Pros and Cons of Car Covers: Do They Cause Rust?

Car with a car cover installed

Whenever I see a covered car, I think to myself, “they’re not fooling anyone, there’s definitely a car hiding under that.” Clearly, they’re not good at disguising cars, but are they good at preventing rust? Some people think they actually cause rust.

It’s a tricky answer. Yes, car covers can cause rust, but they won’t ever cause rust if they’re used correctly. The trick is to pick the correct type of car cover and make sure you never put it on a wet vehicle. Failure to follow those guidelines can definitely lead to rust.

I did some digging and put together a list of the pros and cons of owning and using a car cover. I’ll even let you know whether or not they cause rust. By the end of this piece, you should know if you want to use a car cover moving forward for your vehicle.

What is Rust?

Rust is the byproduct of metal coming in contact with oxygen. It’s a form of oxidation which is a chemical reaction. Even though rust just looks like brown spots on a piece of metal, it can be super dangerous.

The chemical reaction actually eats through the metal. If you see a really rusty vehicle, you might notice a big hole where the rust is forming. That hole is thanks to the rust.

In fact, rust on the framework of a car can lead to an unsafe vehicle. Inspectors are known to fail a vehicle if it shows too much rust for this very reason. Needless to say, avoiding rust should be a big focus of every car owner.

Citroen car parked with rain pouring on it

How is Rust Formed?

Without getting into the nerdy science behind it, I want to talk about how rust forms. The oxygen in the air reacts with exposed metal and creates rust.

There are a few ways to avoid rust, but they all pertain to disrupting this process. For example, your car probably has a layer of paint then a topcoat on the metal. This is to protect the metal and make sure it doesn’t rust quickly.

The oxidation process is expediting when moisture is introduced. If a pool of water is sitting on a piece of exposed metal, you’ll notice that it rusts a lot faster than metal with no water on it.

The Purpose of a Car Cover

In an effort to keep air and water away from cars, a lot of people opt for car covers. This is no new invention. It started as a simple piece of plastic that would be draped over a car. Now, you’ll find a range of materials and sizes for these covers. Some are even custom-made for certain makes, models, and years of vehicles.

The original purpose of a car cover was to protect peoples’ vehicles. Today, the purpose stays the same. A car cover is used to protect a vehicle from nature when a garage or carport can’t be used. But, do they cause rust? I’ll talk about this later.

When your car is parked outside overnight, you might wake up to a pollen-covered or vandalized vehicle. The great outdoors isn’t so great when it comes to storing a vehicle.

Pros of Car Covers

I want to start by talking about why people love car covers. Since there’s a whole industry of car covers, clearly there are some benefits of them.

Avoid the Car Wash

My favorite part of a car cover is how clean it keeps my car. It prevents pollen, dust, tree sap, and leaves from piling on your car while it’s parked overnight.

Car parked on the side of the road with a car cover on it

When you take off the car cover, you expose a perfectly clean vehicle.

This pushes back your need to go to a car wash. Rather than learning how to wash your car with hard water, you can just throw a car cover on and keep it fresh.

Protect from UV Rays

One of the best ways to prevent your car’s paint from fading is with a car cover. That pesky sun is always throwing UV rays to Earth and fading car paint across the globe.

The only way to avoid UV fading is to prevent the UV rays from getting to your car in the first place.

Since car covers are not transparent (as in, you can’t see through them), they block UV rays. It means that your paint will always stay vibrant for as long as you cover your car.

If you want to keep your vintage car looking brand-new, this is the way.

Highly Portable

Until engineers develop an engineer that can fold up and go in your pocket, the car cover is the best way to get portable protection from the elements.

These covers can fold and roll up to a small bundle. You can throw it in your back seat or trunk and it stays out of the way until you need it again.

Avoid Scratches

Animals, tree branches, and flying debris can do a lot of damage to your car while it’s uncovered and parked. They can all scratch your precious paint which, ironically enough, can lead to rust in the future.

Car parked next to a tree with snow on it

Remember, your paint is the thing that prevents rust in the first place. A deep enough scratch will expose the bare metal of your vehicle and promote rust. If you do have scratches, you should remove car scratches before it’s too late.

To avoid scratches in the future, try out a car cover. The tough material will take the brunt of the impact without transferring scratches to your car’s paint underneath. Think of it as a little shield for your vehicle.

Inexpensive

You can walk into Walmart with 30 bucks and walk out with a car cover. Yes, they’re really that inexpensive.

Of course, the heavier duty and nicer covers are going to cost more, but it’s almost impossible to find a car cover that’s more than $200.

It’s difficult to find a comparable level of protection for your vehicle at such a low price. Even if you’re skeptical, it’s worth getting a cover and trying it out before writing them off.

Deters Vandals

Although a car cover can easily be stolen, they still do a good job of deterring vandals. There’s something about the whole “out of sight, out of mind” idea that causes would-be vandals to keep walking.

The cover doesn’t physically protect your vehicle, but it’s an added layer that a vandal would have to go through before getting to your car.

Regulate Moisture

I mentioned earlier that pools of water sitting on your car are a bad thing. Car covers are a protective barrier between the car and the rain. By regulating the moisture, the goal is to keep it away from your vehicle, sort of like an umbrella.

Car parked on the side of the street with a car cover on it

Cons of Car Covers

However, not everything about these covers is perfect. Let me talk about some of the negatives of using a car cover.

Easy to Steal

The car cover has no level of security. You won’t find a padlock, any combination code, or a chain securing the car cover. It’s simply a piece of material that goes on top of your car.

Due to this, they’re easy to snatch from a car. If someone really wants your car cover, they can take it off. Now, I don’t know how realistic this is, but it’s worth pointing out that your $100 car cover can easily disappear if someone wants to steal it.

Can Cause Scratches

Ironically enough, car covers can also cause scratches. Earlier, I was saying how good they are at preventing scratches, so it seems silly that I’m contradicting myself already.

Well, it’s not the cover itself, it’s the user putting it on and off. If your car cover has something abrasive caught in the fabric and you drag the cover across your car, you’ll wind up scratching it.

Car with scratch marks on it close up of the paint

The material of the car cover won’t ever scratch your vehicle. They’re made specifically to avoid that. It’s just the act of removing and securing the cover that can lead to some issues.

A fast way to avoid this is to carefully store your car cover and shake it out before putting it on your vehicle. Be careful and put on the cover slowly.

Probably Won’t Fit Perfectly

Unless the car cover is custom-made for your specific vehicle, there’s a high chance that it won’t fit perfectly. It’s more of a “one size fits most” deal when it comes to these covers.

The biggest pain in the neck is trying to get your side mirrors in the cover. I wind up folding in my mirrors because they otherwise stretch the heck out of the cover.

A generic car cover won’t be form fitting to your vehicle, but it will still serve its purpose. Just don’t expect it to look perfect in your driveway.

Can Cause Rust

Now it’s time to talk about the elephant in the room — car covers can cause rust. Before you tear up your car cover, read the next section (it’s really not as bad as you think). Clearly, this is a big negative so it’s something to consider.

Do Car Covers Cause Rust?

Yes, car covers can cause rust. The big word here is “can”. Essentially, it only happens if you get a really cheap car cover or you don’t use it correctly.

In this case, water sitting on top of your car is going to cause rust. If your car is already wet and you throw a car cover on top of it, then you’re trapping that moisture and giving it nowhere to go.

Doing this often enough will lead to rust.

On the other hand, poor material selection of your car cover will cause rust. If the material is completely porous, meaning rainwater can come through the material, then you’re susceptible to rust. That $30 Walmart car cover I was talking about earlier? I’d be willing to bet it’s made with an undesirable material that can promote rust.

You want something that wicks moisture. Always avoid car covers that use heavy plastic.

Also, make sure you let your car dry before covering it. Personally, I just don’t use a car cover if it rained and my car is wet. I’ll let it air dry and simply use a cover the next night. That’s all due to my laziness, though — the “right” way to do it is to use a microfiber towel and dry your vehicle then use the car cover.

The final takeaway is this: a car cover can cause rust, but it won’t as long as you apply it correctly.

Who Are Car Covers Made For?

The bottom line is that car covers are a pretty universal product. They’re especially useful for people who own a car that they care about but don’t have a covered place to store them. They’re insanely useful if you live in a city or any town where garages are rare.

Another use for these covers is to wrap up your car when you’re in the office. That’s 8 hours a day of exposure to the elements that you can avoid with a car cover.

Car covered in bird droppings
Car covered with bird droppings

Other people will use a car cover for their weekend vehicle. If you have a vintage car, an old truck, or a secondary car that you never really take out, it would help to throw a car cover over it.

They’re especially useful for people who live in rainy or humid climates like Seattle. Keeping all that moisture away from your paint is a good thing. Equally, people who live in sunny places like Arizona will want to prevent UV fading by blocking sunlight with a car cover.

If your vehicle is exposed to outside elements such as debris, bird droppings, tree sap, etc…I highly recommend getting a car cover to protect the clear coat of your car paint.

Car covers are made for people who:

  • Live in sunny areas
  • Live in wet/ humid areas
  • Have cars they park outside
  • Park in an open lot for work each day

Conclusion

It probably came as a surprise to a lot of people that car covers don’t actually cause rust. There are plenty of reasons to pick up a car cover today. Protect your wheels the right way. For more car care tips, check out the rest of my blog. Take a look at other products I highly recommend. Of course, leave a comment below if this piece helped you at all or you found it interesting.

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Ernest Martynyuk

An automotive enthusiast who's been tinkering with vehicles since I was 15-years old. Repairing automotive electronics has been my main job for over a decade now and have a passion for everything technical regarding cars.

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