Are Heated Seats Bad for You?

There’s nothing better than sliding into a warm seat when your car is cold. But can it be dangerous? Cars have come a long way over the years, but some areas could use improvement, and heated seats are one of them. In fact, some experts are concerned that overuse could lead to burns. And one driver learned that the hard way.

How do heated seats work? 

Though they might seem like magic, the inner workings of heated seats aren’t that complicated. It’s the same technology used in heated blankets, hair dryers, and water heaters, Bockman’s Auto Care reports.

Inside the seat is an element that acts as a resistor. When electricity flows through the coils, the resistor resists the electricity, in turn producing heat. This rises through the seat cushion and warms the occupant.

A thermostat in the seat is designed to track the temperature. When it reaches a certain point, the heating element is supposed to turn off automatically. However, the problem is that some manufacturers don’t add a thermostat that cuts off, so it’s up to the occupant to turn off the heat if it gets too hot. 

Too much of a good thing

As great as heated seats are, it’s possible to overuse them. The bad part is that you might not realize you’re doing so until you get burned.

According to WTOP News, the repeated use of heated seats could lead to “erythema ab igne” — Latin for “redness from fire.” Another name doctors call it is “toasted skin syndrome” or “TSS.”

So what is it exactly? Essentially, it’s when the skin on the back of your thighs becomes discolored from prolonged use of heated seats. 

“The key here is repeated exposure, with symptoms developing over weeks and months of use,” WTOP News reports. “A red, netlike rash can develop after prolonged use on areas warmed by the seat heater, usually from the lower back to the back of the thighs and all points in between.”

The bad part of TSS is that it’s hard to spot. In cooler weather, most people wear pants, meaning others can’t spot the reddening skin. The symptoms can come on slowly, and by the time the skin hurts enough to notice, there’s already significant damage.

One man’s heated seat gave him third-degree burns

As wonderful as heated seats can be, they can be dangerous, as one man learned. On a road trip from Missouri to Louisiana, a driver arrived to find he had third-degree burns on his upper legs and second-degree burns on his lower legs.

He had accidentally turned on his car’s heated seats and didn’t feel the burning because he’s paralyzed and had no feeling in his legs. He spent months in rehabilitation and reportedly sustained “immense physical pain and emotional suffering.”

So how did this happen? The Chevy Silverado pickup he drove had heated seats but not an automatic shutoff, which would have turned them off when they reached a certain temperature. Because he didn’t have feeling in his legs, he had no idea the heat was even on. The driver is now suing General Motors for failing to include a shutoff switch. 

This wasn’t the first case of heated seats burning a person with paralysis. There have been many cases, and it’s now recommended that anyone with paralysis in their legs not use heated seats. 

If you’re looking to purchase a vehicle with heated seats, find out if the car comes with an automatic shutoff. It’s easy to assume vehicles would come equipped with it, but they might not. It’s better to know for sure before you spend money on something that could harm you and your loved ones.

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