I’m looking at a used car that has massage seats. How do they work and do they really massage you?

massage seats

Massage seats in cars have been an option for more than a decade now. They use a system of air pockets that fill and deflate depending on the settings. And massage seats are gradually filtering down the chain so they’re now available on ever-smaller cars.

How do massage seats work?

They have a system of pockets beneath the seat’s cover. Within the seat there’s a small compressor that fills and deflates these various pockets with air. This gives the person in the seat the impression their back is being kneaded. Massaging systems are most commonly fitted in the seat backs but some have the massaging function in the seat base too.

There are buttons for the driver or passengers to control the massage function. In the back, these can be in the arm rest or on the door. If the massaging seat is in the front, the controls will probably be on the central screen.

They can usually control the intensity of the massage and the speed with a variety of combinations. For example, these might be slow and gentle, fast and gentle, slow and firm or fast and firm. The massaging seats only stay on for a pre-set amount of time, usually around 15 minutes.

Why do cars have massage seats?

Why not? The technology exists so car manufacturers decided it was a good idea to give their buyers the option of a slice of luxury. It also enables car makers to stand out from the crowd. Or it did before they all started offering it. And of course, car makers can charge a mark-up on the massaging seats.

They can also sell it as a safety and comfort benefit. Massaging seats will help blood flow to the back on longer journeys which in turn will prevent aches and pains and keep the driver alert.

What kinds of massage do they give?

This depends entirely on the car. The most luxurious from brands such as Bentley have five massages with 10 levels of intensity. It’s more usual for cars to have around three levels of intensity. You can usually adjust the speed of the rate of the massage and how firm it is.

Japanese brand Lexus, not unnaturally, claims the seats in its LS saloon (top) give a Shiatsu-style massage.

massage seats
The Volvo S80 was one of the first cars to have massage seats in 2008 (Picture©Volvo)

Do they work?

If you’ve got a bad bad, these are unlikely to be the answer. If you’ve ever been on one of those massaging chairs in a department store/airport/station, the ones in cars are nowhere near as effective. For our taste, they’re not firm enough. They might help keep the blood flowing near to the surface of the skin but they won’t iron out those stubborn knots in your back.

Do they break?

Everything breaks eventually. But there are two things to bear in mind. First, in our experience, these are a bit of a novelty that get used for a day or two, then are forgotten about. And if you’re buying a used car and the massage function doesn’t work, so what? It’s hardly a deal breaker and most certainly not an MOT failure.

A final thought: if you’re buying a car purely because it has a massage function, you probably want to change chiropractors/physios!

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