The best way to have the best control over your car is to have the seat and steering wheel in the right position for you. This might not necessarily be the right position for other people that drive the car, but you shouldn’t compromise as having the correct seat position will mean you are less tired after long journeys, have better visibility in your blind spots and reduce your risk of injury in an accident.
How to set the seat position
Depending on your type of car you will have either manual, electric or a combination of seat adjustment means.
Manual seat adjustments
This bar at the front of the seat allows you to slide it forwards and backwards by pulling it up. Some cars have a smaller bar or loop on the left or right only.
On the side of the seat you will often find a lever or a rotating dial that adjusts the pitch of the seat (i.e. the angle of the seat back), and the height of the seat. Moving the seat downwards often also moves it back slightly.
Electric seat adjustments
More expensive cars tend to have full electric control of the seats which will adjust the angle of the seat squab, the forward/backward position, the height, length, amount of lumbar support and lateral support, and headrest height.
Mixed seat controls
The controls above show a mix with the seat back and height being manual, but lumbar and lateral support, plus forward and backward being electric. As seat motors are heavy and more expensive than manual methods, you’re less likely to find fully electric seats in sports cars where weight saving is a priority, or in budget cars where price is important.
Moving the seat to the right position
Start with the seat height (if you have it) as this tends to adjust the forwards and backwards position of the seat. To an extent, this is personal preference and depends mostly on your height – short drivers will need to have the seat higher. If the seat is too high then your head could brush against the roof, and if the seat is too low then you reduce your visibility. The only advantage of having your seat low is that it makes it slightly easier to feel what’s going on in the car because you have a lower centre of gravity, but if you’re not a racing driver then this won’t matter. If you have your seat too high you might find it difficult to see out of the rear window. If you’re not sure where to put it, put it about half way.
Now we can adjust the forwards/backwards position. Move it to where you can push the accelerator (and clutch, if relevant) down all the way without having to move forwards in the seat. With your right leg you should be able to push the brake hard. If your knees hit the steering column (underneath the steering wheel), move the seat back; if you can’t reach the full travel of the pedals, move the seat forward.
Once you’ve got this basic position you can adjust the seat’s back. Setting it too upright will not be comfortable, while setting it too far back will mean that your arms are too straight for the steering wheel and your blind spots increase in size because you are lower in the car. Now check if you can reach the gearstick easily. In some cars, having your seat too far forward will mean your elbow will bang on the seat when you try to change gear.
To fine-tune the seating position we also need to get the steering wheel in the right place.
Setting the steering wheel position
Your face should be at least 25cm from the steering wheel to avoid injury to you if the airbag deploys.
If you have a car that doesn’t have steering wheel height or rake (forward/backward) adjustments, then you need to work on your seat position to get it right. If you can adjust the steering wheel then bring the height up so that your knees don’t touch it while braking or using the clutch, and you can see the instruments through it. If your knees touch the steering column then you are at risk of injuring them badly if you have an accident.
If you have a Honda Civic like this, getting the right steering wheel position can be challenging as the instruments are split.
Then bring the steering wheel towards you so that when you sit with your arms outstretched, the heels of your hands rest on the top of the steering wheel. This means that your arms will be slightly bent when you grasp the steering wheel in the 10-to-2 or quarter-to-3 positions.
Other seat position adjustments
The headrest should always be left in as it will protect you from whiplash if you are hit from behind. If you need to adjust the height there is a button on the collar, or you might have electric adjustment.
The lumbar control and lateral controls are your preference.
If your seat tilts forwards or backwards, adjust this to where it feels comfortable. Shorter drivers might find that the seat tilting slightly forwards is more comfortable.
Now do a final check:
- Heels of your hands rest on the top of the steering wheel
- You can push the clutch and accelerator all the way to the floor
- Your knee doesn’t hit the steering wheel when you go for the brake
- You can see all the instruments (speedo, etc)
- Can you reach the gearstick
Seat belt height
Most cars have a height adjustment for the seat belt. Make sure it’s comfortable for you.
Storing your seat position
Many cars have memory functions to store seat positions. If yours has it, it’ll look something like this:
Some of them can be stored with the key, so if you have your key it will adjust to your settings when you get in, and if your partner has the other key it can remember his or her settings.
While the whole setup sounds complex when you read it the first time, once you’re used to it you can set up your seat in less than 20 seconds.
Once you have set up your seat, you need to set up your mirrors properly. Click here to read our guide to setting wing mirrors.
Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.