When you first find out that a car has heating elements in the seats, you probably think "what a great idea for chilly weather in the fall and winter time." However, if you ask an owner of a newer car that features said seat heaters, they'll tell you that the heat function doesn't just warm you up on a cool fall day, the heat also makes for a great therapeutic treatment as well. Many people with sore backs (either from age or from too many hours in a classic Ford seat) will benefit from adding seat heaters, as well. We've used the seat heaters in rental cars numerous times over the years to help with back pain on a long drive or even to keep us more alert late at night. Now you can have the same OE-style seat heaters in your classic Ford thanks to Distinctive Industries.
1. The seat heater kit from Distinctive Industries features seat back and seat bottom heating elements, a full wiring harness with three-position switch, and installation accessories like tie wraps, foam tape, and more for two seating locations. Each kit does one seating position.
2. To install the heating elements, the seats will require removal, as the upholstery will need to be partially removed. For the front bucket seats, the retaining nuts are accessed through these floor pan holes under the car. Adding seat heaters to the rear bench seat is an option as well, if you often carry passengers.
3 After removing the four ½-inch retaining nuts (per seat), the seats can be removed and transferred to a suitable work location.
4. Tackling the seats as separate back and bottom assemblies will make things easier. Remove the seat side shield/pivot trim to access the seatback pivot pins. You’ll find a pair of lynch pins (or sometimes cotter pins if the original pins are lost) that need to be removed so that the seatback and seat bottom can be separated.
5. With the seatback and bottom separated, we set the base aside to work on the seatback first. Use a trim panel tool to remove the seatback’s rear trim panel to access the upholstery’s hog rings.
6. You may or may not need to remove all of the seat upholstery’s hog rings. A lot depends upon your seat type and how you wish to install the heating element. The easiest way to remove the old hog rings is with a pair of hog ring cutters, but barring that, you can use a good pair of side cutters or twist them out with pliers.
7. Placing the heating element over the loosened upholstery will determine if the heating element needs to be trimmed to length (you can shorten the element by cutting it across the top). For this ’65 base seat upholstery, the element’s length is perfect as is for the seatback.
8. We’ve found that for the seatback heating element there was enough room between the foam cushion and the upholstery to simply slide the heating element into place; adjusting the position of the element as needed to center its position. Ensure the heating element’s wire harness is at the bottom of the seatback.
9. After positioning the heating element, the paper backing for the adhesive tape that comes pre-installed can be removed. Grasp the backing at one end and carefully pull it to the opposite end of the heating element.
10. Apply pressure to the heating element along its edges as shown to help secure the adhesive edges to the seat foam on each side of the element.
11. The wire harness that is at the bottom of the heating element will need to be routed to the inside edge of the seatback. Ensure the harness does not get pinched or is not too close to the frame where it might get caught up in hog ring installation.
12. To reinstall the upholstery, you’ll need new hog rings and a pair of hog ring pliers. Eastwood offers both a straight-nose and bent-nose hog ring pliers and hog rings in packs of 100.
13. You shouldn’t have any trouble positioning the upholstery back to its original location and using the original hog ring holes as a guide to secure the upholstery back to the seatback frame.
Distinctive Industries, known for decades for its classic Mustang and Ford interior upholstery products, offers carbon-fiber seat heaters (PN 061001, $59.97 each at Summit Racing at the time of publication) that can be installed during a new upholstery job or added to an existing interior with a minimum of fuss. The seat heater kit includes a seat back and seat bottom carbon fiber heating element, a preconfigured wiring harness, an illuminated dual position switch (high/low temperature), and mounting instructions for most vehicles. Installation requires removal of your seat upholstery but it can be handled by most home installers. If you've recovered a set of seats before and can handle basic electrical work (connecting power and ground and mounting the switch), you can handle installing your own seat heaters. A set of hog ring pliers and some replacement hog rings will be required as well.
14. Moving on to the seat bottom, the seat tracks will need to be removed in order to access the hog rings for the upholstery removal. Retract the seat track sliders fully to remove the seat track spring. Then remove the four Phillips head screws retaining the two track assemblies.
15. Like the seatback, you may not need to remove all of the hog rings to install the heating element. Unfortunately, when we pulled the upholstery back, we found a broken seat frame. A little hammer work and a quick pass with a MIG welder got it serviceable.
16. The heating element length for the seat bottom needed to be trimmed to length. Placing the heating element over the seat bottom, it was easy to determine where the element needed to be trimmed (at the listing wire under the upholstery where we’re pointing).
17. After installing the seat bottom heating element in the same manner as the seatback element we installed earlier, the upholstery can be returned to its original position. When installing the seatback adjuster stop, be sure the heating element is positioned behind the seat frame and not over it so that the two retaining screws do not damage/short the heating element.
18a. Assemble the seatback and seat bottom together, and then make a small incision in the seat bottom upholstery at the inside corner for the seatback wiring harness to pass through.
18b. This will allow you to connect it to the seat bottom harness.
19. Bolt the seat back into the car and connect the seat heater harness to the pigtail coming from the seat bottom. Some of the connectors are the same on the heating element kit, but if you take a second to verify wire color, you’ll see which connectors go with which.
20. The seat heater harness requires just two simple wire connections to your vehicle—power and ground. The power lead can be connected to a switched or constant power source. It’s your choice, but a switched source means you won’t have to worry about forgetting and leaving the heaters on. The kit includes a fuse holder with fuse pre-installed as well.
21. The last step of the installation is to determine where to mount the heater switch. As shown by this profile photo, the switch does require approximately an inch and half of depth for the switch wiring that is soldered in place.
22. The owner of this ’65 had a small homemade custom console between the front buckets that had two cup holders and a single DIN stereo. The owner wanted to install the switches into the top of the console just behind the radio. A drill bit made quick work of the required mounting holes.
23. The heater switch is retained by friction tabs on the switch body itself. Simply push the switch into the mounting hole and connect the switch pigtail to the main seat heater harness. The switch has a low (green LED) and a high (red LED) position. For console mounting like this the included switch extension harness is not needed and can be disconnected from the main harness.
24. After repeating the installation steps for the driver-side front seat, the complete installation took us about five hours, so give yourself a full afternoon for your project. One of the most time consuming portions of the project will be determining where to mount the switches. Console mounting (be it stock or a custom unit like this) is the most popular location, however, the dash or glovebox are alternatives. You can also make a small mounting plate for the switches for the bottom edge of the dash.