I yearn for a warm front seat when I get in the car.
December 15, 2018 10:05 PM   Subscribe

Can we jerry rig some way to pre-heat, and continue to heat, our car's front seat? The car is two years old and we regret not getting heated seats, but we didn't. Now I have nerve degeneration and cold intolerance, and oh -- to have it warm when I first sit down, and continue with specific warmth!

Mr. K says there's a 12 Volt outlet on the dashboard. Could we plug a large heating pad into it and have it on as we drive? Would it hurt the car? The heating pad? Me?

Another option is getting the seat replaced with a heated one from dealer ($$$). Taking hot water bottles out before we leave (requires work & exact timing). I can think of a dozens silly ideas, but I'm drawing a blank for other possibiities.
posted by kestralwing to Grab Bag (14 answers total)
What you want is a heated car seat cover. They plug into your dashboard outlet and cover the whole surface of the car seat. Some of them even have a massage feature (mine does).
posted by Secret Sparrow at 10:18 PM on December 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

Heated seat cushions are definitely a thing. Depending on how much area you want heated, there are different options: this one is for the seat only, this one (and many others) will also offer heat to your back. (Note: links are representative only; the only one I have experience with (gave one as a gift last year) appears to no longer be sold, or I'd link that one.)

One thing to consider is they do require the car be on to heat up. In a year of use, my mom has loved it (she generally starts high then moves to low for maintenance) and it hasn't hurt her car (she does unplug it when not in use, out of an abundance of caution).
posted by smangosbubbles at 10:25 PM on December 15, 2018

If you can find a 12-volt heating pad with a plug which matches your car's power plug, it will not harm the car to plug it in...but check how many amps the heating pad draws and how many amps the fuse protecting the outlet is rated at. You can probably find out the latter from your car's owner's manual, or online. The pad itself will (or should have) an indication on the packaging or power cable as to its power requirements.

If I was designing a car with a power plug, I would fuse it at no more than 15 amps, and probably more like 10, just to give you an idea of what might work in the plug.

Do not be tempted to swap in a higher fuse, and don't be tempted to try and adapt a pad designed to run on a different voltage.

Heating elements can draw a lot of power, since they work by resistance, so it might be a crap-shoot. I have never been in the market for one, but would not be surprised if a 12-volt heating pad doesn't exist out there somewhere.

Depending on your car, you may have a regular household outlet available somewhere inside. This is normally high-end cars or RV-type vehicles, though. Again, check the amp rating vs. the draw of your heating pad.

Seats are potentially relatively easy to swap (depending on if they have built-in airbags, I would think, these days) and if your car was available with heated seats as an option, it's very likely the wiring is already in the car for them (though the switch on the dash will probably be covered by a blanking plate). Where I'm going with this is that you may be able to get a set of used seats from a salvage yard for a lot less than new seats, and do a straight-forward swap. You would need some minor mechanical abilities, and I'm not sure if swapping seats on a car presumably still covered by the warranty would affect that.

You might also look at battery-powered outdoor gear which is heated. There may be an electric shawl or similar which operates off of 9-volt batteries, which might be able to be co-opted into use.

If your power outlet is a "standard" design (the owner's manual should tell you what type of plug it's meant for), you could also investigate motorcycle cold-weather gear. Most of this will be "wearable" but often is design as "over-clothing", so a pair of pants, say, will be designed to slip over your regular pants (assuming you drive with pants on, it's a big wide world out there and I've learned to not make assumptions!).

If the plug you're talking about is a USB outlet for phones and the like, it's very unlikely it would support the kind of current draw required for a heating element.
posted by maxwelton at 10:30 PM on December 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

Inbetween a heated seat cover and OEM heated seat would be to get an upholstery shop to install elements in your stock seat. In many cases it is straight forward enough that people DIY.
posted by Mitheral at 11:27 PM on December 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

I would just get a remote car starter. These exist for what you're describing. You can start the car from your house, let it heat up for 10 minutes, and then get in without having to sit on a cold seat in a cold car. You can buy a kit to install it yourself or hire a pro.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:50 PM on December 15, 2018

I bought a plug in heated seat cover and it is heavenly. Chronic pain makes driving painful and with this I can drive an hour now without being too crippled. However I did leave mine plugged in and it killed my battery so now I just absolutely make sure it's unplugged before getting out. Seriously recommend especially for nerve pain.
posted by kanata at 2:27 AM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

On cold days I just go out and start up my van (which lacks heated seats) before I sit down to breakfast, then come back in and by the time I've eaten and am ready to leave it's all toasty warm in there. A remote starter would be even better.

My personal car does have heated seats but honestly by the time they're noticeably warm the whole car is also warm, so I don't find them that big a deal.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:06 AM on December 16, 2018

If you specifically want to make your bum extra toasty and warm because of your nerve issues though, then a heating pad sounds like a good option. You could get one for the house, as well.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:09 AM on December 16, 2018

Just an alternative thought for a passive aid. A natural sheepskin seat cover can be quite cozy. Looks like they can be found dyed and fitted also.
posted by sammyo at 5:50 AM on December 16, 2018

Could we plug a large heating pad into it and have it on as we drive?

I had a heated seat cover for a long time in a car with no heated seats and it was really great. You'd need one that was set to the "on" position and then get a remote starter to get the car started a bit before you get in it. Mine actually has a vibrating setting which, when I was experiencing some pretty bad shoulder pain (and working on it, but these things take time) was a welcome option for long drives. Mine was something like this. Be aware there are a lot of not-great ones out there so if it's possible to go someplace where you can try these things (or buy from someone with a good return policy) I would do that.
posted by jessamyn at 7:45 AM on December 16, 2018

Your car seat might already have heating elements, but the control system to use them is the premium item. Seat heating is a favourite of the car-hacking scene; seat pre-heating may be a little bit of a challenge and require some kind of remote starter.

A car-hacking-mad friend found that his Honda Odyssey (maybe 2012 model?) had heating elements but no controls, and used a Carloop and a temperature sensor to engage toasty bum mode when the temperature was below 10 °C. No permanent modification was made to the vehicle, just something plugged into OBD2 port.
posted by scruss at 7:54 AM on December 16, 2018

It's worth figuring out whether your car's 12V plug (ye olde "cigarette lighter") is wired directly up to the battery or is part of the car's switched electrical system. If it's connected directly to the battery, you have to be very careful not to leave something turned on and plugged into it, or it can drain and potentially damage the battery. (Car batteries don't like being 'deep discharged'.)

On my 2005 VW, the power outlet is wired directly to the battery and I discovered this the hard way. On most newer cars the power cuts off when the ignition is turned off. Some cars that still have a "smokers package" as an option may have two 12V plugs, with one going to the battery (high current) and one going to the car's normal electrical system (low current, switches off). I've seen this arrangement in some Dodge vehicles from the mid 2000s onwards. I think more and more late model cars forgo the battery connection though.

It's also possible, with a directly-wired outlet, to draw more power from the battery than it is getting from the charging system, depleting it slowly over time even when the car is running. This was also something that I determined empirically.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:49 AM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

You can get a remote starter for the car so it can run for 5 minutes and warm up.
Heated car seat cushion to plug in to the cig. lighter. Call the dealer and ask about the electrical system, but I've run a variety of items off the cig. lighter while camping with no trouble.
posted by theora55 at 12:05 PM on December 16, 2018

Thanks to everyone who answered!

I've got a heated, massaging seat cover on the way. I may have to experiment with different ones, but looking forward to a warm place to sit makes this a most wonderful Christmas.

And Solstice is coming in a few days - turning toward the light. Maybe you all have a wonderful New Year!
posted by kestralwing at 5:41 PM on December 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

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