I admit that I have often chuckled at jokes referring to little old ladies who need to sit on telephone books to see over the car’s dash board. But karma has the last laugh when I open my car door and am reminded that I am the little old man who needs a booster seat.
Through my adult years, I can’t say that I have ever had an issue with my lack of height. I keep hoping for a sudden growth spurt – even at age 56 – but Mother Nature never seems to deliver.
When I do tell people exactly how tall I am, people have looked at me and said, “No way, I thought you were taller!” I guess all of those years of watching TLC’s “What Not to Wear” and incorporating wardrobe tricks for the vertically-challenged seem to have paid off. And I think that sometimes having a big personality probably helps too.
But whenever a friend or family member joined me for a ride in my car (pre-pandemic, of course), the wedge cushion that acted as my booster seat has been a conversation piece for the last four cars.
It doesn’t matter how compact my car might be and it doesn’t matter how many ways the seat can be moved up, forward or angled, the wedge cushion has been a necessity for me to get into the perfect position for driving. With a disc issue in my back that has lingered on and off for decades, my spine does not tolerate well the design of deep buckets in so many of today’s car seats.
When I am shopping for a new vehicle, I love going to car shows. They offer the opportunity to try the seats of many brands and styles of vehicles without driving all over town. It is an efficient way for me to bounce from car to car, sitting in each for 15 seconds and saying “Nope, not this one…. Nope, not this one either.”
I am sure sales reps must think I am a bit of a flake to be in and out of cars that quickly and coming out with firm decisions, but my back knows right away what fits well and what doesn’t.
For me, the car seat “sweet spot” is many things. Number one: it’s high enough to not only see over the dash board, but also for good visibility all around the vehicle. Number two: the right position prevents back pain flare-ups, or conversely, offers comfort if a flare-up occurs. Number three: it’s the hard-to-describe feeling of the right position that makes me feel confident as a driver.
Some might argue that I haven’t tried ALL of the combinations and permutations that the car offers to get the right position. I think that is a fair statement as there could be hundreds of possibilities.
However, much like office chairs, if one drive in the wrong position is enough to cause a flare-up and have me hobbling to the chiropractor, there is only so much experimentation my old, degenerating body can handle.
I don’t know what the car makers have in mind when they design car seats. I think it would be fair to say that shorter body types are not their priority if the “seat position sweet spot” is so hard to find.
And just when I do find the sweet spot, doesn’t it take one visit for car maintenance to screw things up? My car always seems to be assigned to a technician in the upper percentile of height who needs to back up the seat all the way, and then I have to start all over again.
I understand that certain cars now come with a memory function to return the seat to a pre-selected position. That is a definitely a step in the right direction and I look forward to the potential option in future vehicles… if I can ever find the “sweet spot”.
Back in the 1990s, I remember renting a car that had me truly wondering who could possibly fit in that car. If I moved the seat forward to accommodate my short legs, the steering wheel ended up two inches from my chest. In that position, my Rick Astley-style pompadour kept hitting the top of the sloping windshield. If I tilted the seat back to get more distance from the steering wheel and windshield (but not distance from the pedals), my body felt like it was at a 135 degree angle, which caused a distortion in my vision through my glasses. Thankfully, I found a middle ground that balanced safety, comfort and clear vision for the few days that I needed that car.
In mentioning this dilemma with family and friends, I am pleased to hear that I am not alone. It seems that many people love their cars but have a hard time finding the perfect position for the car seat. The concern is not only reserved for the seat itself but also for the shoulder belt, the lap belt, and the distance from the pedals.
I realize that car makers have to find a suitable “average” to keep production costs manageable, but it seems that many of us experience Goldilocks moments with our vehicle car seats.
Car makers, I ask you this: if there are car seats for children at different points in their growth, why couldn’t we have the same for adults of different sizes.
With all of the technology that is available why couldn’t someone get measured for a custom fitted car seat (much like we do for custom orthotics) and be able to snap the custom-fitted insert into place, whether in the driver position or the passenger position? Think of it as modular furnishings for the car.
For the price of vehicles today, why shouldn’t we expect a car seat that actually fits comfortably in all the right places?
Until that happens, it is reassuring that there is so much advice on the Internet offering tips and tricks for making car seats more comfortable.
The following video is one example of the many helpful suggestions that are available:
5 Secrets to Make Car Seats Comfortable & Pain Free for Long Distances
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