In general, split seat covers in two groups - universal and custom-made. The differences between the two groups are significant and we’ll explain them to answer the next question.
Universal car seat covers
Custom car seat covers
The differences between universal covers and custom-made seat covers are quite sharp! They vary in their purpose, how they are processed, the material used and also the price. The following sections look into the differences between these two products in more detail.
Universal seat covers are produced so they can be installed into several car models. A production schedule is normally displayed that outlines the usability of universal seat covers and includes all vehicle models where the seat covers can be fitted. The advantage of universal seat covers is mainly the lower price. Due to the lower cost of producing the seat cover patterns and the use of cheaper, elastic materials, less can be spent manufacturing universal seat covers than on custom-made covers. The main negative aspect of universal seat covers is their versatility among cars. Because they are manufactured for several models, they are not expected to fit exactly ont the seats. The durability and longevity of the materials along with whether the covers can be safely used with side-airbag seats are also questionable.
Who should buy universal seat covers?
1. There are no seat custom-made seat covers on the market that fit their vehicle
2. Lower cost of universal covers (where the price of custom-made seat covers in certain extreme cases may exceed the value of the vehicle)
Custom-made seat covers are a more expensive, though markedly higher quality alternative, for changing a car’s interior. This seat cover category is always produced for one specific type of seat – a carefully designed pattern guarantees the seat covers will fit on seats with millimeter precision. Quality custom-made seat covers protect the car’s original upholstery and have a positive influence on the esthetics of the interior. When custom-made seat covers are produced, better materials are used. You often encounter in the production of seat covers materials that car manufacturers use to produce original car upholstery. These materials have been developed specifically for the automotive industry and meet strict conditions guaranteeing sufficient durability, material strength and resistance to light, among other things. The disadvantages of this category lie in the price, which can be many times higher than the cost of a universal car seat.
Who are custom-made covers intended for?
- New car owners who want to protect the original upholstery for as long as possible against outside effects.
- Owners who are fans of tuning, and not satisfied about how the car’s exterior is modeled.
- Car owners whose interiors are worn, and who want to return their vehicles to their “glory days”
- Car owners who want to avoid time-consuming cleaning of seats
- Company cars (taxicabs, transport companies, police cars, ambulance, etc.)
Mini Copper One seats before and after installation of custom-made seat covers High-quality and precisely tailored seat covers are difficult to distinguish from the original upholstery. The right seat has seat covers installed that are made with Alcantara® as the core material and Leather Look (automotive synthetic leather) as the edge material.
All car models undergo long development lasting many years, which includes testing for passenger safety. The most famous of these safety tests is the so-called “crash test”. This is a test which verifies the passive safety of the car’s body in a collision with a solid concrete wall (in some cases another car or under similar conditions) at a speed of 48.3 kilometers an hour. A crash test dummy (called Oscar) with built-in sensors is placed in a vehicle. At impact, both the car’s deformation and the consequences of the crash on the test dummy are observed. The best known crash tests in Europe are conducted by Euro NCAP, an independent consortium. Tested automobiles are issued a safety assessment by Euro NCAP in the form of a safety rating, where the maximum number of stars that can be received is five.
Passenger safety is also influenced by other factors. Besides the car’s technical condition, any objects found inside (for instance, pens, coins, toys, etc.) play their own roles, too. There is no control over the movement of these articles in a crash and they can cause light or serious injuries to passengers, too. Seat covers, as part of a car’s interior, likewise affect the safety of passengers? The main reason behind making this point is the fact that seat covers are also fitted on seats that contain side-airbags inside.
Side airbags placed in the seats are currently a standard component in vehicles and are installed in new cars from basic levels up (except for cars manufactured by BMW, where the side airbags are placed in the car doors):
The flawless operation of side airbags is now standard, and an essential feature in a car’s passive safety. It is immensely important for seat covers fitted on seats not to disturb the functioning of side airbags placed in the seats. Seat covers that limit the operation of side airbags endanger passengers, leading to needless injuries. Presently, there are several manufacturers in the market that have been addressing the problems experienced with side airbags through the development of their own airbag technologies. The next few sentences focus on individual technologies.
You may encounter a solution based on so-called “airbag openings”. In such a format, the seat covers have openings over the side airbags. This engineering solution is characterized especially by low production costs. However, airbag openings have significant weaknesses, such as unverified evidence that the airbags can operate, and the presence of holes do not work well esthetically with a car’s interior.
Another common answer to the airbag issue is the use of standard threads with a smaller diameter at the stitching of the cover over the side airbag. Such engineering is based on the use of weaker threads that can be more easily torn when the airbag is activated, enabling the airbag to open. The seat covers’ esthetics is not disturbed in this case, though the functionality of this solution remains questionable.
The most ideal and safest solution to the problem of airbags is to use the same engineering as is applied to produce a car’s original upholstery. The part of the seat covers that lie over the airbags is stitched with a special airbag threads produced just for this purpose. When the stitches are sewn, a “certified airbag seam” is used. It refers to a seam that is computer monitored and checked for the length, tension and number of stitches. The presence of certified airbag seams is indicated by the manufacturer with a label sewn on the inside of the covers. The label indicates all of the necessary requirements related to airbag engineering. With the right parameters set for a certified airbag seam, both side-airbag operation and the esthetics of the seat covers remain preserved. Such engineering usually involves additionally a multi-component fastening system that uses special plastic strips. These prevent the seat covers from shifting on the original upholstery. In order for airbag technology to operate properly, the certified airbag seam has to be always located "on the right spot" (directly above the side-airbag seat).
Sample certified airbag seam label
Seat covers that can be safely used on side-airbag seats will have a label with the word “airbag”, just like in the case of the original seat upholstery. Unfortunately, the presence of the label does not always guarantee the seat covers can be safely used! This is due to the efforts of some seat cover manufacturers to put the airbag label on their products regardless of whether they are actually adapted for use on seats with side airbags. Such products can be dangerous because there is no evidence that the side airbag will operate error-free. Before purchasing sea covers, make sure what you've chosen is safe and appropriate for use in your vehicle! Selecting the wrong seat covers risks the lives of the occupants in your car!
So how can you be convinced that your seat covers are safe? Quality, safe seat covers usually undergo a multitude of tests before they are put on the market. The results of these tests are published either on the websites of seat cover manufacturers and dealers or shown directly on the product packaging. The most important and common test of the safety of airbag engineering for seat covers is to inflate the airbag. This test examines the time it takes at different temperatures for the airbag to completely open. This airbag inflation test is conducted in Central Europe by the renowned institution TÜV SÜD Czech s.r.o. (until 2007, it operated under the name of TÜV UVMV s.r.o. - formerly the Motor Vehicle Research Institute), which concentrates on testing and certification in industrial and service sectors. High-quality seat covers pass such testing with no complications and the side airbags fully open in about 14 milliseconds (0.014 seconds). Car seat quality and safety are also certified by national institutions with an approved separate technical unit certificate (Osvedčenie o typovom schválení samostatnej technickej jednotky) issued by the Ministry of Transport, Construction and Regional Development of the Slovak Republic and the equipment and vehicle component technical capacity certificate (Osvědčení o schválení technické způsobilosti typu výstroje a součástí vozidel) issued by the Ministry of Transport and Communications of the Czech Republic).
The airbag inflation test is conducted with seat covers at a temperature of -35 °C.
The airbag inflation test is also conducted with seat covers at a temperature of 85 °C.
Like clothing, you can encounter a large variety of materials used in making seat covers for cars. They can vary in color, pattern design, strength and other areas. You can also encounter fabric, plush, semi-leather and full-leather seat covers. The most advanced seat covers are those produced from Alcantara® microfibers (more information about this material can be found at www.alcantara.com). The use of genuine leather to produce secondary seat covers is problematic due to its natural properties (real leather expands at higher temperatures and may cause damage). As well as the precision patterning, the quality of the material used can vary significantly among products from different manufacturers. In general, the following applies:
Materials produced for the furniture or clothing industry may at first sight seem to be appropriate for the manufacture of the seat covers for cars. However, these materials are not developed for conditions that are necessary for use in the automotive industry. The following paragraphs summarize the two most fundamental reasons why furniture materials should not be used to produce seat covers:
- Large temperature fluctuations: the temperature inside a car can rise during a summer day up to 70°C, and in winter the temperature falls well below freezing. Only materials developed for the automotive sector can withstand such extreme changes in temperature
- High degree of material load: because passengers frequently get into and out of a car, such materials require long durability and high strength.
Likewise, the quality of the lamination has a significant impact on the quality and life of these materials. Lamination is a process where automotive foam rubber is bonded to the inside of the material. The quality of lamination is influenced by several factors: quality of the production process used by the laminating material company (the company’s engineering equipment, and the skills and experience of the laminating staff), width and density of the rubber foam. Lamination plays several important roles:
- Protecting seat cover material against creasing
- Preventing seat covers from shifting along the original upholstery
- Soft foam rubber increases passenger comfort. .
In addition to side-airbag inflation testing, high-quality airbags undergo other tests designed to examine the quality of the materials used. These tests are also conducted in Central Europe by TÜV SÜD Czech s.r.o.. Quality testing of materials includes long and short-term parts. Short-term testing puts seat covers in laboratory conditions where the quality of the material and precision of the processing are examined. The length of these tests is 100 cycles – 1200 hours (50 days). The demands required in such testing is evidenced by the minimum and maximum temperatures of a cycle (-40° to +80°C) and by the extreme change of air humidity (from 30% up to 80%).
Long-term testing of material quality is conducted under normal traffic conditions over a length of 100,000 kilometers. The purpose of such testing is to obtain knowledge about how the covering behaves in practical use of the vehicle (including installation).
The article has addressed in stages all the areas that are likely to influence your satisfaction with the selection of seat covers. To conclude, we briefly summarize all the features that your custom-made seat covers should have:
- Safe use of the seat covers on side-airbag seats are guaranteed by tests conducted by TÜV SÜD Czech s.r.o.
- The only way to achieve safe use of seat covers for side-airbag seats is to utilize airbag engineering identical to what automotive manufacturers use to produce the original upholstery.
- Quality seat covers are produced from materials that are intended for use in the automotive industry, with the quality and durability of the materials proven by applicable testing.