Today: Seat Covers vs. Side Air Bags

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Mar 27, 2014

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have an '09 Hyundai Sonata. I finally got around to actually reading through the car manual. It states that covering the front driver or passenger seats with any seat covers will inactivate the air-bag response. But I love my padded car seat -- I drive long distances several times a year, and it makes a difference -- at my, ahem, age. It also keeps the upholstery cleaner. I called the local Hyundai dealer, and he agreed that seat covers will interfere with the air bags. Is that true? What gives, here?

-- Maurine

TOM: Yes, it's true.

RAY: Like most cars these days, your Hyundai has side air bags. Those are built right into the seats.

TOM: So, in an accident with a side impact, the side air bag on the driver's side would deploy out of the left side of the driver's seat back -- unless you blocked it, for instance, by covering it with a seat cover.

RAY: Luckily for you, Maurine, the American seat-cover industry is not sitting still for this. Using good old Yankee ingenuity, the top seat-cover engineers in the world have developed -- get this -- seat covers that work with side airbags!

TOM: I think they just cut around it or something.

RAY: And if you go online and search "seat covers for side air bags," you'll find a number of places that will either sell you or make for you any type of seat cover you want that's modified to work with side air bags.

TOM: It's good to be living in 21st-century America, isn't it?

RAY: And since you obviously love your seat covers (you even took the trouble of writing to a couple of morons like us in hopes of saving them), I think you should treat yourself to a set of the finest, tailor-made sheepskin, side-air-bag-safe seat covers you can find.

TOM: Or, if you have a cat, let it sleep in the driver's seat. If it's anything like our cat, within a week you'll have two inches of plush fur to sit on.

RAY: By the way, we're impressed that you managed to wait until now to read your '09 Hyundai's owner's manual. I'm glad we didn't ruin it for you a few years ago by printing a spoiler and telling you how it ends.

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