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Are your car seat covers dangerous?

That leopard print seat cover you’ve got in your car could be a ticking time bomb.

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When picking a car seat cover, you’re probably thinking about which ones look the best or which offer the best protection for your seat. In reality you need to concern yourself with whether the seat cover is safe. But why?

According to Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP), anything covering your chair may smother critical airbags built into the front seats on modern cars. The organisation, which assesses new car safety in Australia, also said it tests factory standard models and cannot certify aftermarket accessories.

What’s the problem with car seat covers?

ANCAP used the Honda City as an example. On the 2018 model, there are 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 may inflate at an unpredictable angle and with force, pushing the passenger in an arbitrary direction. The same problem may occur if a chair is re-upholstered or repaired.

Any delay in the airbag fully inflating could mean the difference between walking away with minor injuries or sustaining more severe ones.

Does my car have these seat airbags?

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

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

Can I fit seat covers at all?

Some drivers such as tradies need seat covers to protect the vehicle's cloth upholstery from damage. OAPS and back pain sufferers also tend to use beaded seat covers to alleviate pressure.

If that’s the case, then only buy seat covers that are compatible with chair airbags. Some seat cover makers cut out large sections of material to leave an opening for the airbag to inflate. These covers must securely attach to the chair. If they’re loose, they could slip and present the same danger as a generic seat cover. You must also be sure you’ve oriented the correct cover to the appropriate chair.

It’s essential to check with your seat cover supplier whether its products are safe for use with SRS airbags. Some manufacturers employ a breakable seam in their covers similar to the factory seat trim.

Even better, a handful of suppliers commissioned independent crash testing for their designs, publishing the results. Always favour one of those companies and avoid universally-fitted seat covers which are unable to accommodate for the varying locations of each manufacturer's airbag.

Is my car safe?

Older models are statistically less safe in car accidents. Check your vehicle’s Used 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.

Picture: Shutterstock

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