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To Your Ride
Heated seats have always seemed to be a luxury item to us here at Fraser Engine Co. But in researching them for this article, we discovered they can be very affordable, and range from a simple cover you put on top of the seat, to the more desirable pads you install inside the seat. There are also companies that will provide entire replacement seats.
First, there are both seat heaters, and the more complicated seat heater/cooler kits. Because the latter requires perforated foam in your seats, and some other cavaets, we’re going to focus on the heaters only.
The most common classification of after-market automotive seat heaters are “pad-style” heaters, which are virtually identical to the ones you put on top of your grandparent’s recliner cushion. But these go inside your vehicle’s seat between the foam cushioning below, and the fabric or leather seat cover above.
All of the brand-name kits have several features in common. Universal wiring harnesses that “piggyback” onto your car’s existing wiring are the norm, while some have dedicated wiring harnesses for more popular car makes and models.
The majority of kits also have overheating sensors as well. If you leave your car running, and get out to talk to someone, the seat heater will turn off before it gets “too” hot. A necessity.
A few kits seem to be much more thought-out in build and safety features than others, see Rostra Seat Heaters below in the Summit Racing section.
Here are the important things to know about purchasing after-market seat heating systems:
1. Do yourself a favor and buy a brand name. Even better don’t buy something like this from Amazon. We’ve researched this fairly well, and even if you find the Chinese manufacturer of a name brand, you won’t get the support or warranty that you would if you purchased the item from a company based in the United States. This is more important than you would think, mainly because a seat heater could malfunction and cause damage to your seat. And, in a rare scenario cause a fire.
2. Consider professional installation. Even if you buy a kit that is 100% designed and compatible with your vehicle, an installer does this all the time. They know what plugs should be wrapped with electrical tape, and where to be secured (zip tied) out of the way. Plus, all businesses have to have insurance, so if anything ever goes wrong with the seat heater system, you have some assurances. If you can’t find a reasonable dealership or garage with experience doing this, a good practice is to find a reputable car stereo installer, who will most likely have the skill, tools, and accessories to do the job right. Just be sure to get a fixed “by-the-job” price, in advance, not a by-the-hour price.
3. Know what you want, and what you’re going to get, before you make your purchase. Do you want to heat just the driver’s seat? Or, do you want warmth available to both front seats? Are you okay with just a high/low temperature option? Or, would you like more levels in-between?
4. Know your vehicle. As noted in several sets of instructions, and instructional videos, you need to know if you vehicle has passenger-presence sensors in the seat(s). These “sensors” are switches that enable or disable airbag deployment in a crash situation. Some seat heating kits, (the cheaper ones), have pads that cannot be trimmed, and accordingly cannot be used with a passenger sensor seat. Determine if you vehicle has such a sensor, and buy a kit with a compatibility feature.
While this is somewhat rare for us, we were really impressed with one particular system we found at SummitRacing.com, called the Rostra ComfortHeat System. Rostra’s website offers detailed insights to their product as well as an informative Q&A, you can see here.
Rostra Seat Heater kits range from $59 for one seat with a basic hi/low/off switch, to $200 for the dual seat ComfortHeat system. The first “better quality” feature in this system is the five-heat-level thumb-dial controls, which offer two more temperature settings that just low and high. Next is the trimmable carbon-fiber heating pads. This feature may allow you to sufficiently circumvent the passenger seat sensor issues on some vehicle models, but you’ll have to check with Rostra. Lastly, Rostra noted that their wiring harnesses had built-in strain-relief, which accommodates movement of the seat with out the wires ripping out of their connectors. And those connectors lock in place. Finally, the pad adhesive is a special high-temperature product, perfectly capable of withstanding the heat generated. And the power relays are a five-terminal configuration, which provides a more stable flow of power.
The honorable mention kit we found was by heatyourseat.com, and was relatively easy with similarly easy instructions and a video on their website.
With all seat heater kits, you’ll have to deal with removing the actual seat cover to do the installation. And be forewarned, some seat covers are glued directly to the foam cushions, and for that very reason, are not compatible with seat heating pad systems, because the adhesive used in those applications is potentially flammable. And even if you could figure out a workaround, the feel under your bottom will never be the same.
That’s our take on adding car or truck seat heating to your ride. We hope it’s as good a holiday gift for your significant other, as it is for ours.
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