Driver Seat Comfort problems: back pain and leg pain
SIX MONTH UPDATE: With these mods the car is much more comfortable. I can drive it for 2 hours at a time with no prob - esp with the cruise control on the highway. Every one of the mods is essential to me.
I am 6:1 but I've seen people much bigger than me fit just fine. It's very personal. Overall, I wish I had a more comfortable car, but it's the only problem I have with the Forester. I like being able to go off road and also cruise the highway. The worst car for me was the Honda CRV - a trip to hell. The best was the Toyota Venza & Rav4.
My Forester is a 2010 Premium. Itís about 2 months old and with 4.000 miles (bought on the clunker sale) I love everything about the Subaru EXCEPT the driverís seat. This is NOT a rant against Subaru or the dealer. It is hard to design a car to fit both Asian women and American men of all ages.
I am 58 years old, 6í1 and 235lbs. Like most men over 50 I have back pain. I also have neuropathy leg pain and nerve pain caused by both genetics and years hiking in mountains. I do a lot of distance driving, two 150-250 mile trips each week. I can walk well now and still go up to low level mountain trails. Thatís why I looked at a crossover. I owned a 93 Ford Explorer and a 95 Ford van before the Foz. Subaru has many drivers in my middle aged group.
This post will show how I have customized 8 areas of the driverís seat. I made sure nothing interfered with one of the airbags or sensors. It take less than 10 min to change it all back to stock. For now, the only area left stock are the head rests. There are threads on this board about how people have modified changed out these new head rests (gov. mandated) for the older ones. They donít cause me a problem. Also, the passenger seat is fairly comfortable as is for me.
AREAS OF DRIVERíS SEAT I HAVE CUSTOMIZED (see thumbnail pics)
1) Leg room & foot room Ė size 13 shoes often touch
2) Knee room Ė ouch! hard plastic on both sides of knees
3) Needs a telescoping steering wheel option Ė very costly to add
4) Needs real arm rests, not just the sliding console
5) Bottom of seat is uncomfortable, had to add 3 inches of cushion
6) Headrest - mine are fine Ė the only thing stock left in the seat
7) Power seat moves forward when raised higher. Why???
8) Emergency brake presses against the right leg while driving
Here are the modifications I have made to the driverís seat :
1) Not enough leg room. I have to put the power seat on the lowest setting to get more leg room. But, thatís far too low for me to drive, so I have to add over 2 inches of padding in the bottom of the seat. Wal-Mart sells a good wedge cushion to raise the back of the seat up. Sadly, cushioning works against my heated seats!
Any other seat position besides as low as the power seat will go is too short for my legs (I am 6:1) But, that makes the seat too low for me to see over the wheel easily. So, I raise the seat with cushioning. It is not perfect, but it works for now. Not much I can do about the total leg room. I put a post up here about moving the seat back about 2 inches. Most responders felt that would be impractical and unsafe. Maybe someone will figure out a safe method.
2) Needs more foot room. I wear size 13 shoes. My heels are seldom more than an inch apart. Iíve gotten them tangled a number of times while driving. For some reason the 2010 Foz becomes NARROWER at the feet. I cannot imagine why it is designed like this. Nothing I can do about it except to avoid wearing hiking boots while driving.
3) A telescoping steering wheel would be a good option. It comes with the Limited, but is very costly to install in a Premium. Most peopleís comfort complaints could be solved with a telescoping wheel. It is very hard on the shoulders and arms to hold them out on a long drive. A telescoping wheel gets the steering closer to you without sacrificing leg room. Itís very hard to have adequate leg room and also be able to reach the steering wheel. This is partly solved by the tall arm rests which I have added. It is not perfect, but drive able and my shoulders donít get so tired.
I also put a THICK wheel cover which gives me another half inch to grab onto. I really like the standard Foz steering wheel, but the large wheel cover brings the steering wheel closer.
4) Arm Rests! I will never buy another car without real arm rests (built into the seats, not a shared console) I like to rest my elbows while driving and the arm reaches and lack of a telescoping steering wheel make it impossible to hold the wheel safely. My shoulders get very tired on long drives without arm rests (womenís arms are shaped differently and may not need an arm rest as much as a man.) Most men who drive distances like arm rests.
The left arm rest is part of the a boat seat (firm cushioning) covered with a black sock and held on with Velcro. I made mine 5 inches high. The right is only 4 inches high. The stock left arm rest is one inch higher than the right. This can throw your spine out of balance. The arm rests Iíve made are equal heights.
The right arm rest is made from a stadium cushion plus cushion from an old boat seat. It wedges into the ďarm restĒ console area very well. It also adds about 3 inches of height which the arm rest needs. Earlier Subarus sold an arm rest extension which also raised the height. That is built into the 2010 Foz, but itís lower and also slides backwards all the time, which is very annoying.
My wife drives the car sometimes and can just pull these pads out if she wants. Same with the left arm rest. Itís only held down by Velcro and can be easily pulled up if she does not want to use it. It raises my arms so that I can both rest my elbow and almost comfortably reach the steering wheel at the 9 and 3 0íclock positions. I will never buy a car without an arm rest built into each seat. I like to rest an elbow and still be able to reach the steering wheel. This is doable with most cars that have arm rests. Both the left arm rest and the left knee pad are covered with a size 13 black sock. It stretches, so it can be taped with duct tape to the door easier.
5) Lack of knee room with hard plastic on both sides. This almost made me sell it for a big loss. Iíve solved the problem by putting on volleyball knee pad on the left. It is held in place with duct tape. Not pretty on a 2010 car, but it makes it drive able, which it wasnít before. I donít know why all cars arenít made with padding where a guyís knees hit the sides unless they just want to cut corners on comfort.
The right side has been harder to pad. I tried taping computer mouse pads to where my knee touches the plastic when I drive. But, it did not give enough relief and pushed my right leg too far to the left. It made me use more muscles on the accelerator. This caused major aches my legs and feet after driving for about 100 miles. The plastic they use is rock hard but softer side padding would help with peopleís knee problems.
I found out that a new plastic center console is only $116. I also checked to see what was beneath it. There is a lot of space underneath, just a few wires and a computer senor right underneath the tray in the front of the console. About 4 inches away from the side wall of the console. Only 2 screws hold the console in (being the e-brake) . I popped out the old one, got out a hack saw and sawed off much of the plastic where my right knee hit.
I covered the 8 inch cut out section with duct tape and several computer mouse pads. I can now rest my right leg in a comfortable driving position similar to what I had in the old Fords. Itís also as secure as it was before. Not pretty, but drive-able and I donít get cramps in my legs on long drives with the extra inches of knee room. I can comfortably rest my right knee while long driving distances. I can replace it with a new console cover in 5 minutes.
(has anyone fainted yet? I know this sounds like mutilation to some people, but those extra inches of soft padding for my knee makes the difference in being drive able for me.)
6) The bottom of the seat needs more cushioning. This is partly to raise myself up since I have the seat as low as it will go to get max leg room. I have three $12 Walmart wedge cushions to raise it up and tilt it forward. Wal-Martís wedge cushions also have a good tailbone dent and even fit well one on top of another. I canít use the seat heater with the cushions, but I donít live in a cold climate anyway. Iíve yet to find a good solution to the need for more seat cushioning. I donít want to change the car too much because I will sell it someday.
7) Power Seat Goes Forward when raised and backward when lowered. You might not have noticed this, but if you have a power seat get out of the car and raise and lower it without sitting in it. I fail to understand the design of this power seat. Why on earth would it more you forward when raising the seat and backwards when lowering it? We already have a control for bringing the seat forward! Iíve thought about swapping a different power seat out and live without the heater. But, I donít want to make modifications I canít quickly change back to stock when I sell the Foz.
8) Emergency brake hits the legs of larger drivers. I discovered a simple way to ease the pressure on the right knee. Put a volleyball knee pad over the emergency brake. It wonít interfere with operating the brake, but it will move your thigh and leg slightly over to the left, thus relieving the pressure on your right knee.
If anyone has better ideas for solving these problems, Iíd love to hear them. Iíve discovered that comfort during long distance driving is the most important feature in a car for me. The passenger seat (which is not powered) does not have these issues. I can comfortably ride in the passenger seat for hours.
You canít make a good judgment about a carís comfort on a short test drive. One poster here said to sit in a car for an hour. Thatís a good length of time to see if you are going to have any extra back pain driving it. Reviews are seldom written with us in mind Ė although most of you will join our ranks in the future. If you are over 40 chances are you have back or knee pain.
Some of these gripes are also more specific to men, our arms are shaped and hinged differently from women. In the US women are still the majority Subaru drivers. 40% of Subaru buyers pay cash. That means they are probably middle aged and older people, many of whom have back and leg pain.
Perhaps I should not have bought the Forester Ė or bought anything during the rushed Clunker sale. The selections were very thin in all popular brands. None of this is my dealerís fault, they are a good shop. They never pressured me in the sale and Iíd buy another car from them in the future. On paper the Subaru beats everything else in its class. But, after driving it for a month, and it not getting better, I decided to see what I could do to make the car more comfortable and driveable.
People tell me what Iíve done makes the interior look ugly, but I donít care about how it looks, but how it rides and if Iíve compromised the safety nearly as much as aching legs and shoulder muscles do. Iíve learned that the most important thing for me is to be comfortable on long distance drives and having good reaction time in case of an accident. Sore, tired muscles react slower.
A telescoping steering wheel option would help a lot with my, and otherís seat problems. The Forester Limited has a telescoping wheel, but I understand the price of getting one for my Forester Premium would be huge. I also have the power seat, which has been a disappointment. For some odd reason if you want to raise it higher, it also goes forward and reduces your leg room. Bizarre. If the seat went straight up or down it would be a lot better.
Car designers have to accommodate a wide range of human body sizes. Iím actually impressed they do it so well. One poster on this blog speculated that the driverís seat went forward enough to accommodate a 4.5 tall person. Thatís about the average size of middle aged Japanese women. But, many buyers in the US are men around 6 feet tall. I question if that wide a range of customers can really work as those customers age and start having more aches and pains.
The Subaru Forester blog (which I really appreciate) has some good discussions about seat comfort. If you have problems with your head rests do a search on that term. If you have problems with your back do a search for ďback painĒ. There is one really long thread called ďseat comfortĒ. If Subaru designers would do one thing to make the driverís seat more comfortable, it would be padding where a guyís knees touch what is now hard plastic.
Thanks for reading all of this!
The Green Monster
2010 Forester 2.5x Prem/Weather
Last edited by storiesbysteve; 04-09-2010 at 11:24 PM.
Reason: make a better title