inflate.

Hail Protector CAR1 Size Portable Car Cover System for Coupe, Sedan and Wagon

An alternative in the UK is the Hailsuit:

Hailsuit - Anti-Hail Car Cover (till 60mm!) - M - 480 x 190 x 95 cm - wind/water/UV proof - Self Inflating - PVC - 12V Connection - Incl. Pump

Car Umbrella

The car umbrella is a patented design that sits on the car roof – secured by theft-proof straps. It opens just like an umbrella, powered by a small battery-driven motor and has the great advantage of providing shade and weather protection to the full length of the car without touching the paintwork. 

Users of one such cover, the Senllen Car Tent (US), seem very pleased with the product if the good reviews are anything to go by. A similar product is available in the UK, here.

Senllen Car Tent Fully Automatic 189 inch Large Size Hot Summer Anti-UV Wireless Control Vehicle Umbrella with Removable Charger, Windproof Carport Canopy Sun Shade for SUV,Minivan,Truck

Folding Car Tent

A novel type of outdoor car cover is the folding car tent, which in effect has all the advantages of a garage on your drive, but none of the cost penalties of a permanent structure.

The folding car tent, once set up, quickly and easily covers your car, even when wet and/or dirty, without the danger of damaging your paintwork.

A popular and well-received make is the Ikuby, which can be seen in more detail here (US) (UK).

Ikuby All Weather Proof Carport, Car Shelter, Car Canopy, Car Garage, Car shed, Car House, Car Park, Foldable, Retractable, Lockable, Durable Shelter

Temporary Carport

Rather than go to the expense of building a carport, you could invest in a temporary one, which will give your car good weather protection. Read more about these here.

ADVANCE OUTDOOR Adjustable 10x20 ft Heavy Duty Carport Car Canopy Garage Boat Shelter Party Tent, Adjustable Height from 9.0ft to 10.5ft, White

Temporary Garage

These can be more permanent in nature, and are just like fabric garages. We’ve written more about these here.

Abba Patio 10 x 20 ft Carport Heavy Duty Carport with Removable Sidewalls & Doors Portable Garage Extra Large Car Canopy for Auto, Boat, Party, Wedding, Market stall, with 8 Legs, Gray

What Should I Look For In Using a Car Cover Outside?

Here are some factors to consider when choosing an outdoor car cover:

  • Material: Car covers are made from a range of materials used in car covers, including polyester, cotton, and PVC. Polyester is the most popular choice because it’s lightweight and durable. Cotton is also a popular choice because it’s a breathable material and a breathable cover won’t trap moisture. PVC is a good choice if you live in a very wet climate, as it’s water-resistant, but not breathable, so needs to be removed regularly to check moisture hasn’t been trapped.
  • Lining: Ideally, the cover should have a fleece lining. This soft lining will help to prevent scratching of the paintwork. 
  • Adjustable straps: Look for an elasticated skirt around the cover and straps that adjust to ensure a snug fit around the car.
  • Climate: The climate in which you live will also dictate the type of cover you should use. If you live in a dry climate, a fabric car cover should be fine and give a decent layer of protection. However, if you live in a rainy or humid climate, you’ll need a waterproof car cover made from PVC or another water-resistant material.
  • Budget: Another factor to consider is your budget. Car covers can range in price from $30 to $200 or more, depending on the material, size, and features. Choose the car cover that fits your needs and budget but remember a high-quality cover will offer better protection for your car.
  • Fit: Ensure the cover fits your car to avoid any undue chafing if it’s too loose in windy conditions, or unnecessary contact with the paintwork if too tight. It’s best to look at custom-fit covers for your make and model of car; a custom-fit car cover will cost more but will save you in the long run from paint damage.

No matter what type of car cover you choose, be sure to wash and dry it according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This will help extend the life of the car cover and keep your car protected from the elements.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Do car covers do more harm than good?

A: While quality car cover may not be the most stylish accessory, they serve an important purpose: protecting your car from the elements. Whether you live in a sunny climate and are worried about UV damage or in a cold region where ice and snow can wreak havoc on your car’s paint, a car cover can help prolong the life of your vehicle. So while they may not be the most fashionable item, car covers are certainly worth their weight in gold.

Q: Do car covers cause mold?

A: There is a lot of debate on this topic, but most experts seem to agree that car covers can cause mold if they are not properly maintained and are on cars for extended periods. A covered car can trap moisture, providing the perfect breeding ground for mold spores. So make sure you do not leave the cover on for long periods of time.

Q: Should I get an indoor car cover?

A: Indoor covers help to protect your vehicle from dust, bird droppings and even vermin, depending on how close-fitting the cover is to your car.

They are most often used in a workshop setting, where there’s a lot of dust flying around from sanding or cutting machinery, but they are also used to cover classic cars that aren’t used very often and maybe in danger of getting paint damage from your garage workshop activities.

They tend not to be waterproof covers – they don’t need to be if your garage is watertight – but should still be breathable to let any condensation in your garage, or residual rain after using your vehicle,  escape from the car’s body and mechanical parts.

They should also have a soft inner lining, to prevent any scratching of delicate paintwork, for example on that classic Ford Mustang.

The Cosmos 10331 Indoor Car Cover, reviewed here, is an excellent example of a good quality indoor car cover.

Q: Can I use an indoor car cover outside?

A: Technically yes, but only in fair weather conditions. Indoor car covers do not provide sufficient protection against the elements so I would advise using a proper outdoor cover instead.

Final Thoughts

A car cover is a great way to protect your vehicle outside. If you live in an area with harsh weather conditions, a car cover can help keep your car looking new by preventing it from getting scratched or dinged and keeping the color of the paintwork. In addition, a car cover can also help keep your car cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.

Outdoor car covers are an investment that can save you from costly repairs. But it’s important to choose the right type for your needs and to use it properly. 

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