Your car is a space you hope to be as comfortable as possible while driving. But sometimes, the HVAC system doesn’t do enough to keep you feeling the right temperature. That’s where heated, cooled, and ventilated seats come in. These luxurious features are becoming more common in cars. Here’s how they work.
How heated seats work
Heated seats contain a heating element located between the seat cushion and upholstery. An electric current runs through the heating element when the heated seat is turned on, making the seat feel warm, Toyota explains.
This feature is more common than cooled or ventilated seats. Some cars even include memory settings for how you like the seats to be heated or cooled, AutoNation Drive reports.
How cooled seats work
Regular air conditioning reduces a car’s fuel efficiency, HowStuffWorks reports. A more environmentally friendly option is to air condition the seats instead. This option blows cooled air on the occupant rather than trying to cool the car’s entire cabin.
Though ways to cool seats differ, the most common method uses several fans inside the seat to circulate air through a layer of material that diffuses the air, which then blows out through the perforated or mesh upholstery. The air blowing out of the fans might or might not be refrigerated.
Refrigerated air comes either from a cooling element in the seat or the car’s larger air-conditioning system. A gas in a closed loop is compressed and then condensed to cool into a liquid to refrigerate the air. The liquid then goes through an expansion valve, turning back into a gas and cooling further. Air passes the cold closed loop and is also cooled. The gas used to be chlorofluorocarbon (aka Freon) but is now generally hydrofluorocarbon HFC-134a.
In some cars, the cooled seats can be turned on remotely, making getting into the car on a burning-hot day much nicer. Cooled seats are also easy for drivers and passengers to adjust to their own comfort levels. Plus, it feels nice on a hot day to have cold air blowing directly on you.
How ventilated seats work
Chevrolet explains that cooled and ventilated seats help cool you, but ventilated seats don’t use refrigerated air. Ventilated seats also have little fans and ducts inside the seat cushion and backrest. Some systems suck air into the seat, and others have fans to blow air from the seat toward the occupant. The air passes through the seat through small perforations in the upholstery
You can turn the feature for cooled or ventilated seats on and off, and you can adjust the force of the air too. Some Chevrolet models have a feature where the ventilated seats turn on when the remote start is used if the outside temperature is hot. Once the car is on, the ventilated seats turn off. Other Chevrolet models can be set to auto, where the ventilated seats turn on when the cabin temperature reaches a level the driver set.
Having ventilated or cooled seats can make the car more comfortable after sitting in the summer sun. Ventilated seats still help occupants cool even though the air isn’t refrigerated. Without any air circulation, sitting on a car seat prevents the parts of your body touching the seat from regulating temperature well and can make you feel hotter or sweaty. Circulating the air in the seat helps draw heat away from the body, allowing perspiration to work as usual.
Heated, cooled, and/or ventilated seats are useful comfort features. But don’t despair if your car doesn’t have them. You can buy air-conditioned seat cushions that plug into your car’s electrical system.