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Car Talk: Seat covers are now being made to accommodate side air bags

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.


Dear Tom and Ray: I recently began driving my 2007 Dodge Caliber around with a “carstache” mustache on the grill. Don’t ask me why, but I did. While driving with it on, I’ve noticed that the external temperature gauge reads particularly high, maybe around 20 degrees higher than the actual outside temperature. I have glanced at the engine temperature gauge, and it’s completely fine. I figure the mustache isn’t letting air run over the radiator sufficiently, but if the engine isn’t overheating, I’m guessing it’s not awful. Is this something to be worried about? Thanks. – Nathan

Ray: Nah. I’d worry more about your ability to ever get a date again, Nathan. My brother wanted to put one of those big, pink carstaches on his car, and I told him it would be easier to just get a bumper sticker that says “Dork.”

Tom: But I already have one of those! Actually, I disagree with my brother. These things are just playful, harmless fun. I like ’em. And they’re a lot more family-friendly than, say, truck … danglers. I’m with you, Nathan. Keep the carstache.

Ray: Actually, I think the pink ones indicate that you’re part of a car-sharing service, in some areas. So don’t use a pink one unless you want strangers to hop in when you stop at red lights.

Tom: What’s happening is that your carstache is blocking the temperature sensor that reads the outside temperature. It sits right in front of the radiator on most cars.

Ray: That’s what’s causing you to get an incorrect reading of the outside temperature on the dashboard. But I doubt it’s having any noticeable effect on airflow through the radiator at all. You can confirm that, if the engine temperature gauge is reading right where it’s always been.

Tom: I mean, you’re right to at least be concerned about whether you’re blocking the radiator. In general, that’s not a good idea. And maybe if you were sporting something thicker, like a Tom Selleck, you could possibly block enough air flow to make the engine run hotter than it should.