By on May 25, 2009

Yes, I realize animated GIFs are so twentieth century, but when I try to explain how my car cover works, I’m often met with looks of confusion and bewilderment. Known as SmartCover, this product lands between the nearly useless cardboard/foil foam windshield reflector and a whole-car-takes-ten-minutes-to-unfurl-and-position-before-you-realize-it’s-inside-out cover in both price and usability.

Summers in the California Central Valley are brutal. Just last week we had a few days of 100°+ temperatures that cause the leather interiors of most cars to become skin singers. First-degree burns on the backs of thighs aren’t fun (don’t ask me how I know). When you think about it, what good is a windshield shade if the sun is in its highest position or if your car is pointing away from the rising or setting sun? Not much good at all. Better to shield all your car’s windows if you’re going to bother.

How does it work?

SmartCover is a cockpit cover that “flies” on. Yes, you may look like a dork doing it (see woman in above photo) but at least you’ll have a relatively cool car interior when you’re ready to motor off. It’s dead simple to use: hold the four padded ballasts (two attach to each side) in your hands, fling the outer two towards the opposite side of the car while holding on to the two closest (I see the look on your face now), and let the ballasts pull the cover down. Suction cups at each end fore and aft may be used to attach the cover in windy conditions, but I never use them. I just place the wipers on top so as not to mar my paint with spittle. The ballasts weigh less than a pound and are contained in padded pouches. At first I worried about denting my doors, but in practice, I’ve banged them against the windows and the doors without damage to either. Ah, but how do you prevent someone from taking and making off with your cover, you ask? That’s easy.

Just keep the driver’s door open when installing and shut it over the cover locking the ballast inside. The material is thin enough to not interfere with most door seals. To remove, pull the ballasts on your side down, pick all four up and wrap the cover around them. I just pop it in the trunk and go.

How well does it work?

With an infrared thermometer I compared the inside temperatures of various surfaces of two cars: my covered, white I30 and my neighbor’s uncovered, white Lumina. It was approximately 92° outside at 4 p.m. The dashboard in my car was 111° and my neighbor’s was 142°; my leather seats were 109° while his cloth seats were 104°. Back when I had an office job, I would sit in my car at lunch listening to the radio under the cover on all but the hottest days.

The material is “space age” fabric with a silvery, reflective coating. It won’t blind you as you approach it and, in fact, seems to attract dust and pollen, lessening its effectiveness. It is machine washable but I would recommend you rinse it off with a hose and let it air dry. You see, I’ve gone through four of these in the last eight years because after a while they rip along one of the seams. I’ve added Gorilla Tape to my current cover’s seams and I think this will hold up. If not, I’ll be sure to update this review.

It’s great in the summer not having a wall of heat hit you as you open your car door and the A/C load is lighter as there’s less heat to remove. Being able to sit in shorts on the leather is nice and I no longer need to apply Bag Balm to my thighs at night; and the ability to fully grip the steering wheel means no more fingertip steering. In the winter, while we don’t get snow, we do get frost. The cover makes the chore of scraping a distant memory. Lift the cover off and the glass is free from condensation and ice. The makers claim that in colder parts of the country, the cover will still prevent ice but you may have to use warm water to un-stick it from the car.

Verdict.

At approximately $40 + shipping, I think it’s a good value with one drawback. Not only does it keep your car cool, but also reduces UV damage to your car’s interior surfaces, prevents ice formation on glass in cold weather and keeps prying eyes from seeing what you’ve got inside. However, its tendency to rip after a while if you don’t DIY mod it first can mean a short-lived, relatively-expensive piece of ripped fabric.

[The author bought and paid for the product reviewed.]
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23 Comments on “Product Review: SmartCover...”


  • avatar
    McDoughnut

    Why is her skirt so long…..
    Maybe that’s why she is so uncomfortably hot?

  • avatar
    Stu Sidoti

    I’ve had a similar idea ever since I had to waste time on winter mornings scraping off frost. Sometimes I use a cut-down painter’s drop-cloth to do the same thing and I’ve never had it stolen…nice to see someone executed it commercially. I hope they sell well.

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    You mentioned those full windshield silver things as not being terribly effective (and you are right in that if the sun’s angle is coming the other way, it will heat up from the other side) but from your photos it looks like your car has no window tint. I’ve found that good tint alone can make a huge difference in how hot a car gets inside, and combined with a reflective windshield thingie, pretty much eliminates any problems.

  • avatar
    dean

    What NulloModo said. On my Forester, with a reflective front window screen (not cardboard) and the remainder of the windows tinted, you can make a huge difference when parking in the sun, especially if you crack all the windows an inch to ventilate the inside.

    If you park for a short time (a couple hours) simply park with the front window as close as possible to square on to the sun. If you park all day, then try to park so that the sun is square to the reflector for the last couple hours.

    I’m boggled by the number of people that don’t use these front window reflectors.

  • avatar
    willbodine

    As a long-time desert rat, I’ve become knowledgeable about keeping a car cool in a hot, sunny climate.
    Rule # 1: keep all windows cracked about 2″. Keeping a car tightly buttoned up makes it a solar heat generator.
    2: park in shade or partial shade. I’m amazed by how many people miss this one.
    3. the foil windshield reflector is effective if the car is faced toward the sun. Keeps the dashboard (and a/c ducts) cooler, also.
    4. professionally applied window tinting (as dark as local regs allow) will cut the solar heat load when the car is parked, and even more so when it is being driven.
    5. a light exterior and interior color makes a huge difference.

  • avatar
    Jeff Puthuff

    In CA, you can’t tint the driver’s window nor the windshield and the allowed tint for the rest of the windows helps to some degree but isn’t completely effective.

    As for parking at right angles to the sun, sure, I can see that working occasionally but my driveway lies north-south and in other places that’s not practical either.

    The cover also protects against bird droppings, sap and dust. No tinting will protect against that.

    For those who have the foil/insulated reflectors, have you found (as I have) that after a few months they start disintegrating leaving bits of insulation/foil all over your dash?

    Sacramento is the tree capital of the West, but good luck finding shade in the oceans of asphalt at one of our many strip malls/Costcos/wherever-you-happen-to-be.

  • avatar

    This thing looks like a grand idea.

    I’d like to add… front tint also sucks at night, especially if you’re too cheap to buy HID projectors.

  • avatar
    B.C.

    I had ceramic tint applied to my car’s windows (50% on the fronts, illegal in CA but barely noticeable). It works wonders, but it was damn expensive.

    I also use a windshield reflector thing, one of those things with the wire loop around the edge so it folds up into a round disc for storage. I’ve had it for 5 years, no issues with that either.

  • avatar
    Driver7

    Jeff Puthuff – Thanks – good review.

    You ask:
    For those who have the foil/insulated reflectors, have you found (as I have) that after a few months they start disintegrating leaving bits of insulation/foil all over your dash?

    About five years ago, I bought a reflective-fabric windshield shade (sold with side-window screens under the Kuhl brand) at Costco. The windshield shade is holding up well – no flaking. If I put up the shade, and crack my windows, it keeps my car’s interior cooler (BTW, this is in the NYC metro area).

    I did quick online search, and did not find any Kuhl auto shades. There’s a similar product, sold as Winplus Auto SunShade (in standard and jumbo sizes), which looks like the Kuhl shades, but I’ve never used it.

  • avatar
    Jeff Puthuff

    @ B.C.: What kind of car? How expensive? What do you have on the rears?

  • avatar
    B.C.

    Acura RSX, 500 bucks, 30% on the rears.

    Yeah, I know. To make matters worse, I could only find 2 installers in the SoCal area, and the one I went to broke a bunch of trim pieces.

  • avatar

    I guess I found yet another benefit of living in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve never even thought of needing one of these things… and I drive a black car.

    Rain is good. Clouds are your friend. Rain is good.

    –chuck

  • avatar

    Do they make different versions for different size and type of vehicles (e.g. trucks, station wagons, SUVs)?

  • avatar
    Aloysius Vampa

    I can think of so many more interesting uses for blocking the windows.

  • avatar
    shaker

    Seems like a great idea, until a flock of geese make it a very nauseating task to roll it up and throw it in your trunk (or under the cargo cover).

    Damn You Mother Nature.

    Tree sap, pollen, bird droppings, just roll ‘er up and toss ‘er in the car. Ehhhh… maybe not.

    How about electric window tint powered by a solar panel?

    Keeps the cops happy at night, too. (Of course, the “gangsta mod” would be done very quickly in some cases.)

  • avatar
    kurtamaxxguy

    A lighter car color also helps reduce solar load.
    Want proof? Just walk through a parking lot and lightly touch the roofs of various cars. The black ones, highly popular in CA, will try to sear your fingers off. The white ones will be very warm but often touchable. Other colors will fall between these.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    “However, its tendency to rip after a while if you don’t DIY mod it first can mean a short-lived, relatively-expensive piece of ripped fabric.”
    Hey Jeff Puthuff, care to elaborate on this point? Your piece end with an incomplete teaser of a sentence. I am considering the product, but what DIY might I want to do?

  • avatar
    Jeff Puthuff

    @ Frank: No, one size fits some/most. I’ll see if Bertel knows of a source for a larger product. Made in China, of course.

    @ Chuck: Do you get frost in the winter?

    @ greg: As I wrote: “I’ve gone through four of these in the last eight years because after a while they rip along one of the seams. I’ve added Gorilla Tape to my current cover’s seams and I think this will hold up.”

    Tape the seams. Also, you’ll find at the top two slits for “ventilation” (my ass). Tape those, too. I forgot to add that to the review. Incomplete sentence? Not. Tendency . . . can mean . . . ripped fabric. Sounds good to me.

  • avatar

    Jeff Puthuff :
    Chuck: Do you get frost in the winter?

    Nah, just more rain. Oh, the rain IS colder though. ;)

    Seriously, we do get frosts on occasion, but they are pretty rare. About as rare as a day above 90°F actually.

    –chuck

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    I use an “accordian-style” front windshield screen. It’s attachted to the windshield at both sides. You draw the two halfs together and affix the velcro edges together.

    To separate, you firmly snap the two halfs apart and the shades draw back to their positions at the side edges of the windshield.

    I also had the rest of my car tinted. Front and rear sides are tinted as dark as Florida law allows the front sides to be. I didn’t like the look of front doors and rear doors having different shades of tint, so I had them all done the same. The hatchback is done with the darker tint; still legal for rear windows.

    My reason for installing the accordian-style blinders in the front windows were as follows:

    I hate the foldy-cardboard things. Too big, too clumsy. Also, they get dirty and take up room in the back seat when you’re driving. If you have to put them in the trunk because you have passengers, then there’s less chance you’ll use them. The farther away from the windshield, the harder they are to use them.

    I also don’t like the “wire-hoopty” type of screens, for the same reasons as above. Plus, I once had one break on me while I was trying to deploy it. The wire just snapped. I was lucky I didn’t lose an eye.

    So for me, it’s the accordian-style. This website was the first one that appeared on a Google. It’s not the brand I use (I bought mine 5 years ago and don’t remember the brand name), but it’s the same concept. http://www.autogeek.net/winsunshad.html

  • avatar
    Johann

    Best way to keep a car cool is to leave your sunroof on tilt (if you have one). Leaving your windows a fraction open as suggested by someone above makes it a million times easier for thieves to smash them. (Open your windows and press hard on them with your hands and you will see how far they can “bend”). Leaving a sunroof on tilt leaves hardly any security risk. Furthermore heat rises to the highest point in the car and can thus escape.

    I’d love to see the writer do his temperature measurement test again between two similar cars: one with his cover over and the other just with the sunroof open on tilt. I think he will be amazed. So if you can get this cover with a slit in the top for a sunroof opening it would be perfect in my book.

  • avatar
    Bearadise

    kurtamaxxguy@”The black ones, highly popular in CA, will try to sear your fingers off. The white ones will be very warm but often touchable.”

    Same thing happens with topless sunbathers.

  • avatar
    Majed Al Nasser

    I have to say this product is smart, although i dont think it would work in my country (United Arab Emirates) the temp. is about 118 degrees with very high levels of humidty. I would be sweating like in a sona if i stood for more than 1 minute outside.

    Most people like i do use tinted glass, there are different qualities and variations, i use light colored thermal tint that would reflect UV rays in all that.

    And if your not allowed to have any tinting on your windows, you can use the clear thermal tint, you would never know its there but it sure has a good effect in reducing the heat and preserving the internal cool tempreture while driving.


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