Seat cov­ers and airbags do not mix

Want to keep your seats fresh with aftermarket cov­ers? Think twice – es­pe­cially if you have side airbags

Edmonton Sun - Autonet - - NEWS - BRIAN TURNER

You may won­der why add-on seat cov­ers aren’t as pop­u­lar any­more. We still get our car’s seats dirty, grimy and smelly, but these days, it seems only a mi­nor­ity still slap on some neon-camo or faux fir seat cov­ers. Well, those diehard, keep-it-show­room-fresh driv­ers – or those sim­ply seek­ing a bit more per­son­al­iza­tion – will have to re­think their in­te­rior dec­o­rat­ing hob­bies thanks to seat-side airbags.

Most mod­ern ve­hi­cles have seat­mounted side airbags. These units are usu­ally lo­cated un­der the fac­tory fab­ric or leather seat-back cov­ers on both out-board sides of the front seats, near­est to the doors. They con­tain an ex­plo­sive canis­ter de­signed to in­flate the airbags, and while they’re de­signed to pro­tect in side-im­pact crashes, they may also de­ploy dur­ing front-off­set events. They’re eas­ily iden­ti­fied by a fab­ric la­bel sewn into the side panel of the seat, near the top. So, what’s all this got to do with ad­don seat-cov­ers?

The fac­tory cov­ers on airbage­quipped seats have specif­i­cally treated stitch­ing at­tach­ing the up­per side pan­els to the re­main­ing pieces. In the event of an side airbag de­ploy­ment, this stitch­ing will let the panel eas­ily tear away in a planned fashion, so as not to in­hibit the full and im­me­di­ate in­fla­tion of the bag.

More im­por­tantly, if just one fold of the fab­ric is im­peded in any way, it can al­ter or de­lay the full and pro­tec­tive cush­ion­ing ef­fect be­tween your head and up­per body, and the sheet metal, glass, or plas­tic hurtling to­wards you. If you add any layer or thick­ness of a seat cover, side airbags won’t be able to do their job. So, when it comes to pro­tect­ing the up­hol­stery on our front seats, what can we do?

There are a limited num­ber of seat cov­ers that are com­pat­i­ble with side airbags. But even with a cred­i­ble source for such cov­ers, few – if any – have been tested in rec­og­nized lab­o­ra­tory crashes to mea­sure their ef­fect on airbag de­ploy­ment. Most use Vel­cro at­tach­ments for side pan­els, while other man­u­fac­tur­ers chose not to ac­cept the risk of us­ing any seat cover with airbags and la­bel their prod­ucts as non-com­pat­i­ble.

There are cov­ers avail­able that have no up­per side pan­els, and in­stead use fab­ric elas­tic bands to hold the cov­ers in place. These are ac­cept­able, pro­vided the bands don’t cover the side airbag, mean­ing the in­staller must know the ex­act lo­ca­tion of the airbag in the seat. It’s con­tained in a hard shell, and can of­ten be felt through the seat cover and foam. But if you’re not sure, don’t guess. Rather, let a qual­i­fied ser­vice provider mark out its bound­aries in vis­i­ble tape.

You can al­ways opt for cus­tom­fit seat bot­tom cov­ers only and con­sider a rec­tan­gu­lar throw for the seat backs that doesn’t cover the side pan­els in any way, shape, or form. With a few stitches on this throw, you can eas­ily at­tach your own fab­ric elas­tic bands in the cor­rect po­si­tions.

Re­mem­ber – airbags are only lo­cated on the out­board pan­els of the front seats, so you can cover in in­ner-fac­ing side pan­els with­out any con­cern.

Sup­plied/ iStock

If your car’s front seats have a la­bel like this one and you want to in­vest in some seat cov­ers, you’re out of luck.

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