Car seat warmers may seem like a frivolous luxury, but they can actually turn even the coldest of winters into work into a cozy commute. The idea behind this technology is that instead of heating the air inside your car, which then heats it up, the seats are capable of heating it through direct contact. Some vehicles come with built-in car seat heaters, and you can also add seat heaters to older vehicles through aftermarket upgrades.
Are car seat heaters worth it?
If you live in a cold climate, and spend any amount of time on the road in the winter, then a warmer car seat may definitely be worth the investment. While this tends to be a somewhat expensive option when you’re shopping for a new car, often adding over $400 to the price of a new vehicle, aftermarket kits are surprisingly affordable.
If you’re comfortable with some basic wiring work, you might even be able to install a replacement seat heater yourself.
There are a few different types of car seat heaters, so it’s a good idea to check out what’s available and find the best option for your budget and situation before you pull the trigger.
Types of car seat heaters
There are two main types of car seat heaters: heating pads that sit under the upholstery and devices that sit on top of the seat surface.
When a car comes from the factory with seat heaters already installed, they always fall into the first category. Some of the best aftermarket kits also fit into this category.
Seat heaters that rest on the seat are easier to install and can be moved from vehicle to vehicle, but they don’t always look as good and can suffer from longevity issues.
Beyond these two basic categories, there are many other types of car seat warmers that add even more features to the mix:
- Car seat heaters with smart temperature controls : Basic car seat heaters have an on/off switch, and maybe two or three temperature levels. For added safety, look for a seat heater that includes smart temperature controls. This feature allows the seat heater to turn itself off when it reaches a specified temperature.
- Massaging Car Seat Warmers: These seat warmers add a massage function. They are more expensive, but you can find affordable over-seat versions if the in-seat models are too expensive for your budget.
- Car seat heaters with cooling function : The most advanced car seat heaters do more than just heat. They are great too. These are more expensive, but if you’ve ever sat on a hot leather seat in the middle of summer, then it’s easy to appreciate the extra comfort this version brings to the table.
Internal car seat heaters
Original equipment car seat warmers use heating pads that are installed inside the seats. In most cases, one pad is installed on the seat itself and another is placed on the back of the seat.
If you want a seamless, factory-installed experience, then you need to look for aftermarket products that fit this basic definition. Some aftermarket heating pad kits come with just one seat pad, and some provide you with two.
To install an internal heater in a car seat, you need to remove the seat and pull the upholstery back. This is a relatively simple operation, but it is quite labor-intensive. So this is the kind of job you can do yourself at home, if you have some basic automotive wiring knowledge, but many people will prefer to pay a professional shop.
Another option is to pay an upholsterer to remove the seat fabric, slide in the heating pads, and then reinstall the fabric. At that point, the only thing left for you to do is connect the electric pads to power and ground.
External Car Seat Heaters
External seat heaters fall into two basic categories: basic seat cushions and full seat covers. Basic seat cushions only cover the seat area, and typically don’t look as good. However, they tend to be inexpensive and easy to install.
Full seat covers usually have two heating elements. One for sitting and one for backing. If your upholstery has seen better days and you’re not interested in repairing it, then one of these might be better than an internal seat heater.
Of course, full seat cover heaters are also easy to install. Both types of external car seat heaters are typically designed to be plugged into the cigarette lighter socket, meaning they can be moved from car to car with ease.
Features to look for
The most important feature to look for in a car seat or heater is a temperature selector. At a minimum, you should look for a seat heater that comes with a switch that provides a high and low setting. Auto shut off is another nice feature that will save you literally toasting your buns.
Car Seat Heater Options
Heated Seats Style Amperage High/Low Setting Price Dorman 628-040Internal1.5 – 4.5AYesCarbon (2 seats)Internal3 – 5AYes (5 settings)$65Wagan IN9438ExternalAnexternalAmexternal$20AUDEW UniversalExternalYes
Dangers of car seat heaters
Because car seat heaters are electronic, they present many of the same potential dangers that can be seen in any electronic device. For example, it’s important to make sure your seat heater is wired and fused correctly to prevent an electrical fire. Some seat warmers are also waterproof, providing an extra degree of protection in case you ever get in the car wet or spill a drink on your lap.
One hazard that’s pretty unique to car seat heaters is called “toasted skin syndrome,” and it’s more or less exactly what it sounds like. According to research conducted in recent years, prolonged contact with high-temperature surfaces can lead to skin discoloration. Since some car seat heaters heat up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s easy to see how sitting on one every day can lead to “toasted skin syndrome.”
The good news is that you can prevent toasty skin syndrome by simply turning off your seat heater after it’s done its job. If your seat heater has a low setting, you can also reduce the chance of damaging your skin by using it. Seat heaters that have an auto shut-off feature can also be helpful.