Car is hurting my back :(
August 4, 2018 12:50 PM   Subscribe

The resolution to this question is that I bought a car that's absolutely destroying my back. I know I made a mistake buying this thing but now I am not sure what to do in order to not destroy my one and only back.

The problem is that my lower back really hates driving this car. I have never experienced anything like this. I was really surprised because I had rented another Kia Soul and it drove great. I wound up getting one that had the same vibrating problem that I identified in the previous question, because I was really frustrated and wanted to be done with the car buying process. I know, it was a bad judgement call.

So I brought it to a Kia dealership and they say there's nothing wrong with it. I told them to just fix the alignment anyway and they did, and after that it felt a little better to drive, but after awhile of driving my lower back is screaming. So I'm not sure if this is fixable or just a bad model of car/not the right car for me. The opinion of the Kia dealership mechanic is that it's a bad model of car.

I could bring it to another mechanic but I wouldn't know what to tell them. Since there's no check engine light on and it's a vague problem I'm dreading that dumb look and big shrug they always give me like I'm wasting their time, which I got when I brought it to the Kia mechanic and when I brought it to my husband's regular mechanic. He said if there was no check engine light there was nothing anyone could do.

I paid about 16,000 total for it (all told including taxes, fees, etc.) in cash. I have been told I can get about 13,000 if I sell it back to the dealership. So I can trade it in for another car and that'll be a big loss. Also that'll be less cash with which I can buy another car.

OK so try to fix it and deal with that whole frustrating mess, or sell it and take a loss? If I was advising someone else i'd tell them to just get rid of it as soon as possible and take the loss because your back is worth more than any amount of money. But in practical terms I'm afraid of making another huge mistake. In this whole car buying nightmare I have already made several mistakes, it seems like everything I do turns out to be a mistake. What do you think?
posted by bleep to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What kind of seat adjustments does the car have? Some seats have adjustable lumbar support, and I find that if I'm in one of those and it's set wrong, my lower back hurts after half an hour's driving.

If it doesn't have a lumbar support adjustment, is the back as far upright as it will go? Driving with the back laid back too far is the other thing that makes my lower back hurt. Sometimes I have no choice but to do that if the car doesn't give me enough headroom otherwise, but that's the only reason I'd consider getting rid of a car for this kind of issue instead of trying to find a seat adjustment solution.

Aftermarket lumbar supports of various kinds are also available, if you can't get satisfaction by playing with the seat adjusters.
posted by flabdablet at 1:02 PM on August 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

I was going to recommend the same kind of adjustment and/or aftermarket lumbar supports mentioned above, but based on the fact that you are taking the car to mechanics, I wonder if there is something other than the arrangement of the seat that is driving the discomfort. Does the vibration hurt your back, or is it the seat?

If you can isolate the location of the issue, you’ll have better luck figuring out what to look for in the next car.
posted by jeoc at 1:31 PM on August 4, 2018

Does the vibration hurt your back, or is it the seat?

I don't know. That's why I don't know what to do.
posted by bleep at 1:34 PM on August 4, 2018

Here's a wild guess: Rental cars are often a lower trim level than cars people end up buying. Does your new Soul have different tires/wheels than the one you rented? One of the big trends in car design over the last 10 years has been bigger wheels and lower-profile (thinner rubber section) tires, even on tiny, affordable cars.

My experience is that lower-profile tires on bigger wheels can make a car's ride much less pleasant—you feel every bump, dip, and imperfection on the surface of the road more than you do on the big, frankly uglier tires you used to see on cars.

Looking at the Soul page on Kia's website, it looks like they offer 16, 17, and 18-inch wheels on the 2019 models, and if I'm reading Tire Rack right older Souls had 15-inch options, too. I definitely wouldn't recommend getting new tires/wheels just to try this, but maybe you can walk around a rental lot and try to determine whether yours has bigger wheels/smaller tires than the one you might have rented before.
posted by Polycarp at 1:41 PM on August 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

You don’t think getting bigger juicier tires would help?
posted by bleep at 2:14 PM on August 4, 2018

(Oh, it definitely might help, and it's definitely worth pursuing as a possible answer! Just that as a very cheap person I wouldn't want to buy four new tires only to later realize the problem was actually something else. What I might do, in your situation, is try to verify that the rental Soul had different tires, rent another Soul for a day with those same tires, and then see if it drove more comfortably. At that point I'd also make sure I had the same seats, suspension, etc.)
posted by Polycarp at 2:30 PM on August 4, 2018

Get some foam padding, see if that helps.
posted by theora55 at 2:40 PM on August 4, 2018

I was going to mention the tires as well. They make a huge different in comfort and vibration. I’m surprised no mechanic mentioned this as an option. The dealer should probably be able to lend you a set of gently used tires (you pay to put them on) that you can drive for a couple of days while you decide whether to purchase the new set of tires.
posted by saucysault at 3:06 PM on August 4, 2018

Likely bigger tires would help, but is it even possible to change to a bigger tire without changing to smaller wheels?
posted by monotreme at 3:30 PM on August 4, 2018

Is your lower back in good contact with the seat, or unsupported? How tall are you? I'm a shorter (5 foot 3 inches) person who often ends up scooting a little bit forward in rental cars because seats designed for Average Human Male are too deep for me, which is something that is a problem no matter which way I adjust the various seat adjustments. And then that slouching position leads to various other weird positional issues with headrests, etc. that can amplify car vibrations in awkward ways. The solution for me is a piece of foam that doesn't just provide some cushioning in the lumbar region, but actually moves me forward in the seat. Mine's shaped like an upside down T, although I'm sure other shapes that also resulted in less seat depth might also work.
posted by deludingmyself at 3:44 PM on August 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Does the vibration hurt your back, or is it the seat?

I don't know. That's why I don't know what to do.

Pick up a book, go sit in your car and prop the book up on the steering wheel. Don't start the car Make sure you are sitting and have your head at a similar angle as when you are driving.

Read for a bit. See if your back hurts.
posted by yohko at 3:59 PM on August 4, 2018 [20 favorites]

Cars shouldn't "vibrate" i'm callin' tires out of balance.........typical stealership BS.
posted by patnok at 5:00 PM on August 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

How are you placing your left foot when you drive? Is there any difference in that regard between how it's resting in the new car and the one you drove before, or any difference in the footrest itself? When I first got my car, my back hurt while driving it for a while, until I realized I wasn't fully stretching out my left foot onto the footrest. Adjusting how my foot and leg were placed made a huge difference, and it's not an issue I ever anticipated. I hope you can figure it out!
posted by limeonaire at 6:42 PM on August 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

How quickly does the back discomfort develop? Could you perform an experiment by sitting in the passenger seat while the car isn't moving for a period of time, to see whether the problem only occurs while driving? I would think that might prove whether it's related to the vibration and also whether it's an ergonomic thing somehow related to the motions you make while driving.
posted by XMLicious at 9:07 PM on August 4, 2018

I drive cars, trucks, forklifts and multiples of each. I've driven more vehicles than I could ever hope to count. I also have a back that's prone to pain in its lower reaches and I absolutely find that some vehicles are more problematic than others. I'm 99% sure that's a person and seating interface thing and not a vibration or mechanical thing, as I've driven plenty of vehicles that were clapped out, vibrating and whatever else and quite comfortable. I've also driven new, high spec vehicles that were smooth as silk that just killed me.

Really digging into the seating position and working out what's going on would be my recommendation. Get someone to look at you in a car that's comfortable and the one that isn't. Use a tape measure and measure angles as well. The suggestion to read a book in the car is a good one and might help with working things out but also might not, as you won't be moving the same. Cushions, additional supports in the lumbar etc often work wonders. I'd be surprised if the vibration is the culprit but a new car shouldn't have it, even so.
posted by deadwax at 11:29 PM on August 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

i'm callin' tires out of balance.........typical stealership BS.

Tyre imbalance causes a specific kind of vibration. It feels more like a shaking than a buzzing, the shake rate depends on the road speed and not on the engine speed, and typically there will be certain road speeds at which the suspension resonates with the wheel's rotation rate in a way that amplifies the shaking and makes it much more noticeable; in my car, that happens at about 100km/h and either speeding up or slowing down from that speed will get rid of it again.

If the imbalance is in a front wheel, you will typically also feel it through the steering wheel.

The good part about tyre imbalance is that it's super easy to fix. Cheap too. If it's happening on a car you've only just bought, the dealer should be fixing it for nothing.
posted by flabdablet at 11:37 PM on August 4, 2018

Also seconding deadwax on the likelihood of lower back pain probably having much more to do with the position of your body while driving and the way the seat supports it (or not) than with any amount of vibration. People pay to sit in vibrating massage chairs to fix back pain.

For me, the keys to a pain-free driver's seat are a back that's as upright as possible so that it doesn't encourage my bum to scooch forward on the seat cushion, more support for the middle of my back than for the edges, and positioning the seat as close to the pedals as possible without making my knees smash into the steering wheel or dash. It's all about keeping the bum wedged as far back into the seat as it will go and the spine mostly upright.
posted by flabdablet at 11:44 PM on August 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

There are many cars I cannot drive because sooner or later the poorly designed ergonomics cause back pain. Car seats these days seem to be designed from liability fears - they want to minimize damage to your body if you're in an accident, but they force an unnatural posture for the back and spine, and even more so for the neck, and head.

I suggest you read up on natural/normal posture. (For example, your ears should be directly 'north' of your shoulders - odds are the headrest pushes your head too far forward to help prevent whiplash at the expense of deforming the normal curves of your spine.) Get some get foam wedges/cushions to support good posture when you're driving the car. Try it for a while and maybe you can avoid have to search out another vehicle.
posted by dancing leaves at 4:37 AM on August 5, 2018

As a fellow-back pain sufferer who has had lumbar surgery as well - I highly endorse the (terribly named) Back Sac. - You could DIY as well, but I bought two and they have been a total lifesaver, *especially* for driving. The trick is to literally inflate it a super small amount, but the support is unlike any other cushion or thing I have gotten. Good luck!
posted by LongDrive at 8:09 PM on August 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

I really appreciate the leads on looking into the ergonomics. I think now that the two issues I’m having are independent from each other. I’m researching better ways to improve the ergonomics other than just lots of pillows everywhere bc that hasn’t helped either.
posted by bleep at 11:25 AM on August 6, 2018

« Older Bug ID?   |   Do I take this job? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.