Many consumers choose aftermarket car seat covers to keep the seats of their car fresh. For people with side airbags, however, this could be a deadly choice.
Add-on seat covers do not hold the attraction to car buyers that they used too. Our car seats are still getting daily wear and tear and the occasional drop of ketchup or drip of coffee but less car owners are opting for seat covers. One reason is the safety issues related to seat-side airbags.
Seat-mounted side airbags are in most modern automobiles. They are most often found under the factory seat-back covers, nearest the doors on both outboard sides of the front seats. They are identified by the labels sewn into the side of the seat panel. An explosive canister is lodged inside geared to inflate airbags in the event of a crash.
These airbags are meant to deploy during a side-impact event but can do so during a front-impact accident. Factory covers on these types of seats have stitching that is specifically treated to tear away easily. This stitching attaches the upper sides of the panels to the rest of the cover. This is so the airbag deployment is not inhibited in any way. If even one fold of the airbag is impeded, it can alter the cushioning effect between the human body and the glass, metal and wreckage hurtling toward it. Placing an add-on seat over to your seat can mean the difference between life and death if it impedes the performance of your side-impact airbags.
There are very few seat covers compatible with side airbags. Of those available, none have been tested in a recognized laboratory during test crashes able to measure the effect on airbag deployment. Most that claim compatibility use a Velcro attachment on the side panel. Experts say the most compatible are the types with no fabric side panel but elastic straps instead. These work best as long as the elastic bands do not cover the airbags. Car owners are encouraged to have a qualified technician point out the exact location of the side airbags before buying a seat cover.