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.
(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk website.)