Consumer research for older and disabled people

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Seats and seating

What to look for

The right seat

  • Your seat needs to be comfortable and supportive, especially if you're driving. You need to be able to reach the controls comfortably and without tiring, even on long journeys.

The right height

  • Low seats mean more bending of your ankles, knees and hips. Higher seats mean you don't have to drop down too far or struggle to get up again. 
  • Everyone is different, but seats that are between 50 and 55cm (20-22") from the ground suit most people, including wheelchair users. Try out the seat from both road and kerb level. Use our Car search to choose cars by seat height.

Features found on some cars

  • Seats that adjust up and down and backwards and forwards will help you get in and out, and find a comfortable position. They're available in most manufacturers' ranges, at least for the driver's seat. Electrically adjustable seats are fairly easy to find on more expensive cars.
  • Seats with manually adjustable lumbar support are available on some cars; electrically adjustable versions are rarer. This can help to reduce back pain.
  • Some seats have memory settings - a single button adjusts the seat to your preferred settings. This feature can be found on a wide range of more expensive cars.
  • Most cars now have height-adjustable seat belts, so there's more chance of a comfortable and safe fit.
  • Heated seats are available on an increasing number of cars, as are ventilated seats that allow air to circulate and reduce stickiness.

Adaptations that may help

Help with getting in and out

Belek car seat system
Swivelling seat
  • An existing car seat can be raised (expect to pay around £150), or adapted so that its height is electronically adjustable (from £900, from adaptation companies).
  • If getting into a seat and turning to face forward is difficult, a swivelling cushion may help. Make sure it is firmly secured to the car seat. They are available for £20-£80 from general aids suppliers.
  • You can also fit a swivelling seat: some turn 90° to face out of the car; some slide out over the sill; and some models turn a full 180°, which makes it easier to transfer from a wheelchair. Some also lift up, to help you to your feet. If you have stiff legs, make sure the swivel seat slides back far enough for you to get in, and check that you'll have enough headroom as you pass through the doorway. Adaptation companies charge from around £980; more (£3,500 and up) for models that swivel 180°.
  • A lift can be fitted between the door and the car seat. You slide on, swing round to face out and the lift gently rises until you're in a near standing position or until you stop it. There are various types. With some, you have to remove the lifting arm before you can shut the door. From about £1,100.
For a more detailed guide to techniques and products, see our full guide: Getting into and out of a car.

For comfort and pain relief

  • There's a variety of cushions and backrests designed to be used in cars. These cost £10 to £70, or more, and range from simple pads and rolls for lumbar support, to shaped inserts that fit on to the car seat. Some are designed to level out the angle of the seat squab (the part you sit on). You can buy them from adaptation companies, general aids suppliers and specialists - look under 'orthopaedic goods' in a phone book. Make sure any cushions are well secured while you are driving.
  • Car seats can be replaced with seats from specialist manufacturers. Replacement seats can move up, down, backwards and forwards under power. The variety of shapes available means you're likely to find one that gives good support. For example, some seats have adjustable lumbar support and some are longer, to give your legs more support. Some have suspension to reduce vibration. Available from adaptation companies for £400-£2,000 and up.

Adapting seat belts

  • Some people find seat belts uncomfortable. They can be modified, but you should never have a seat belt modified by an unqualified person. Your adaption company should be able ensure any modification is both safe and legal.
  • There are kits and accessories that you can buy to adapt seat belts. These must come with safety and legal information, and full and clear instructions. Some may be suitable only for some vehicles. 
  • Belts should fit well across the pelvis and avoid the softer abdomen.
  • You must notify your insurance company if you are using adapted seat belts.

Last updated: June 2011


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