Car seat height

Several years ago we discovered that my wife?s back would hurt when driving in our sedan but not in the mini-van. The reason being that the van allowed for a more up-right position with the knees bent. We no longer need a mini-van but seem to be locked into it them because of this requirement. Is there anything you can suggest; either a type of vehicle or modifications to the seating system?

— Mike Sullivan

All you have to do is to opt for a power driver’s seat in your next car. Most power driver’s seats can elevate the driver by several inches, thus changing the driver’s relationship to the pedals and the steering wheel, and allowing for very varied driving positions.

Please note that on most foreign models, you have to opt for a more “luxurious” (more expensive) model in order to get the power seat, while many American makes will allow you to add this feature to even the base model.

Personally, I would never again own a car without a power driver’s seat, as well as some other amenities such as an automatic climate control system, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.

I recommend checking out some car-based SUVs like the Honda CR-V and the Toyota Rav4. They will give you the upright seating without all the size of the minivan.

Most new cars have seats that adjust up/down,forward/back,recline,tilt steering wheel in electric, and manual versions. I’ll bet your wife could find one.

My recommendation is to rent a vehicle that you think might meet your needs and take a drive for at least 100 miles. My wife and I have the same problem, and our two vehicles are a minivan (Chevrolet minivan) and an SUV (Toyota 4Runner). Before the 2003 4Runner we owned a 1993 Oldsmobile 88 with the power seat and almost every option. The Oldsmobile would feel comfortable at firt, but after 50 miles, it was very uncomfortable to drive no matter how I adjusted the seat. On the other hand, I can drive either of our present vehicles all day and not have my back hurt. We had a 1990 Ford Aerostar at the time and we used the Aerostar for trips and left the Oldsmobile in the garage–the seats in the Aerostar were more comfortable for us.

In a 1992 issue, Consumer Reports tested mid-priced cars including the Oldsmobile 88, the Buick Roadmaster and a big Mercury. For comparison, Consumer Reports rounded up a 40 year old 1952 Buick Roadmaster. Their testers found the seats in the old 1952 Buick and the seating position more comfortable than the 1992 cars made 40 years later.

As I have said, try on a vehicle for comfort just as you would try on a pair of shoes. I’ve found when using vehicles out of our university’s fleet, that the Ford Taurus is much more comfortable for me than either the Chevrolet Malibus or the Honda Civic Hybrids.

My daughter-in-law has terrible back problems and has had back surgery. She brought a nice Ford Mustang to the marriage, but is confined to driving their Ford Windstar for comfort. My son, who could care less about cars, has wound up driving the Mustang.

Was the 52’s seats bench seats? If so, that may be the reason why.

For modern vehicles, the Impala has optional bench seats. I believe the Town Car, Sable, and maybe Taurus offer this as well, but not sure.

Yes, the 1952 had a bench seat. In fact, bucket seats weren’t even available in any Buick in 1952. The 1952 Buick also sat higher than the 1992 cars that Consumer Reports tested.

The cars kept getting lower in the 1950’s. My Dad owned a 1954 Buick that he really liked. He was looking for a new car in 1959. We road tested a 1959 Buick Lesabre and found it much less cmfortable than our 1954. The center of theseats was basically unusable in the 1959 Buick. I remember my Dad telling the salesman that he wasn’t going to pay $3200 for 4 passengercar.

The first car my Dad ever owned was a 1938 Chevrolet. He had it less than a year when a drunk ran into the car while it was parked on the street. The car was towed to the Chevrolet dealer. When my Dad got to the dealer, he was met by the owner, the body shop manager, and his insurance man. He was told that the frame was bent on his 1938. The car was repairable, but would never be the same. However, if he would sign over the insurance check, surrender his title and pay $50, he could drive away in a new 1939 Chevrolet. He thought the 1939 was a real improvement–the 1938 had bucket seats while the 1939 had a bench seat. The 1939 had a column shifter, while the 1938 had a floor shift. He thought that this was really progress. Three people could ride in the front seat of the 1939 Chevrolet.

that’s what I loved about my Chevelle. The bench seat that allowed me to just slide right on inside.
I sat in a Toyota Venza and it seemed to have similar seat height, but was bucket seating

This may not be a real popular solution with NHSTA, but there is one more alternative, tried and true. You can change the height and angle of the seat by shimming the seat using spacers or washers. Remove the seat mounting bolts underneath. Place spacers or washers (stacked) between the floor mount and the seat bracket and replace the bolts. You may/may not need longer bolts. If you want to change the angle of the seat, shim the rear higher than the front (or vice versa). There are typically 4 mounting bolts.

As I stated in earlier posts, some cars have better seat heights than others. However, no car is going to have the seating position of a minivan, pick-up truck or suv. My wife used to do a lot of recruiting for our university and more often than not would drive our 2003 Toyota 4Runner suv and get paid mileage rather than driving a university car. If I have to back to driving a car, I’ll get a Mazda Miata. If I’m going to be uncomfortable, I might as well have fun driving the vehicle.

One last thought–a car that really did give you a more upright seating position was a Checker, built by the Checker cab company in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Unfortunately, the company folded in 1981. I just returned from a trip to Washington, D.C. and then on to Charleston, South Carolina. A couple of the taxicabs we rode in were minivans. They were easier to enter and exit than a regular car based cab. Maybe there is a reason for this.

Back in the early 1950’s, Chrysler corporation advertised that its cars featured “chair high seats”. By 1957, seating in Chrysler products went to an all time low with the introduction of the finned monsters.