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Question Answered: Can Car Covers Scratch or Damage Paint?

If you must park outside long-term, car covers are your best bet to truly protect your car’s paint, especially in winter months. But you need to pick the right car cover and know how to use one properly.

To help you find the right cover for your needs, we’ll explain the different types of car covers out there, and some best practices for using one. You can leave swirl marks or minor scratches on your paint unless you know what you’re doing. 

Let’s start with one of the most common questions I get asked

Can car covers scratch your paint?

Car covers can scratch your paint no matter what material your car cover is made of. Covers get dirty by design, which means dirt particles or the cover fabric itself can cause micro scratches over time.

When you take a cover on and off on a daily basis, you’re more likely to cause damage if you do it carelessly.

What makes a good car cover?

The best car cover for one person may not be the best for you. For example, buying an expensive indoor car cover isn’t the best choice if you must park outside in the snow or rain; in this case, you’ll want a weatherproof cover.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself before you purchase a car cover:

  • Do I plan to store my vehicle indoors or outdoors?
  • Will I park my vehicle under a structure to block the elements?
  • How often will I remove the cover to drive the vehicle?
  • Is my clear coat past its prime or in pristine condition?

Types of car covers on the market

Indoor vs outdoor car covers

There are two main types of car covers: indoor and outdoor. Indoor car covers are ideal for garaged vehicles because they are softer on the paint while offering basic protection from dust and dirt.

Outdoor car covers are generally made of more durable materials that offer water resistance and protection from UV rays, leaves, tree sap, and other outdoor debris.

Indoor car covers

Indoor car covers are made from lightweight fabrics that are more breathable like polyester, satin, or flannel. It makes sense to use a breathable car cover in humid conditions because it helps prevent moisture buildup under the cover.

They typically keep your car’s clear coat much cooler by allowing air to circulate. Most indoor covers are designed to be soft on the paint and ideal for vehicles you drive more often.

Outdoor car covers

Outdoor covers are usually made from polymers like Polypropylene or acrylic fabric and provide UV protection. Outdoor covers are generally bulkier than indoor ones and may include straps for added security against wind.

While indoor covers are great for keeping paint protected indoors, you’ll want an outdoor car cover if you need maximum protection against debris or wind.

​High-quality covers vs low-quality covers

Cheap car covers are more likely to become brittle and tear over time, so spend the extra money on a medium to high-quality cover if you need the best protection possible.

For example, if you store a car outside at a storage facility and can’t regularly check on it, the last thing you want is for the stitching to come apart after an ice or wind storm. A good cover for outdoor use will at minimum be waterproof, often multi-layered, and may include zippers, staps, or other mechanisms.

A good premium outdoor cover generally costs over $100 and will feel thicker to the touch; some on the higher end even protect against hail damage.

Custom-fit car covers

If it’s in your budget, I highly recommend getting a custom-fit car cover for your vehicle make and model. In my opinion, a cover with a snug fit looks better since it contours to your vehicle, but they also reduce flapping (which can leave scratches).

A loose-fitting car cover can abrade your vehicle’s clear coat in windy conditions and may allow pests like rodents or insects to crawl underneath.

Tips to safely use a car cover

1. Never place a clean car cover on a visibly dirty car

You should never use a car cover on a vehicle that has visible mud or grit stuck to the paint. Even if you don’t realize it, you’ll probably mar the paint or leave faint scratches when you remove the cover.

Always wash your vehicle before putting on a car cover and storing your vehicle long-term. You never want old dirt, bird droppings, or other contaminants sliding around under the cover.

The one exception to always washing before covering is if you keep your clear coat protected and keep it garaged. If you’ve applied a ceramic coating or paint protection product on your vehicle AND use a soft cover, it’s up to you whether or not you want to use a cover.

Ceramics are pretty good these days and protect very well…so it’s up to you. Drive a classic car a couple of times per month (and keep it clean)? You’re probably okay to cover it without washing it every time.

2. Only use a car cover when needed

The more you take the cover on and off, the more likely it is to scratch the paint. If you can, only use a cover when storing your car for an extended period or prior to severe weather.

Also, be sure to wash your car cover from time to time! Car covers typically have instructions for cleaning, which is critical to avoid scratches.

Car covers are great for extreme weather like hail, and even the occasional rainstorm if you just waxed your vehicle, but selecting a high-quality cover and never placing a car cover on a dirty vehicle should keep you in the clear!

3. Secure the cover

Even if you use a universal car cover, try to minimize sliding or air pockets by securing the cover properly. You should avoid buying a car cover that doesn’t fit since it can slap against your vehicle and potentially cause damage.

Even if you use a universal car cover, try to minimize sliding or air pockets by securing the cover properly. You should avoid buying a car cover that doesn’t fit since it can slap against your vehicle and potentially cause damage.

4. Remove the cover with care

After removing any straps or buckles, start from the front of the vehicle and gently remove the cover. Never tug or pull at the cover to remove it!

5. Keep your car cover clean

After removing any straps or buckles, start from the front of the vehicle and gently remove the cover. Never tug or pull at the cover to remove it!

Learn how to wash and detail your vehicle from A to Z

Washing your car sounds simple enough, but are you doing it right? We can help.

Check out our video course, Washing and Detailing for Beginners. It’s exactly what you need as a beginner to start seeing better results.

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Baxter Overman is the founder of Carwash Country and has been been cleaning up dirty vehicles for nearly 20 years. Since 2017, he's helped thousands of beginners see better results by learning the fundamentals of washing and detailing. He's on a mission to make the car wash process more fun...and way easier.

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