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The Car Cover: Are You Chasing Your Tail? My Feelings


When I teach any enthusiast how to better take care of their car, we are often trying to overcome this obstacle.  Awakening people to the concept that most damage is self-inflicted as a result of their own efforts to protect and beautify their car!  People spend hours and hundreds of dollars with the intention of making their car look beautiful.  Those same efforts often directly contribute to damaging the appearance of their car, specifically making their paint look bad!

car cover

You Could Be Chasing Your Tail With The Best Of Intentions

When you take your clean (just washed) car out for a trip to the grocery store, you now technically have a dirty car. It doesn’t matter if it is raining or if it is a sunny day. It doesn’t matter if you drove through the mud or pavement, you now have a dirty car. When you return home, are you going to put the car cover on the car?

car cover

It is incredibly unlikely (realistically impossible) for you to put a cover over a car without some friction.  In essence, you are grinding whatever dirt, dust, or other foreign substance from when you were driving into your paint. Even if you are applying over a freshly cleaned vehicle, the friction mentioned earlier is unavoidable and can cause imperfections when putting the cover onto the vehicle.

I would not even put a plush microfiber towel over my paint in this situation without some appropriate lubricity (car soap, instant detailer, etc.).  It is often to the surprise of so many car owners when I tell them the source of the swirls (1000s of micro-scratches) and random deep scratches came from their car cover!

For example, the accumulation of scratches here (below) were likely in large part a product of the use of a car cover.


The biggest obstacle most enthusiasts have is that they are focused so much on short-term cleanliness that they become distracted from worrying about long-term damage.

My Recommendation

If (that’s a big if) you are going to use a car cover:

  • Limit it to indoors. 
  • Get a high-quality Indoor Cover.
  • Use it for inside garage storage immediately after washing.
  • Never put it over a dirty vehicle.

Ideally, this will work if you have a weekend car that you don’t want to get dust on.  That plan will result in the least amount of damage from a car cover.

Rodney Tatum
Mirror Reflections Auto Spa
Gainesville, Florida
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16 comments on The Car Cover: Are You Chasing Your Tail? My Feelings

  1. Charles Rossi says:

    So basically Every time I take my weekend car out and I put it in the garage I should wash it first and then put the car cover on before I put the car away

    • J says:

      I completely agree with Rodney’s assessment. I’ve been doing paint correction for 30 years and that’s what I do. Anything less and you are going to introduce paint defects into your pristine finish. If I don’t have time to wash after I take the car out for a cruise, then I just don’t put the cover on until I am able to wash the car.

    • Rodney Tatum says:

      I would. Whenever I am transporting a vehicle a back and forth or have it out in the open, I treat the car as dirty. For the same reason you would put a cover over a car even in a garage, would be the same reason you would want to wash the car prior to covering it.

  2. rlmccarty2000 says:

    I had that same dilemma and I decided it was better to protect my car with a good cover and risk micro-marring. I kept my car coated, which protected the paint somewhat from marring. The car sat for long periods and was at risk of bird droppings and small limb damage. Also it kept thieves from looking inside the car as well as blocking the suns’ UV rays. Everyone is different and every case is different. I weighed the marring risk against the pros of what the cover was doing for me and it was the right thing to do—for me.

    • Rodney Tatum says:

      I am with you, with regards to risk management and making an informed choice that is based on a unique perspective.

      My concern is the Average Joe unknowingly using a car care product that leads to more damage.

  3. Patrick A Novoa says:

    Rodney would you or others here have a specific cover recommendation??

    • Rodney Tatum says:

      Patrick I do not have a particular one that I know of that I recommend of. My 2 only recommendations are getting the right one (outdoor or indoor) for where you will use it, and getting the highest recommended one you can afford (which I am not knowledgeable of).

  4. Justin T says:

    I would have to respectfully disagree in the situation where a daily driver is parked outside all the time. I agree that a cover can cause damage for all the reasons you stated. But that damage is mild and easily correctable when compared to the long term damage caused by UV rays, fallout, bird bombs and everything else a car that “lives” outside is subjected to. I have used a cover on my daily here in Southern California for the 15 years I have owned it and the paint is near perfect. Moreover, the black plastic and seals are dark and subtle. A little awareness goes a long way when taking the cover on a off to minimize the damage.

    • Rodney Tatum says:

      Justin (not the greatest comparison) I could say our perspectives are like how I would approach the question should you use brushes on paint. If someone put me on the spot and demanded a ‘yes or no answer without context, my safe knee-jerk response would be a definite NO! for the cosmetic safety of their car. With that said, technically (ultra soft and perfectly safe) I use the synthetic Detail Factory brushes around emblems and other tight areas around my car fornthe same reason.

      For a while I had my car out completely in elements. The car cover was not something I would do as I could stay on top greatly minimize the damage if there was any to a minor level, as my car had a really good sealant and I frequently washed or carefully) spot cleaned potential problems. That does not mean you are wrong or I would recommend you change a system that is working well for you.

      Like this article a lot of my motivation comes from in addition to taking my habits, figuring out where my clients can improve there car care habits so they can maximize the value of a detailing service. I am thinking what is realistic for the majority of people. But someone’s unique perspective that is counter to what I am may do is welcome. And it is an opportunity for a lot us (including myself) to learn something new.

  5. Charles Rossi says:

    This article is very interesting. Thank you for all the welcome ideas

  6. Dan Franco says:

    I have had car covers on my vehicles for 52 years.. Lots of vehicles, all had car covers, 52 years..
    It helps to have a really good car cover to start, and then Know how to take it on and off so you have less chance to perhaps put something into the paintwork..
    I have never, ever, done Anything that constitutes ” Grinding” any car cover into the paint to cause “Grinding” damage to any of these vehicles.. Not sure how something that is so light in weight can ever “Grind” itself into paintwork to cause damage.. This has never happened to me in thousands of times I have installed and taken off car covers..
    I see the huge value in having this protection over a vehicle especially if it sits outside all its life.. I will always use them..
    It helps to learn the best way to Install and Remove a car cover so it goes on easily and removes easily..
    I Never, Ever, let the car cover come in contact with the ground.. Again, you have to learn how to install and remove it so this never happens..
    It is a good thing to occasionally wash the car cover and dry it preferably, over the vehicle it fits, so it dries quickly..
    I have only used 2 different car cover suppliers in those decades, and the best one (Beverly Hills Car Covers closed) today, took up where the first best one left off, taking all their patterns, etc., technology, etc., and just kept going (California Car Cover Company), both companies in California..
    The current company is still making awesome products that always exceed my expectations with fit and finish..
    I see no reason to wash my always really clean vehicles after I take them out and bring them back still clean, just to put the car cover back on.. I just do not ever hurt my paint..
    Besides, I have been Detailing for 50 years professionally, so there is nothing that is paint related that I have not seen and made perfect a zillion times.. 🙂
    Love, Love car covers ! Hate any of them that are bright colors or have graphics, etc., on them.. I want my vehicles to be protected as great as possible And be Stealthy at the same time..
    Good luck, All, with your research !
    D. Franco

    • Charly rossi says:

      How do you install a car cover correctly? Everybody does it differently so any help would be appreciated. Thanks

      • Rodney Tatum says:

        One of my clients slid a car cover across his car outside, concerned about potential rain. That encouraged a conversation and this article. High quality covers are essential. And this is not a great example but to answer your question: Imagine just a lightly dusty car. Now imagine running my fingers with just moderate pressure across your car. Now think about how delicate we are washing a car (wash media and emulsifying agaents). A lot of us forget how delicate paint is between washing.

  7. Rodney Tatum says:

    “It helps to have a really good car cover to start, and then Know how to take it on and off so you have less chance to perhaps put something into the paintwork..” I completely agree here with your point. But this also speaks to my concerns about many people who choose car covers out of convience and safety concerns. If it works for someone and he or she has a system working, then I do not want give the idea impression their paint will be destroyed if they don’t stop using a car cover.

    A majority of people can be somewhat apathetic to damaging their paint (to enthusiast standards) for the benefit of convience. Lost in the group of people who own car covers are a category that are well intentioned, but are not savy enough to gently set and remove a car cover without causing damaging. Many of these people see swirls but don’t understand their Roll in causing them. I wrote this article with those individuals in mind.

  8. Dan Franco says:

    Charly rossi — Sorry for not replying sooner, I just saw your post..
    This is how I have been installing car covers for decades —
    It is going to be folded up.. Find out which is on the top – the Front or the Back of the Car Cover…
    You can perhaps carefully unfold the top and carefully spread it out and see what the shape looks like to determine what you have, either the front or the back facing up..
    Put the entire cover on End of the Vehicle that is the Opposite of what is showing at the end of the Car Cover..
    Now, unfold the car cover and pull it all the way over to the opposite end of the car… Keep it centered on the roof, all the way across the car…
    Go to the Front, unfold the Front of the car cover carefully, and slide the front of it over the front of the car..
    Now, go to the Back of the car, and carefully, unfold it, and pull it over the back of the car..
    Now, go to the sides, and pull the car cover down the sides, you may have outside mirror pockets to install the mirrors in sometimes…
    Then go to the other side of the car and repeat the process. Pull it down all the way on the Sides, adjust the Front And Back ends to make sure it is under everything and it is all tight..

    To take it off —
    Go to the Back, and pull it off the back end, fold it from side to side and leave it on the top of the trunk lid..
    Go to the Front, and pull it off the front end, fold it from side to side, and leave it sitting on the hood.
    Go to each side and continue to pull the sides up to the center of the roof, folding each side as it lays on the roof..
    Do the same to the other side… It does not matter which side you do first… Just do both of them.
    Now, you have this long car cover laying all the way over your car, in the center of it, from front to back..
    Go to each side and pull it up towards the center so the strip of car cover is now smaller because each side is folded up towards the center of the roof..
    Now, go to the Back of the car get the car cover on the trunk in a nice shape and carefully pull it towards you..
    As it comes down, you are folding it into a layer and eventually, it will all be on the trunk with the Front of the cover on top of your folded car cover..
    Store it in the bag or just place it in the trunk but make sure you know that the top of this car cover is the Front..
    Next time you use it, take it out , place the entire cover on the windshield of the vehicle, unroll the rest of it to the Back rolling it backwards, and the cover then is laying in the center of the vehicle, an you now start on either end and pull it over one end first, then the other end, and then pull down each side..
    You will get the hang of this if you are committed to using this to protect your vehicle enough.. 🙂
    All of this will be much, much, harder if it is Windy, so think about that first… If you have an extra set of hands, this process is always very, very, easy and fast to do with that extra set of hands..
    A good car cover will Absolutely Fit very tight and not slip off or blow off easily if ever..
    They sell a nice cable that has a grommet in the middle of the sides, that you attach a cable to each end from the bottom that helps hold it on if it’s windy.. But sometimes, the wind can be too much and it will try to get under the cover and lift if off…
    You have to decide if it’s too windy or not to use it during those times… I personally will not install it in windy conditions because I never have the extra 2 hands to help me do it so it does not land on the ground and get dirty..
    Yes, I suppose a cover can eventually leave some marring, etc., on the paint someday, but it will not just do it from the beginning or all the time, if you are paying attention to what you are doing…
    I will Always use it because it absolutely protects the entire vehicle from UV from the sun, and bird bombs, etc., and the cost of replacing any of the car parts is always going to be way more to me, than just using the cover..
    Good luck with this !!

  9. Justin says:

    Thanks for this, I just bought a cover for my Mustang and wouldn’t have thought about this for some reason… I’d really prefer not to even cover it, but I often get birds in my carport and lately there seem to be stray cats hanging around in there a lot so a cover certainly seems like the lesser of the evils I have to choose from. I’ll be sure to wash it before covering it though.

    On a related note, do you have any suggestions for getting stains out of a black vinyl top? After scrubbing like hell with Meguiar’s convertible top cleaner there are still bits of muddy cat foot prints.

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