Federal safety regulators are investigating auto seat warmers to determine a maximum safe temperature for the devices in the wake of more than 1,200 complaints in the last decade.
SAE asked to look into seat warmers in May
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has requested that the Society of Automotive Engineers investigate the matter. According to a report in USA Today, the society was asked to set a maximum failsafe temperature for the devices, to determine if an automatic shut-off should be mandated, and if the placement of indicator lights should be made standard.
The request was made following an earlier piece in USA Today that drew attention to safety advocate Sean Kane, who pointed out that the heaters can be dangerous, especially to those who experience sensory deprivation, such as quadriplegics and paraplegics.
At the time of that request, however, NHTSA chief David Strickland expressed his opinion to Kane that seat warmers did not pose a significant safety risk. He said, “the rate of alleged injury due to seat heaters is extremely low.”
Migrating between price ranges
The first heated seats appeared in 1966 for the Cadillac Sedan and Coupe de Ville. In the intervening years, however, the feature has been creeping into lower end models.
Tommy Fristedt, founder of Automotive Seat Climate Craft, told USA Today, “As heated seats become more common, the industry will have to make more durable systems, because they pay a fortune for heated-seat quality issues. This will hopefully drive the industry to take heated seats more seriously.”
[To Get The Utmost Offer For A New Or Pre-Owned Car, Van, Truck or SUV View Miller Dodge Chrysler Jeep Springfield Here!]
Complaints, injuries, fires and recalls
The NHTSA has received 1,260 complaints about seat warmers since 1984. Nearly all of them cited the heating element getting too hot. Of those complaints, 287 claimed injuries, and more than 500 reported fires resulting from overheating.
In the past two decades, nine recall campaigns have been launched for defective seat warmers. Many times, the defects do not show up for several years, when the devices begin to fail.
GM faces pending lawsuit
One pending lawsuit involving overheating seat warmers is currently being hurled at GM. Thirty-year-old Marshall Hicks, a paraplegic, allegedly received burn injuries from the seat warmer in his 2007 Chevrolet Silverado tuck last month in Texas. The truck was retrofitted for Hicks as a part of the automaker’s mobility program.
Attorney Daniel DeFeo is suing GM for Hicks and two other clients with similar claims. He said the injuries were easily avoidable, and that “GM knew the issue with all three, but did nothing to protect them.”
GM has not commented on the pending matter.
If the NHTSA investigation does lead to a large number of recalls, automakers could be paying big as they are forced to call back thousands and thousands of older vehicles to car dealerships, Spokane to Newark.