When it comes to winter-time driving, heated car seats, steering wheels, and side mirrors are some of the best modern automotive features.
Anyone who has gotten into their car on a cold day can appreciate the wonders of heated car seats. Certainly, those in northern states, who may experience long bouts of frigid temperatures, are even more likely to seek out the warmth of a heated driver’s seat. And as we dive into the depths of winter, it’s a hot topic – I just couldn’t resist – worth looking at more closely.
It’s not just heated seats folks may want to consider when it comes to keeping warm while driving in winter. These days, heating elements extend to the steering wheel, the side mirrors, the rear seats, and even the armrests on high-end vehicles. We’ll touch on each of these features below along with vehicles that offer them and aftermarket options for those looking to upgrade their current ride.
Heated seats have been around for decades, but their application has expanded dramatically since then to encompass a heated driver’s seat, the front passenger seat, and all the way into the third row on bigger SUVs. Early on, heated seats usually required leather upholstery, but these days a cloth-upholstered Subaru Legacy can be fitted with them.
Typically, these modern systems have three stages, or levels, of heat – low, medium, and high – selected via a console-mounted toggle switch. The Jeep Grand Cherokee is one of our favorite winter vehicles for a variety of reasons like heated front and second-row seats. Hyundai’s Palisade offers this plus a heated third row, which is a good way to spoil the kids.
Even full-size pickup trucks, which have long since transcended their utilitarian roots into full-blown luxury liners, are on board. In the Ford F-150, you can turn on the heated seats along with a massage function, and fold it back into what Ford calls “Max Recline” mode for ALL the comfort.
BMW recently attempted to move heated car seats into the burgeoning “Features on Demand” category by making them subscription based. The idea being that owners could pay for heated seats in the winter but turn it off in the summer. This experiment was a failure and BMW changed course, however, you can still enjoy heated armrests on the German automaker’s 7-Series sedan, which is a natural extension of warmed seats.
But what if you have a car like my 2016 Mazda 6 that doesn’t have heated seats and you live in a place like New Hampshire as I do? The cloth seats help, as they don’t feel as frigid as leather on a cold morning, but there is no shortage of aftermarket options should you require toasty buns. These aftermarket covers slide onto your existing seat, plugs into the cigarette lighter, and toasts said buns as needed.
What’s worse when climbing into an ice-cold car on a subzero morning – a frozen seat or a frozen steering wheel? I’d argue the steering wheel as you’re likely to have enough leg coverage to warm up on the quick side. But there’s no getting around the fact that driving requires having your hands on the wheel and there’s nothing worse than attempting to steer, press buttons, flip switches, and such with big, bulky gloves on.
Fortunately, heated steering wheels are a thing and though this feature has historically been found in higher-end vehicles, it continues to trickle down into the mainstream. Even the budget-friendly Nissan Sentra offers a heated steering wheel. It’s definitely a creature comfort to look for when shopping for a used car in the winter, but if you’re going the new route, there are lots to choose from with some caveats.
The main caveat is how much of a heated steering wheel is heated. Historically, Toyota has only placed the heating elements in the 10 and 2 locations on the steering wheel. This is nice if you still drive like you’re trying to pass your driving test.
Several brands, like Subaru, highlight the fact that this feature has 360° coverage, but if you can’t find that kind of language, just turn on the system to find out how much of the wheel gets warm. As with seat heaters, if you want to retrofit your car with a heated steering wheel, there are plenty of aftermarket options out there.
Aftermarket options slip over your existing steering wheel and plug into the cigarette lighter for power. One thing to be aware of with an aftermarket heated steering wheel cover is that the cord can get tangled in the steering wheel, so you may have to turn it on before driving and then turn it off to avoid a potentially dangerous situation.
We’ve covered how heating elements bring comfort to a cold car, but let’s not forget heated side mirrors. This handy feature won’t warm you up, but it will keep you safer and less irritated. On the irritation front, there’s nothing worse than finding a rock-hard coating of ice on your car’s exterior mirrors. Leave it there and your visibility goes to zero, but removing it requires the patience of a saint given the tiny confines of the ice-covered glass.
When those mirrors are heated, however, you can watch the ice and snow melt off much like the rear window operates when you turn on the defroster. As with these other winter-friendly features, heated side mirrors are available on everything from a Toyota Corolla to a Lexus LS 500. But it’s worth noting that the lowly side mirror has become a focal point of automaker engineering efforts, so keep an eye out for more than just heated side mirrors.
For example, a Honda Pilot Elite has this feature along with power-folding, auto-dimming, integrated turn signals, blind-spot monitoring system alerts, memory settings, and automatic reverse tilt-down on the passenger side.
Need more from your mirrors? The Buick Enclave offers a Tri-Shield logo light that projects from the side mirror onto the ground for better nighttime visibility. And how about the Hyundai Santa Fe with its blind-spot monitor that displays a live feed of what’s in your blind spots using cameras mounted on the side mirrors? The point is, heated side mirrors are just one aspect of an increasingly complex car system.
Just like our heated seats and steering wheels, heated side mirrors can be found on the aftermarket, making them the perfect addition to this list of the best winter car upgrades. These kits are essentially a heated pad that functions like a heated side mirror but for a fraction of the cost of systems that completely replace the side mirror with a heated unit.