Heated, Cooled, and Ventilated Seats: Are They Worth It?

We are lucky to have such an array of luxury features in our cars these days. Aren’t you grateful for having cool air blasted in your face when it’s melting hot outside, and your heater to keep you toasty in the chilly months? That said, if you live in extreme weather conditions, your heater and A/C might be far from sufficient. That’s where heated, cooled, and ventilated seats come into play. 

While your HVAC system takes a while to bring the cabin temperature to a comfortable level, these high-tech seats would warm you up or cool you down directly and thus instantly. If you’re still on the fence as to whether they are must-haves or just nice-to-have, read on to find out how each of these seat work and if they are worth the money.

Are Heated, Cooled and Ventilated Seats Worth It?

If you are lucky to be enjoying bearable weather all year round, then your car’s heater and A/C might be all you need. However, if you live somewhere that’s extremely hot in the summer as well as freezing in the winter, then heated, cooled and ventilated seats wouldn’t be luxury features but actually an essential upgrade. 

Instant Relief & Safer Driving

Firstly, they offer almost instant comfort, and in extreme weather, this might mean safer driving and not having to wait for your HVAC system to restore your car to a livable temperature before driving away. Imagine getting to work one early morning when it’s freezing outside and sitting on that ice cold cushion: you might need to crank up the heater and wait a while until you’re no longer shivering in order to drive properly. Or perhaps you park your car outside in the summer, and when you come back, the seat cushion is so hot it could practically fry an egg. You won’t be driving away any time soon! 

So how do they achieve instant relief? Your A/C and heater blast cool or warm air through the vent and try to regulate the whole cabin. In contrast, heated seats have an interior component that will heat up from electrical energy, while cool or ventilated seats blow cool air directly on the person sitting on them. This means the seating surfaces where your body is in contact with will feel warmer or cooler almost right away.

In hot weather, your back and seating area will be kept very fresh from sweat, and your clothes will not develop those embarrassing sweat stains. And you might be one of those people who prefer to have refreshing cool air blown directly to their overheated bodies rather than having it blown onto their faces through the vents.

heated, cooled and ventilated car seats
Cooled and ventilated seats blow cool air directly onto your body and carry the heat away, thus cooling you down. Photo credit: AutoEvolution

Remote Activation

Some cars offer heated, cooled and ventilated seats that can be remotely activated. Therefore, you can turn them on before you actually climb in the car and that would save you from burning your bum on the searing upholstery. Many of these seats also allow drivers and passengers to easily fine-tune to their own comfort levels. 

Less Fuel Consumption and Pollution

This more effective temperature regulating mechanism also means heated, cool or ventilated seats eat up less fuel and are more environmentally friendly than regular heating and air conditioning. Of course, these seats still consume fuel, but they do minimize fuel use and air pollution. 


How Heated, Cooled and Ventilated Seats Work

Heated Seats

Heated seats are more common than cooled or ventilated seats, and on many luxury models, they have become a standard feature. Heated seats work thanks to a heating element placed between the seat cushion and upholstery. When the heated seat is activated, an electric current runs through the heating element, heating it up.

Cooled Seats

Cool seats use many different methods, but the most common one includes several fans inside the seat. These fans blow air through a layer of material to diffuse the air, then circulate the air out through the upholstery. 

These cool seats might or might not refrigerate the air before blowing it out on the occupant. A cooling unit is required in the case of refrigerated air. Even when unrefrigerated, circulating air blown directly onto your overheated body makes a big difference in keeping you cool in your seat. 

You might be skeptical, but remember that our bodies originally eject heat through the pores in the form of sweating. But when your back and bottom are pressed against the car seat, this water vapor cannot escape from the pores; it’s like wearing a jacket in the summer. 

Meanwhile, a cooled seat with a typically porous covering allows your skin to breath and eject water vapor, that is allowing your body’s natural cooling system to work even when your back and bottom are pressed against the upholstery. The porous material helps the air to pass through the seat and escape into the environment instead of getting trapped under the upholstery. Such air circulation across your skin helps draw heat away from your body, allowing perspiration to work as usual.

In the case of cooled seats that work by the circulation of unrefrigerated air and thus no cooling unit, the cooling process requires much less energy than cooled seats with a cooling unit. In fact, it would consume less energy than a typical light bulb.

In cooled seats with a cooling element that produces refrigerated air, the cooling element might be located in the seat or the car’s larger air-conditioning system. These cooling units work on a compression, condensation, expansion cycle, just like any typical air conditioner. 

In a closed loop, a gas (Freon, but now more commonly hydrofluorocarbon) is compressed and then condensed to cool into a liquid. Air is blown past the cold liquid in the loop and thus is also cooled. The heated liquid then is turned back into a gas and the process repeats.


Ventilated Seats

Cooled and ventilated seats both help cool you, the only difference is ventilated seats only use unrefrigerated air. As their name suggests, ventilated seats also have multiple fans and ducts inside the seat cushion and backrest to circulate air. Some systems use these fans to blow air toward the occupant through tiny perforations in the upholstery, while others suck air into the seat.

With ventilated seats, you often can adjust the force of the air on top of turning the feature on or off. In some models, like the Chevrolet, you can set the ventilated seats on auto, so that they turn on when the cabin temperature reaches a level that you previously pre-set. In other cases, when it is hot outside, the ventilated seats will turn on when the remote start is used.

Where You Can Find Them

Heated and cooled seats have become a common feature in automobiles for quite some time. You can expect to find these features in most models after 2015, either as a standard feature or as a trim level add-on. Note that you might find cooled seats listed as “ventilated seats”, so read further to find out whether they use refrigerated air, if that’s what you want. 

Meanwhile, ventilated seats are a rarer luxury feature. You’re more likely to find this comfort feature in high-end models like the Audi A4, Lexus ES 350, and BMW 540i. Ventilated seats are also offered in some non-luxury models, albeit in higher trims, such as the Toyota Camry XLE, Honda Civic Hatchback, Subaru Outback and Crosstrek, Hyundai Tucson and Sonata, and Ford Mustang Escape.

If you need more than heated, cooled or ventilated seats to survive driving in extreme heat or cold, there are also models out there that offer these comfort seats along with a heated or ventilated steering wheel as well as other heated interior features. 

But do note that although these comfort features have become a mainstay over the years, the technology and execution of this feature differ from one manufacturer to another. Many car buyers have complained about their ineffective heated or cooled seats, and once you have already bought the vehicle, there’s nothing you can do about it. Therefore, do your homework, and take the time to browse through the reviews. 

Other Temperature-Regulating Options For You

As mentioned above, heated seats are the most common feature among the bunch. So you can add them on if your car doesn’t come with one, and most installations will cost under $500 per seat.

While you cannot get cooled seats installed to your vehicle, one affordable solution for hot weather is to buy air-conditioned seat cushions that plug into your car’s electrical system. Many car manufacturers offer them for models without cooled or ventilated seats. This method is less permanent, thus you can bring it along from vehicle to vehicle. These cushions have built-in fans and sometimes cooling units. A plus is they don’t consume a lot of energy.