Let us talk for a second about aftermarket seats. For the sake of this article, I am speaking specifically about the driver seat. Even though the driver and passenger seats are usually identical, the occupant's perception of comfort can be drastically different between the two.
If the vehicle passed inspection from the factory, the driver should have a steering wheel, steering column, and pedals on their side. These obstacles are necessary and can cause slight distortion in how that person sits or how they must sit to drive the vehicle safely. The passenger area is typically free of obstacles which allow for more freedom of movement, leading to a better quality ride.
When most people car shop, the seats are not a deal breaker, and sometimes the comfort is overlooked. More times than not, people base their car buying decisions on looks, performance, capability, reliability, space for family, or other factors.
Stock vehicle seats usually fall into two categories. Like or dislike. Sometimes this is not known until after owning the car for a while or spending a decent amount of time in the seats for long durations. If you are fortunate enough to have your seats fall into the "like" category, that is great, and I am truly happy for you. For others, though, they have a rough road ahead of them (some pun intended).
By the time they realize their car seats cause them more discomfort than comfort, it is too late. They either have to sell their car (not a realistic option), add orthopedic seat covers, continually shift their bodies around or use other creative ways to alleviate some of the pain and make it through the drive.
This scenario is unfortunate because you spend so much time in that seat. Discomfort can cause an enjoyable driving experience to become a miserable one. It can lead to faster fatigue or unfocused driving which can become a serious safety concern.
To be fair, it is almost impossible for companies to make the perfect product that pleases everyone and this is especially true when talking about car seats. They may have spent lots of time and money engineering a seat that is well built and comfortable to most people but not to you or me.
I felt this way about my Toyota FJ Cruiser. They were sturdy, stout seats that were low maintenance and easy to clean, but uncomfortable, particularly on long drives. The longer the drive, the more frequent stops became so I could get out and stretch.
Like some of you, I learned to live with the pain and discomfort. I eventually accepted the fact that vehicle seats are just something that comes with a car and there was not much I could do about it...or was there?
Enter the world of aftermarket seats. This has become a large industry that caters to various facets of the motoring community. Companies make everything from luxury seats to fixed position seats and everything in between. Depending on the brand, type, and construction, the quality and price can vary.
Periodically I would jump on the internet and search for aftermarket seat options for the FJ. Several manufacturers offered great products, but at the end of the day, I decided it was not worth the money or time. That all changed when I was presented with an opportunity to pick up a set of Scheel-mann seats. They are a well known German company who has been manufacturing seats for many years. Their products have a great reputation and are in use all over the world.
I was put into contact with Toby Pond who is not only a representative of the company but also overseas the U.S. market (Scheel-mann USA). He explained the different variants, sizes, and options available with the seats.
He suggested I go with the Vario F model for both seats. For the driver seat, he recommended I go with the Vario F XXL. Since I am taller (6'4", 225 pounds) the larger seat would accommodate my body type better. The Passenger seat we decided on was the Vario F in their regular/standard size.
The Vario comes with side bolsters, four-way adjustable lumbar support and a release located on the backrest to allow the seat to lean forward. I added arm rests to both seats, integrated heating on the passenger seat and an adjustable bottom pan on the driver's seat.
These seats are just that. They did not come with mounting brackets. To make installation easier for me, Toby coordinated with Metal Tech 4x4 to make two sets of seat brackets that would still allow the use of the factory slide rail.
To make all of this even more interesting, we were pushing to have the seats and seat brackets made, shipped and in my hands before I left for a long road trip. At that point, we had about two weeks time to make that happen. Might not seem like a difficult goal to accomplish, but the seats were manufactured in Germany, and the seat brackets were being made in Oregon. To complicate things a little more, this was the first time Metal Tech 4x4 had made seat brackets like this for those seats.
It looked like we might miss the deadline to pull this off, but then everything came together at the last minute. By last minute, I mean the day before I left for an 8,500-mile road trip that would cover 15 states.
This was not a simple, quick install. The stock seats needed to be removed, disassembled, reassembled on the new brackets, mounted to the seats and then installed in the FJ. The installation process was slightly hindered by my need to leave the following day along with still needing to pack the vehicle. Did I mention a huge thunderstorm rolled through the area as I was removing the stock seats?
The icing on the cake came when I magically lost one of the star tool bits I was using to disassemble the stock seat brackets and slide rails. I somehow Houdini'ed that bit into nothingness. Since the seats were out and partially disassembled, I could not easily drive to the auto part store to buy a replacement. I was left with two options at that point.
I could either loosely assemble the stock seats and brackets so that I could go buy a new bit and start all over or drill the remaining bolts out, never being able to use them again and possibly causing irreversible damage to the stock seat brackets. After careful consideration, a little math and a cold beer, I opted to grab a power tool and go with plan B.
With only hours remaining before I needed to leave, plan B was a gamble. Drilling out the bolts meant there was no turning back, and the stock seats would be useless from this point forward. If I damaged the bracket while drilling out a bolt or was unsuccessful, the new seats could not be installed, making them useless. Meaning I would either have no front seats or would take a road trip sitting on buckets.
Before I knew it, the seats were done and installed in the FJ! From start to finish, I would estimate it took about 10 hours to complete. Under normal circumstances, I am sure installation could have been finished sooner, and I have no doubt that some of the setbacks I faced were caused by me being rushed.
Early the next morning I left southern Louisiana and drove straight through to Denver, CO. I was amazed at how much of an impact the new seats had on the driving experience. I felt more energetic and comfortable. I was not longing for stops to get out and stretch. I was enjoying the drive with little to no discomfort.
The main reason I headed up to Colorado was to attend FJ Summit X in Ouray. While there, several hundred people saw, felt and sat in the new seats. Their response was very positive. Some people did not realize how uncomfortable their seats were until they were sitting in the Scheel-mann seats.
Over the course of owning them, I was continually surprised how comfortable I was while driving. If my back began to hurt, I would make a few seat adjustments, and I was good to go. If I needed better support for my legs, I simply moved the bottom seat pan out some by turning the adjustment knob on the front.
The only area I would say these seats lacked in comfort was while sleeping in them. I found it challenging to find a comfortable position due to the lumbar support. Having said that, they were designed to provide better performance and comfort while driving, not sleeping.
I would estimate I logged about 25,000 miles in the Scheel-mann seats without any issues. I had them in the cold and snow of the north and the heat and humidity of the south without any noticeable discoloration or moisture damage to the fabric.
I did not baby the seats by any means. They got dirty, wet, had food dropped on them, had greasy tools laid on them, hundreds of people sat in them, slept in them and our 110-pound dog occasionally would sit in them. After all that, I did not see any signs of wear and tear on the leather or fabric.
The ultimate test for the seats and seat brackets came when I rolled the FJ on a snow covered highway in Ontario, OR. Even while we were hanging upside down, I was comfortable. Later Inspection of the seats and seat brackets showed they held in place without fail. I only observed one small tear in the leather side bolster of the passenger seat, which I believe was caused by broken glass from the windshield.
Both of the seats, with the additional add-ons, along with the seat brackets cost about $3,500. This is a costly investment no doubt, but it may be the most used and functional modification one can do.
In my opinion, these seats are a dramatic improvement over the stock seats and well worth the money. They are manufactured by a reputable company using quality materials.
Keep in mind, since people's bodies, tolerances, aches, and pains are different, what works for me might not work for you. I have sat in other aftermarket seats that I did not find comfortable, but others did. It is all about finding what is right for you. To me, the Scheel-mann seats were what I was looking for.
To learn more about Scheel-mann USA and their products, visit their website here: Scheel-mann USA
To learn more about Metal Tech 4x4 and their products, visit their website here:
Metal Tech 4x4
These seats have found a new home and in the process, helped raise money for charity! In May of 2017, with the support of Scheel-mann USA, Metal Tech 4x4 and Chitown 4x4, these seats along with another product were on display and up for action at Lone Star Toyota Jamboree in Texas, which is an off road event. All proceeds from the auction went to charity.
After these items sold, along with a contribution from Bourn Adventure, we were able to donate $1,500 to Team Overland, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping veterans.
To learn more about or donate to Team Overland, please click here: Team Overland
A special thanks to everyone involved who made this possible.
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The world is a large place, and life is short. Together, we can accomplish much more than we ever could alone.
Baker and Ashlie are the owners of Bourn Adventure. They enjoy traveling and meeting new people. Each of them has a different and unique background, which helps to shape their articles.