Universal or Custom Seat Covers? How to Decide

Note: This post is our first in a series on how to buy seat covers. The next article describes common reasons people buy seat covers.

So what is the big deal about custom made seat covers anyways? Are custom covers worth it? Or will universal seat covers do the trick? There are cheap universal seat covers out there that are a “one size fits all”. Won’t they fit your seats? In some cases, the answer is yes. In others, the answer is kind of. But in most cases the answer is no.

Consider the Fit Universal seat covers are starting to fit fewer and fewer vehicles. As vehicles get redesigned, the shaped seats vary from standard sizes that work with the “one size fits all” covers bought off the shelf at Walmart or online. On Amazon, the general consensus is that universals still fit well enough for the price you pay. But many reviewers give them 1 or 2 star ratings because they flat out don’t fit, or won’t stay on the seat. It’s a bit of a guessing game: will your vehicle will be one of the lucky ones that the universal cover fits well? When it’s not, there’s not much you can do. You can either send them back, try to keep them on with your own makeshift system, or call it a day. With custom seat covers, a fit guarantee protects you. Seat covers from Shear Comfort or AutoAnything are guaranteed to fit the seats on the year, make, and model of vehicle you’re ordering for. That guarantee assumes you ordered correctly for your particular seat – so order right the first time. As many reviews on our website indicate, custom is definitely better fitting than generic seat covers.

Wear is also a huge factor in the Universal vs Custom debate. An Amazon user going by CalMetalDad wrote this in his review of universal seat covers, “they faded extremely quickly in the sunlight. They began a rich black color, yet have turned into a “custom fade from black to light brown” color”. The overall quality isn’t always there. At $29.99 on Amazon, or the insanely low price of $6.88-$8.88 we’ve seen on Walmart.com, can you honestly expect them to be made for long-term use? There is something to be said about the phrase “you get what you pay for”. At those prices, chances are the fabric is not of the highest quality. As Julian, a Shear Comfort customer, indicated in his review, he “tried a variety of store bought seat covers none of which fit well and their materials were not good” and many others agree – click here to read similar feedback at the end of this post.

There’s a reason lots of drivers finally end up with a custom fit after tossing several universals. Custom made seat cover companies use automotive grade materials. For instance, the NeoSupreme fabric from Shear Comfort is similar to Neoprene but has is specially formulated with UV protection for auto use, so that you won’t end up with faded seat covers after only a few months of use. Other websites will also indicate automotive grade materials being UV protected. It’s one good way to gauge the longevity of your seat covers, especially if your car is often in the sun. Of course, choosing a more durable custom fit fabric gives an even higher level of wear. Whichever material you go with, it’s nice to know that custom seat covers have a warranty for quality. Perhaps a good motto for buying seat covers is “buy the best and you’ll only cry once”.

Safety Features If you are lucky enough to have seats that a universal seat cover fits well, you should still check if you have Side Air Bags in them. Not sure what side air bags are? In North America, most recent vehicles have them as standard equipment. Read the product info to make sure the cover is 100% compatible with your airbags. Many do not have the stitching alterations necessary to allow the airbag’s safe deployment through the fabric covering it. A popular universal fit product on Amazon.com is a good example. One of the main points states “not equipped with front side airbags and rear split function”. So if you’re ever involved in an accident, your vehicle’s crash safety features may not work properly. When shopping around for universals, look for an explicit statement describing whether they are compatible or not.

To avoid this problem altogether, Go Custom! Custom made seat covers are designed to be compatible with vehicles that have side-mounted air bags. As per a sales representative at AutoAnything, the manufacturers will know and make the necessary alterations. Looking at Wetokole, there is a section that you can choose “yes” or “no” for Side Air Bags. This section is “Required” and you have to select one or the other before continuing.  It is also nice to know that on Shear Comfort’s website, if your vehicle comes with standard Side Air Bags, a proper alteration for them is automatically added during ordering – they have done the research themselves so you don’t have to know your vehicle inside out. But if you’re curious whether you have them or not, SaferCar.gov describes how to locate them: “Side-impact and rollover air bags are not required by the government; however, they are offered as either a standard or optional feature by many vehicle manufacturers. Again, read your owner’s manual and look for SRS or Side Air Bag embossed on areas such as the outboard side of the seat back, the door panel, or the overhead roof rail” . The bottom line is if you have Side Air Bags, universals are probably not worth the cheap price tag.

Finally, here are some more product reviews from customers who have had experience with both universal and custom seat covers :

From Avinadar J of Castro Valley, CA: “I have to say if you want seat covers that will not make your interior look cheesy and rather want some quality and nice looking buy this one. Is a bit expensive for seat covers but you get what you pay for. I bought this kind for my new 2014 Grand Cherokee so I was not going to buy some cheap seat covers at Walmart.”

Michele G from Danbury, NH describes Cordura seat covers on the 2013 Ford F250: “Although it took awhile for them to be shipped out it was certainly worth the wait. Snug fit look’s better than I have purchased in department stores. Material is strong looking forward to see how many years we get out of these.”

Review by Kelly G from Franklin, PA: “I just purchased a new Prius and want to keep it showroom new. I have used department store seat covers in the past. Never again! My new seat covers fit like a glove”. Kelly drives a 2012 Toyota Prius

Review by Luisa D from Bradford, ON, Canada: “The covers we purchased from ShearComfort were a little more expensive than we planned on spending compared to the $30 universal cover we bought at PetSmart (the cover is to protect the seat from our German Shepard). But upon installation we could tell right away that this cover was gonna fit perfectly even from touching the material we knew this was some durable stuff” This is for a 2011 Volkswagen Golf

Review by Alan from Fort Rucker, AL for his Ford Explorer Limited: “With all the various options different varieties and the great support I would recommend buying these seat covers over the bulk stores that don’t make the product they sell.”

Alicia H from Reno, NV writes in: “id recommend these to anyone looking for decent looking seat protection. Ill never get WalMart seat covers again!” (Alicia drives a 2001 GMC Sierra)

Review by Bob F from Indian Harbour, NS, Canada: “I’m ordering another set for my wife’s car and even considering a set for my show car rather than re-upholstering. These seat covers are worth every penny they are not the cheap variety available at discount stores.”

Timothy D from Lynden, WA describes his experience : “Very well constructed good fit…I thought they were expensive but after installing them I see why they are priced that way due to the quality of the materials…not the type of cover s seen in a big box store.” His vehicle is a 2013 Nissan Frontier

(The source for all above reviews is ShearComfort.com)

Next in our seat cover buying guide – “Why are you Buying Seat Covers?