Home » The Passenger Seat Is The One That Should Be Powered: Prove Me Wrong

The Passenger Seat Is The One That Should Be Powered: Prove Me Wrong

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There are certain automotive conceits that we all take for granted — silent agreements among carmakers that persist despite no legal requirements. I mean things like how pretty much every car now has passenger side mirrors or how every carmaker agrees to not put the rear window defogger switch in the same place on any car’s dash. One of these conceits is that if a car is designed to only have power adjustment controls on one seat, that seat that gets blessed with all all the little motors and switches and stuff is always the driver’s seat. I think this is absolutely backwards.

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I know everyone is used to the idea that somehow the driver – the emperor of the car – deserves to have these electrical servants moving their ass back and forth, up and down. But think about it: if this is your car, your daily driver; how often are you moving that seat? Hardly ever! But the passenger seat? That’s the seat that gets adjusted more! You’re out there with an active, vigorous life, picking up friends and colleagues and dynamic, exciting people of all shapes and sizes, and when they happily enter your car, they, not you, need to adjust that seat!

That’s why the passenger’s seat is the one that both demands and deserves the power assist, in situations where the installation of seat motors are dictated by the Highlander rule of There Can Be Only One. That’s how automakers save money, you see, by invoking Highlander law. (Note: once again, David doesn’t know what this reference is. And he’s trying to convince me that nobody will get this reference. This is what I deal with, people.)

Now, our own Thomas disagrees, citing cases where, say, the car is shared between multiple people, and I suppose in that case, perhaps that’s valid. And yet, even in the worst-case scenario, where every single trip in the car requires a full and slow seat adjustment, the only real balm to that pain is a power seat with memory options, and any car that has that has both seats powered. So it’s kinda moot, right?

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But, really, let’s be honest here: The reason that the driver’s seat is always the powered one is because that’s where you’re sitting when you’re testing out cars that you might want to buy, and those cunning car-sellers know your lizard-brain will be swayed by the decadent luxury of a seat that moves by the power of electrons, as though gently pushed by angels themselves. Will you even check to see if the passenger seat is so blessed? Maybe not!

So really, the thinking is cynical: carmakers will make cars where only the seat that’s powered is the one that’s most likely to get you to give them cash, instead of the seat that really should be powered.

Am I wrong here? Is there a compelling reason to do it the way it currently is, or is it time to shake this shit up, and start a revolution? Let’s hash this out in the comments, and whatever we decide, I’ll send a Letter of Demand to the King of Automobiles and get this settled, stat.

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Ian McClure
Ian McClure
11 months ago

Personally as a driver I adjust my seat pretty frequently to compensate for whatever minor discomforts I may be feeling at the time. Electric seats make this much easier and safer. Plus, my wife and I use the same car frequently, and having seating (and more importantly mirror position) presets saves us both a lot of grief

Box Rocket
Box Rocket
11 months ago

Electric motors have gotten so small and so effective that, really, both front seats should be powered, AND have memory functions.

That way if someone moves the passenger seat forward and now it’s blocking the side view, the driver can zip it back to be even with the B-pillar (for example… May or may not happen a lot with me) and no longer a visual obstruction.

Here’s a better hill to die on: every vehicle should have the cheap-or-free option (or standard) for power adjustable pedals (or even manual adjust, just make the dang things move). This way short drivers can have them close enough to them so they don’t have the steering wheel in their chest, and tall drivers don’t have to move the seat as far back or lean the backrest absurdly far so they can fit their legs in appropriately to operate the pedals. Ford is one of the few that offers this on a variety of their models, why it isn’t an industry standard is beyond me.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
11 months ago
Reply to  Box Rocket

I remember power pedals started to become a common option as telescoping steering wheels also became common, but not sure why they faded out even as electronics replaced a lot of the mechanical connections with the pedals and theoretically would have made it easier. My best guess is that in some way it has something to do with crash safety engineering, given the IIHS started doing more different types of crash tests around that time too – tougher to engineer movable pedals in the process. But, just a theory.

Goblin
Goblin
11 months ago

I will shamelessly quote myself from my comment below:

We seem to love categorical statements in these comment sections – here’s something categorical: power seats should be MANDATORY, OR, manual seat settings should be locked while the vehicle is in motion.

Why ?

Whoever has tried to adjust their manual seat while driving (on long trips for example), and ended up with a seat sliding all the way to the back in 0.2 seconds (because the vehicle was also accelerating), ending up unable to touch the pedals and barely hanging to the steering wheel at 80mph, will understand.

Whoever has ended up with a seatback in a close to horizontal position, hanging on the wheel for dear life and unable to see above the top of the dashboard, for the very same reasons (and because the seatback setting is freewheeling on a lever, rather than on a rotating knob – which in itself is the slowest thing ever and requires the strength of a trained, bachelor’s wrist to be rotated) – will inderstand.

Whoever doesn’t is either 7ft tall and never had to slide a seat elsewhere than all the way back, and feels like Hightwower in the Civic in Police Academy I, either doesn’t the $#@$@ know what they are talking about.

Looks like none of the spoiled commenters here has ever had to deal with a manual Renault or similar seat, ending up feet in the air whenever they try to adjust it in motion. And those were light, flimsy seats. Good luck sliding a heavy manual seat, with what they weigh nowadays.

Yes, I say spoiled. I am not sure how long ago any of the complainers against power seats has used a manual seat, and what sort of manual seat they have used back then, but maybe apples to apples should be compared.

Enjoy what you have, or put your money where your mouth is: a manually adjustable seat with the same abilities, range, and options as a power one, will be likely just as complex and expensive, if not more expensive.
A motor is not that much more expensive than the gears and locks that will be needed to make a manually adjustable seat with the same abilities.

In short, the manual seat everybody misses is unlikely to be the manual seat everyone rememmbers. It is not less expensive than the power seat that everybody complains about. Pay for it and you’ll get it.

And yes, seats have to be able to be adjusted while the car is in motion. Long trips will require this. And THIS is very likely at least part of the reason why power seats are slow in motion. Not because they couldn’t make them faster.

Last edited 11 months ago by Goblin
Disphenoidal
Disphenoidal
11 months ago
Reply to  Goblin

Hazards of uncontrolled seat motion are underappreciated. It has caused more than one fatal Cessna accident: http://www.aero-news.net/index.cfm?do=main.textpost&id=104b17a0-0dd9-4fae-a91c-febd64234bab

Peter Andruskiewicz
Peter Andruskiewicz
11 months ago
Reply to  Goblin

My mother, who at the time was driving a manual Pontiac Vibe GT, stopped at a stoplight on a hill and was waiting for it to turn green. She decided that was the perfect time to try to scooch her seat forward a notch, but instead she & the seat slid all the way to the back of the track, pulling her feet off of the pedals. This being a manual, sitting and idling in 1st gear, it initially bucked forward and just about hit the car in front before stalling (very little torque at idle with the 2ZZ engine, plus we were on a hill) and proceeding to start rolling backwards, overcoming the engine braking. Fortunately I was in the passenger’s seat and grabbed the handbrake before we rolled back into the car behind, but it was also very close. I was convinced we actually hit the car ahead, and got out to check but when the light turned green they just drove off and I didn’t see any damage, so we got her seat adjusted again and continued on with a nice new story to tease her about.

OptionXIII
OptionXIII
11 months ago

I will never understand what is so luxurious about being forced to wait for a motor to do something that was almost effortless to do on my own.

Power minivan doors are the same. I can manually open it, hop in, and close the door in about 3 seconds, or have a 10 second process of waiting on the door to open, getting in, then telling it to close. If we’re changing seat positions based on driver, I can get close enough within 3 seconds of manual adjustment, or sit there and wait for the motors to move 6″.

Powered items seem to get in my way more than they help me, and being annoyed isn’t luxurious.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
11 months ago
Reply to  OptionXIII

Power sliding door advantages – no pinched fingers from sliders being slammed (sure can happen with any door, but sliders seemed to take more of a slam to shut) or just soft-close in general, more control on inclines for opening/closing instead of fighting gravity, open the doors with your arms full and fob in hand to set things down or let others start to get in. A couple of those more advantageous for parents of course.

Last edited 11 months ago by GreatFallsGreen
Goblin
Goblin
11 months ago
Reply to  OptionXIII

Given the weight of the doors and the likeliness of kids riding in the back, making a manual sliding door with all the stops that would prevent it from crushing a kid would probably make the manual door at least that expensive.

Case in point, the sliding doors on cargo vans are still joyfully manual, being handled by a completely different demographic (people who both have the strenght to deal with them, and needs the speed of manual opening & closing).

VanGuy
VanGuy
11 months ago

I often see they’ll say “10-way” or more for power seats. I think fewer options is okay on the passenger seat, because in many ways you can move your legs for comfort, rather than your seat. The driver has to get it ergonomically ideal based on fixed targets (pedals).

To me, the ideal setup (probably for both) is manual forward/backward and reclining, but power up and down and lumbar (and probably any other options).

My 2012 Prius v is manual everything except power lumbar. It works well, but I drive alone, and the repetitive pumping motion to move the seat up and down would probably get old fast if I was switching day in and out.

My parents’ Ford Flex let you “tilt” the driver seat by having the ability to move the front of the seat up and down, and the back of the seat up and down. I think doing that manually would take some real galaxy brain thinking to come up with an intuitive mechanism.

But forward/backward and reclining have both the largest range of motion, most possible positions in between, and most ease of changing quickly, so I think they’re better left as manual adjustments.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
11 months ago
Reply to  VanGuy

The tilt function used to be common-ish. Usually it was a rotating dial like some manual seat height adjusters also had (before the ratcheting motion like your Prius v became the common manual height adjuster method) to rotate for the angle. 92-96 Camry, 02-06 Altima were a couple that come to mind with it. For a taller vehicle like the Flex though, seems a bit trickier.

VanGuy
VanGuy
11 months ago

While I wasn’t thrilled with the slow reclining and forward/backward movement in the Flex, I was really impressed with the intuitiveness of the mechanisms.

A vertical bar on the side of the seat that would swivel, to control reclining.
A horizontal bar you’d push/pull on each side for the tilt, or push forward or backward to move accordingly.

And then a rotating dial for lumbar, manually operated.

Honestly, calling it “tilt” feels like oversimplification…

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
11 months ago
Reply to  VanGuy

Pitch may be a better way to put it, but I know what you mean. The other thing of it is that some brands, that control does the whole seat – like domestic brands and Hondas, while in others like Toyotas, that same function is just the bottom cushion angle (still handy for thigh support).

Jason Roth
Jason Roth
11 months ago

As an adult, I’ve always only lived in 1 car/2 driver households, always with a height difference. So yeah, the driver seat moves all the time.

But here’s the thing: power seats are glacial. Especially when my co-driver was a full 13″ shorter than me, there was no way I would have been happy waiting for the slow-ass motor to move the seat back 6″ or more, when just reaching down to a manual handle made it happen in scarcely a second.

Mind you, a memory function could have been nice, but when I get in the car, I want to GO, not sit there waiting like one of those movie scenes where the action humorously stops because the chase includes an elevator.

John Beef
John Beef
11 months ago
Reply to  Jason Roth

Yes, this! My wife and I are about 13″ different in heights and have two very different vehicles that cause us to trade cars regularly, depending on what we’re doing that day. The power seats are very, very slow and I really wish the seats just had a mechanical doohickey (a thingamajig or whatchamacallit would also work) to move them back and forth. The cars are a ’09 Camry Hybrid and a ’18 4Runner, neither of which are considered to be luxury cars.

Goblin
Goblin
11 months ago
Reply to  Jason Roth

“…when I get in the car, I want to GO, not sit there waiting…”

Which shouldn’t happen, as your keyfob will have your memory seat position set in memory, and your seat will start moving the second you unlock the vehicle. My Mitsubishi Diamante had this 20+ years ago, should be present on modern vehicles too.

And because we seem to love categorical statements in these comment sections – here’s something categorical: power seats should be MANDATORY, OR, manual seat settings should be locked while the vehicle is in motion. Why ?

Whoever has tried to adjust their manual seat while driving (on long trips for example), and ended up with a seat sliding all the way to the back in 0.2 seconds (because the vehicle was also accelerating), ending up unable to touch the pedals and barely hanging to the steering wheel at 80mph, will understand.

Whoever has ended up with a seatback in a close to horizontal position, hanging on the wheel for dear life and unable to see above the top of the dashboard, for the very same reasons (and because the seatback setting is freewheeling on a lever, rather than on a rotating knob – which in itself is the slowest thing ever and requires the strength of a trained, bachelor’s wrist to be rotated) – will inderstand.

Whoever doesn’t is either 7ft tall and had never to slide a seat forward, and feels like Hightwower in the Civic in Police Academy I, either doesn’t the $#@$@ know what they are talking about.

Looks like none of the spoiled commenters here has ever had to deal with a manual Renault or similar seat, ending up feet in the air whenever they try to adjust it in motion. Enjoy what you have.

I said this whole article was fluffy filling for a non-problem. I stand by this.

Steve Walton
Steve Walton
11 months ago
Reply to  Goblin

I had six Renaults (4CV, Dauphine, R10, R12, R15, R17 Gordini) so I most definitely understand your problem with their seats.

Last edited 11 months ago by Steve Walton
Steve Walton
Steve Walton
11 months ago

Okay, I’ll bite: you are wrong here. 90% of the time, the passenger seat is empty. Also, most people adjust their seats according to how they feel that particular day (“I want to sit up more straightly in this traffic” vs. “I’ll lie back a bit on this long, boring interstate”) or just because they have a cramp in their thigh.

Passengers don’t have anything to do except sit there. They have time to fiddle with their manual seat controls. As emperor of the vehicle, you have no tolerance for the distraction it takes to yank and pull and bend the dang seat (have you ever tried to slide the seat forward and back trying to find the perfect distance, while dodging intemperate bicyclists and impudent pedestrians?) so a button you can easily reach while watching out for flying ice cream cones is definitely a plus.

I just gotta disagree with the entire premise of this article.

Harris K Telemacher
Harris K Telemacher
11 months ago

You’re not entirely wrong. Honestly, when I have to drive my wife’s Odyssey, I absolutely LOATHE the time I have to sit there and wait for the seat to crawl slowly, painfully, achingly back to accommodate my extra 8 inches of height (I said “OF HEIGHT”, people…). Just give me a locking lever to lift so I can move the whole seat in under a second! It’s raining out here!

On a side note, David is now dead to me, just as the Kurgan, Katana, Kane, and, oddly Scot-Spaniard Juan Sanchez Villalobos Ramirez are dead to Connor Macleod. Also, how Connor is now dead to Duncan Macleod of the clan Macleod. Geez, when I list it all out like that, can there really be only one? Because it seems like there’s always just one more…

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