Cradled in comfort
A new seat might make your old truck feel good as new.
Your seat, more so than any other part of the truck, dictates how comfortable the ride will be – and just how tired you’ll get while driving. Replacing a truck seat is a do-it-yourself job, if you’ve worked on your truck before and can use standard hand tools. But first it’s important to know your options.
The chief reason to upgrade your seat is to improve comfort, and seat manufacturers have come up with numerous innovative ways to maximize just that. But how do you decide which features you want and which ones you need? First, look at the seat you have. What do you like about it, and what would like to change?
“A lot of people like the seat that’s in the truck already,” says National Seating’s Michael Brunetti, director of business development for aftermarket and specialty products. “Look at the make and model of what’s there. If you find something you like, it makes sense to keep the basic design. You may want to replace the original seat with something similar, but upgrade the features.”
Be aware of why you’re replacing the seat and try to avoid its problems in the future. Brian Sabo, sales manager at Recaro North America, casts this point as a question: “Are you replacing your seat because you don’t like it, or because it’s worn out or broken?” Set the price you can pay and choose the seat within that range that has the features that are most important to you, keeping in mind, Sabo says, that more features don’t necessarily translate to more comfort.
If bells and whistles are your cup of tea and you’re willing to pay top dollar for top comfort, you might consider a higher-end seat with bonus features like electric seat heating, a cushion extender for shorter-legged drivers or an adjustable shock absorber, which can be helpful if you run off road.
“You can tighten up the dampening to prevent you from banging your head on the cab roof,” Prime Seating national sales manager Jerry Daly says. “On smooth roads, you can adjust it so the ride is soft and gentle.”
If you’re a long-haul driver, says Daly, choose a premium seat with all the creature comforts. “Whatever you do, if you are a long-haul driver, get a seat designed for long drives,” he says.
If you have back trouble – or want to avoid having it in the future – you might spring for lumbar bolsters and cushions or something like the Back Cycler from National Seating. “It keeps the spine moving because it is static sitting that leads to discomfort,” says Ray Miller, vice president of sales and marketing at National Seating. National’s Brunetti says the Back Cycler raises and lowers the air pressure to help prevent disc compression.
Recaro’s Sabo says, “We offer a three-cell lumbar support system, because adjustability is better with three cells – lower, middle and upper, each with its own switch.”
It’s important to actually sit in the seat – several seats, in fact – to test it, paying particular attention to adjustability. “Sit in the seat, and try adjusting it,” says National’s Miller. “Can you find the right position?”
“Some seats have a cushion with a fore and aft adjustment,” Brunetti says. “Many drivers are very sensitive to where the front end of the cushion hits their legs because it cuts off their circulation. It may also help if the cushion can be tilted up and down.”
Recaro’s Sabo agrees that adjustability is an advantage. If you move to a team operation, it may well be the key to fitting your partner’s needs in addition to your own.
Finally, choose comfort over fashion. “A current craze is the low rider seat,” Brunetti says. “Don’t get one of these. Many produce a ride position for the driver where he is below the sight guidelines mandated by federal standards. As a result, we don’t even offer a low rider seat.”
On most seats you have to replace just four bolts, and you need to have the strength to lift a good 45 pounds or more, the weight of most seats.
“Anyone who can use simple tools can perform the work of replacing a truck seat in a matter of hours,” says Sabo. “But you may need to have someone help you because you may need someone underneath to hold nuts as you tighten the mounting bolts.”
The pattern of those bolts is a key issue when choosing a seat to buy, says Miller. “The bolt pattern used in seat mounting had been universal, but several manufacturers have now developed different patterns,” he says. “So, while the base mounting for most seats is the same, you may have to buy parts from the OE to adapt some seats, or order a seat with a pedestal that’s designed for the mounting-bolt pattern in your truck.”
Examine the bolt pattern before you order. Make sure you have the pattern information in hand when you place the order. “If ordering the seat from a dealer who handles your brand of truck or tractor,” says Miller, “they’ll know about the bolt pattern. Also, scope out the area where the seat will be mounted and visualize how it will fit. Some seats have only one arm because of space limitations.”
Proper consideration of the seat belt system is also of utmost importance. Says Prime’s Jerry Daly, “Most heavy- and medium-duty trucks have a tether that runs from the back of the seat down to the floor. If the OEM seat has tethers, you need to install the tethers on the new seat in exactly the same manner.”
A potential problem, says Daly, is that lightweight flooring in the cab may not be strong enough to hold the seat in position in the event of a crash. “Some manufacturers may install anchor points that connect back to the frame rails,” he says. “The steel tether holds the seat to the cab’s structure.” And the entire system is tested with tethers in place.
Sabo describes it this way: “The seat has a part called an ICT bar. This is a straight bar bolted to the back of the seat. The tethers run from the floor to either end of the ICT bar. The buckle is attached to the right side of the seat. You unbolt the seat belt and buckle from the seat, and unbolt the tethers from the ICT bar when you remove the seat. When you reattach the belt, the buckle and the tethers, all the parts must be in exactly the same orientation and installed identically to the OEM installation.”
Sabo also says you need to eyeball or even measure things to be certain the pedestal won’t displace or interfere with anything on the floor area. “Make sure the controls can be reached easily by the driver,” he says, “that there is room in the cab so his or her hand will have clearance when reaching down to adjust them.”
Sabo says the biggest issue with a new seat is height. Fitting it to your needs might require selecting a seat with adjustable height or spec’ing the right pedestal from a variety offered by the manufacturer. “Some manufacturers develop specific seats for specific trucks,” he says.
Step by Step
- Remove seat belt assembly from existing seat.
- If the seat has an air supply for the seat suspension mechanism, shut off the engine and open the drain valve for the air tanks and disconnect the air supply to the seat.
- Remove the attaching bolts (there are normally four of them) that attach the pedestal and riser plate to the floor.
- Remove the seat.
- In general, you do everything exactly backward to install the seat. If the new seat is electrically heated, and the old one was not, you’ll need to connect the wiring into the fuse box in the cab. Follow the instructions in the installation manual that comes with the seat.
- As you reinstall, pay attention to a few details. If the existing seat belt system is compatible with the new seat, it’s likely you can leave it in. If you unbolt the seat belts and replace any parts, make sure to use the same size and quality hardware. And watch for tangled wires and air lines if your seat is electrically heated or cushioned with air.
Cushion Your Seat
Even if you don’t have the time and money to replace your truck seat, there may be a way to improve your comfort situation. Lisa Blackmore, senior marketing manager at the Roho Group, says her company makes a “truck seat cushion that goes over the top of the existing truck seat and is air inflated.” Called the AirHawk Truck Seat Cushion, it’s an inexpensive way to improve comfort without replacing the seat altogether, she says.
Roho also makes wheelchair cushions that help with blood circulation, so they’ve had some experience with people who sit still for a long time. The cushion comes with a small hand pump. Inflate the cushion, then carefully let air out until it just about bottoms out. This produces a “redistribution of your weight and reduces the pressure where you are supported,” Blackmore says. “It’s a great way to prevent pain, to make you more comfortable and prevent the occurrence of future trouble.”
For more information:
The Roho Group
Recaro North America