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Heated Seats – An Everyday Luxury

heated-seats-thumbWould you like to have a hot butt?  No, this is not an ad for some fancy-pants workout programme or weight loss gadget. Instead it’s all about one of my favourite driver conveniences, heated seats.

Electrically heated seats were the brainchild of the designers at Saab – those Swedes certainly come up with some great practical features.  This isn’t surprising, really.  We all know how cold it can get up there in a country that lies partly inside the Arctic Circle.  Saab, like the other Swedish giant, Volvo, know how to build cars that are toasty-warm and can cope with cold conditions (perhaps a little too much so – in a Saab I once had, the soft lining on the inside of the cabin roof came away because the adhesive melted in the warmth of a summer Down Under).

However, according to the Saab History site  (a fun place to poke around if you, like me, are a fan of Swedish vehicles), these heated seats were designed with another purpose in mind.  Instead, the aim of heated seats was to reduce backache and driver fatigue, rather than simply warming up after a brush with a Swedish winter.  This does make a certain sort of sense.  After all, there are other ways of ensuring that your lower half is warm enough, including a snuggly blanket tossed across your knees and wearing ski pants or long woollen underwear.  On the other hand, given that it’s the extremities that get coldest first and driving in mittens or ski gloves is pretty tricky, if dealing with chilly conditions was the aim of the game, you’d think that heated steering wheels would have made it onto the scene first (the patent for the motorbiking equivalent, heated grips, was acquired by BMW in the early 1980s). And it’s certainly true that having something nice and warm on your lower back and around your hips eases the ache of long periods spent behind the wheel… which could easily be a topic for another post.

How do heated seats work their magic to give you that nice warm feeling?  Basically, it uses the same principle as an electric blanket.  This means that the seat contains a heating coil that is supplied with electricity from the car’s battery, and also contains a thermostat to make sure that the heating coil doesn’t behave like the other heating coils we’re all familiar with (ovens and bar heaters) and fry you.  Switch the heated seats on and the electricity flows through the coil (which is a resistor, for all you more scientifically inclined folks), which heats up.  When the thermostat detects that you’ve reached the right temperature, the electricity is cut until the temperature falls below a threshold.

If, however, you have seats that have a heating and cooling function (which you do find on some of the latest models), the technology is a little different. Here, the seat has air vents in it (not so big that they become uncomfortable, of course) and either hot air or cold air is piped around your nether end, similar to what happens with other parts of the air con or ventilation system.

One of the things that was mentioned in that old Saab press release was that the heating system was safe and wouldn’t cause electric shocks in the presence of moisture.  This is a problem with electric blanket, after all, and is why I’m not alone in preferring a hot water bottle on chilly nights.  Some commentators have sniggered at the suggestion that drivers or front passengers might be wetting their pants and thus need the protection.  These commentators obviously have never spilt coffee in their laps or worn those raincoats that ride up and let your bum and thighs get wet.  Or slipped and fallen in a puddle.  Or, presumably, worn a wet swimming costume while driving… although if it’s warm enough to swim in a location that doesn’t allow you to get changed properly, you aren’t likely to be needing the services of a heated seat.  Unless, of course, your back aches.

Now if only they could make every single seat in the home as well as in the car heated…

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