What Is A Car Seat Heater? (Explained For Beginners)

Car seat heaters are warmed coils beneath the seat cushion that provides warmth and comfort through the seat. 

Are car seat warmers a common feature in most cars? Are they worth the extra cost? How do they work?

Find out these answers and more below! 

Let’s Find Out What A Car Seat Heater Is And Its Purpose

A car seat heater is a specialized feature in some cars, which includes a heating element inside the car seat. This heating element can be activated to produce heat, so the seat itself becomes warm. This warmth comes in handy in northern regions where winters are harsh. 

Car heaters have a surprisingly long history. In fact, a heating unit inside a vehicle started before the automobile hit the streets and originated in horse carriages.

Some car historians believe the carriage foot warmer was the original inspiration for luxury heaters. Much like how these warmers were primarily only available for the rich, seat warmers started as a luxury device in cars. 

The first car heater was invented by General Motors in the 1930s. However, car seat heaters entered the scene in the 1966 Cadillac DeVille. This luxury car was certainly not an everyday car, and car seat heaters remained a luxury feature for the following decades. 

Although, today, these car features are more commonly available. They’re by no means a standard feature, but they’re more widely featured in everyday cars such as SUVs and sedans. 


Related:

How Do You Know Your Car Has A Car Seat Heater?

Heated car seat button
Heated car seat button on door

The best way to know whether your car has a seat heater is to check the manual. If you want your car to have seat heaters, make sure you verify with the car seller before purchasing. Another method of determining if your car has seat heaters is to check the seat cushion for a heater. 

It’s always best to determine what your car has before purchasing it. The car manual is another crucial tool for determining your car’s features and how to use them. 

There are some differences between every car model, but this video from BMW of Bridgewater will help you get started! According to BMW of Bridgewater, you can use the console’s climate control settings to activate your seat’s heaters. 

If you purchase a secondhand car, it might be challenging to determine if your vehicle has heated seats. One key factor to remember is heated seats weren’t a common feature before 2010. Even today, they aren’t common but are more likely to be included in everyday vehicles. 

If the person you purchased the car from added seat heaters, they would likely tell you.

Adding car seat heaters is an excellent way to boost the resale value of a car. 

If they don’t tell you, there are only a few ways to determine if your car has seat heaters. 

You could remove the seat cushions, but we don’t recommend this. It could permanently damage the seats and the heating element if you don’t know what you’re doing. 

If you can find a wire leading inside the seat cushion, it’s a good indicator that your seat is heated. However, this wire could also be used for an automatic recliner. If you see a wire leading inside the seat, look for buttons or gauges to turn it on and off.  

Do All Cars Have A Car Seat Heater?

car seat heater button switched on
car seat heater button switched on at full power

No, not all cars have seat heaters. Even if your car does have seat heaters in the front, it doesn’t mean every seat in the car is heated. Modern cars are more likely to have heated seats than older cars since the feature was traditionally a luxury. 

To this day, cars don’t usually have heated seats. Some cars brands which are more likely to include heated seats include the following: 

  • Audi
  • Hyundai 
  • Volkswagon 
  • Dodge 
  • Nissan 
  • BMW 
  • Mercedes

Although, due to the recent computer chip shortage, many car brands opted to remove this feature. Most notably, General Motors (GM) has decided to cease installing heated seats in new releases. 

In Germany, BMW made an interesting maneuver to adapt its business to the shortage. BMW is offering an $18 dollar monthly subscription service to activate and install heated seats in their cars. 

This subscription service is also available as a yearly or continual service for a higher fee.

However, this offer is only available in parts of Europe, the U.K., and New Zealand. They are working on bringing this feature to more areas, including the United States. 

Most cars with heated seats are made with leather rather than softer material. This is not because this material is necessary. Rather, it’s because leather reacts to extreme weather more dramatically. 

This is why most heated seats are traditionally made with leather. It prevents people from experiencing extreme heat and extreme cold during certain seasons. 

How Does A Car Seat Heater Work?

BMW Car Heated Seat
BMW Car Heated Seat driver and passenger seat switched on (zoomed)

A car seat heater works by utilizing a heater coil located beneath the seat cushion. This coil is connected to the car’s heater and can usually be turned on and off with the console. The heat is transmitted through vents in the seat, warming the surface and the person seated. 

The car’s seat heaters work similarly to the car’s heater. The engine produces heat as it runs. This heat is collected and transmitted inside the vehicle rather than expelling it outside. 

Therefore, the car seat heaters receive power and heat similarly to the car’s central heater. The car battery powers the heater fans, which pull the heat from the engine into the vehicle. 

Car seat heaters receive power from the car battery, and this heat is transferred to the heating coil. The heater coil warms up, pushing the heat through vents in the seat, and warming the body. 

Is It Safe To Use A Car Seat Heater? 

Car seat heaters are safe to use. However, you must be careful how long you allow the heaters to run and how hot they get. If the heater coil gets too hot, it could seriously burn your body. 

Like any other heater, the heater coils inside of a car seat heater can get very hot. You could burn yourself or get too close to the coil if you touch it. 

Therefore, to prevent the heater from burning you, turn on climate control. If your car seat heaters don’t have climate control, you might want to set a timer to remind you to shut it off. 

However, car seat heaters are unlikely to burn you seriously without you noticing. The risks are somewhat minimal. But, you should still be careful to prevent burning yourself or catching the seat on fire.

Last, despite being a common myth, car seat heaters have not been found to cause hemorrhoids. Unless there’s an issue with your car’s seat where something is irritating that region of your body. Barring some external cause or health issues, the heat and coil will not cause hemorrhoids.  

What’s the Purpose of a Car Seat Heater? 

The purpose of car seat heaters is to increase comfort for passengers. Although unnecessary in many southern states, people living in the north appreciate heated seats. Not only do they increase comfort, but they prevent hypothermia on frigid days. 

Car seat heaters are meant to prevent discomfort while driving. It makes an even greater difference when used in unison with the car’s central heater and heated steering wheel covers. 

Even though some may view these as luxury items, they’re necessary to many commuters. They’re especially important for people who drive for a living, such as bus drivers and big rig drivers. 

However, there’s no shame in using them for pure comfort, either! 

Conclusion

Car seat heaters might seem like a purely unessential item. But, as horse cab drivers learned back in the 19th century, warmth makes a big difference on a cold evening. 

If you’re living up north and worry about how you’ll be able to combat the cold, you might want car seat heaters. If your car doesn’t have car seat heaters already, you might be able to get some installed! 

Check with your regular mechanic and see what can be done. If you suffer in the cold, it’ll be an excellent investment! 

Sources

Carriage Museum of America Library: Cold Feet

Bonf’s Auto Service: Car Heater History

Blaine Auto Care: The Evolution of Automotive Comfort

CNBC: The chip shortage is so bad GM dropped heated seats in winter

The Verge: BMW starts selling heated seat subscriptions for $18 a month

DS Automotive: Should I Install Heated Seats in My Vehicle Myself?

Cars Route: How Do Heated Seats Work?

Mayo Clinic: Hemorrhoids

Car and Driver: Warm Up in Your SUV With Heated Steering Wheel Covers