While custom cars commonly see aftermarket additions for performance and overall appearance, only a handful of applications call for the addition of aftermarket seats. In some cases, the seats are replaced with something more comfortable. This is seen in classic cars fairly often, but more modern cars may have the seating upgraded to parts from a higher-spec version of the same model of car.
For instance, someone building a hotrod may buy a plain, cushioned bench seat, while someone restoring an older Mercedes may replace a bench seats with bucket seats that were available as an option from the factory. In other cases, seats are needed for safety reasons. In high-performance cars made for track use, supportive sports seats help to keep the driver in place around corners and in a wreck. In off-road vehicles, shock-absorbing yet supportive seats help protect the spines of the occupants while holding them in place, even at high angles.
No matter the reason, finding the right seats and having them installed can be an overwhelming experience for a first-timer. Luckily, following a few simple steps can get the job done without any hassle.
Part 1 of 3: Define what you need from your new seats
Step 1: Define what you will be doing with your car. Match your interests and lifestyle to your car.
If your car is going to be seeing more paved roads than racetracks or trails, then the seats you should be looking for are going to be less extreme and purpose-built, yet more comfortable and practical than the alternative. Being honest with yourself at this point will lead to the best result in the long run.
If you are going to be driving aggressively, you should avoid excessively cushioned luxury seats. If you are going to be doing local autocross competitions and only a few track days, then you probably don’t need FIA, (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile), certified racing seats.
If you are going to be driving on tracks that require FIA certified seats, then you will definitely not be as comfortable as you would with less hardcore seats.
Step 2: Decide on a reasonable budget. The cost of the seats themselves will dwarf the amount it costs to get them installed.
The most expensive seats are made with carbon fiber, so someone with a lower budget may want to look at quality fiberglass seats that will perform similarly.
Step 3: Decide on the number of seats. Decide if you need one, two, or four sport seats when making your budget for the project.
Usually off-road vehicles are the only type to use four sport seats. Having the upholstery custom-made can be expensive, but if the aesthetic impact of your vehicle is important to you, then it may be the only option.
- Tip: Do not cheap out on the seats; they are the one thing that all of the other safety measures in the car rely on to work properly.
Part 2 of 3: Find the seats you need for your car
Step 1: Define your needs. Keeping the budget and desired uses in mind, define what you need from your seats.
After deciding on all of the important factors in seat selection, you can shop around and decide on exactly what seats you need. Autocross enthusiasts who want support without the cost and impracticality of FIA certified seatsmay consider buying something similar to the NRG FRP-310, which offer a sporty feel with an extremely fair price.
Nice, carbon fiber sport seats without FIA certification do exist, and a good option for those is the Seibon Carbon. For budget-minded track drivers who need their seats to conform to FIA standards, the Sparco Universal Sprint is a great entry-level option.
A track-oriented driver with a higher budget may opt for a pair of Bride Zeta seats, which combine high-end comfort with racing pedigree. Off-road enthusiasts will have a good number of options as well, but the standard starting point is the Corbeau Baja, which is available in a number of different trim levels.
These are just a few examples, but there are a number of reputable brands like Recaro, Bride, Cobra, Sparco, and Corbeau that offer reliable and widely available sports seats in every spec imaginable.
Step 2: Look at shops near you that sell and install sport seats. Shops will often be able to get you a better deal because they want you to both purchase and install the seats there.
Shops usually have staff knowledgeable in various aftermarket seat options, so talking to specialists may guide your judgement before purchasing seats. If you need parts to be repaired or modified in the future, it is good to have rapport with a local shop that had already worked on your car.
Step 3: Cover all of the other interior details. There are always more things to be done when your are installing aftermarket seats in your car.
Make sure you have all of the pieces you need so you don’t have to repeatedly take things apart to install new items. Carpet may need to be cut away to mount the new seats. Removing a factory seat will usually leave you with a few extra wires that need to be taken care of.
When you are prepping a car to race, you may need to install other items along with seats, like a racing steering wheel or a roll cage.
Part 3 of 3: Have the racing seats installed
Step 1: See if you can install the seats yourself. Seats that were factory options often replace the old seats without much hassle; installing them yourself would save time and money.
- Tip: If your seats require aftermarket hardware to be installed, then you should have a professional install them in your car.
Step 2: Find local shops that install aftermarket seats. If you bought your seats online or secondhand, then you have to find shops that can do the installation properly.
Look online for shops, then search around for customer feedback on those locations to see how the overall experience will go for that particular shop.
Once you have a shop that looks promising, check it out before committing to anything. If it looks good, tell them that you need aftermarket seats installed. If their quote fits your budget, then go ahead and have the seats installed.
Installing an aftermarket seat is an easy way to improve the overall quality and feel of your car, giving it that extra touch it needs. If you have any questions about the process of finding or installing new seats, Ask a Mechanic for some quick and helpful advice.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as How to Choose and Install Specialty Car Seats and was authored by Ian Swan.