Car Care

How to Fix a Broken Car Seat Adjuster

When you can’t adjust your car’s seat, it can cause a multitude of problems. You might be simply uncomfortable but it can also affect your posture, spine health, how well you’re able to control the car, and even how the seat belt fits.

The mechanism might seem complicated, especially since there are so many ways different cars design adjusters. But there are a few things that are similar on each model. 

First and foremost, always check your car’s manual and warranty before trying to fix anything yourself. Some cars have specific troubleshooting issues that are solved right there in the manual.

Whether your car has a manual or electronic operation for the seat adjuster mechanisms, one of the most common reasons they stop working is physical obstruction. 

Check every part of the seat, the adjuster buttons, and levers. Clean everything, look for things wedged in/under the seat, and then try adjusting without anyone sitting in the seat. For electric cars, you’ll also want to check for a slight hum that tells you the motor for the mechanism is still working. 

Check Mechanisms For Other Problems

It’s not always a simple fix and there are a lot of smaller mechanisms that you’ll need to go through before finding out which one is the problem. Here are some of the things you can do to explore the mechanisms and fix the car seat adjuster. 

Physical Obstructions

Most manual seat adjusters operate by pushing or pulling a bar or lever located under the seat. If this part of the seat is not adjusting or seems stuck. Look for things under the seat that might be stopping it from moving.

Move the seat back as far as possible. Open the door on the side where the seat is and shine a light underneath the seat. Move the light into every part to find out if there’s anything there that’s obstructing movement. 

Electronic seat adjusters use buttons or sliding levers on the side or door. You should still perform the same maneuver as you would for a manual seat adjuster but you should also check every button and lever. If there’s dirt or something obstructing the button from being pushed, the seat adjuster won’t work properly. 

Other obstructions might include things in the track that the seat moves on, wedged in between the seat cushion and seat back, or in the back of the seat where the mechanisms for the recliner are. Use a bright light to check all of these spaces. 

Check the Tracks Where the Seat Adjusts

In addition to physical obstructions, both manual and electronic seat adjusters work on tracks. The seat has small wheel mechanisms that move along these tracks to adjust the seat. These are usually also present on the recliner mechanism, but small and curved. 

First, check that the seat is actually on the track. If it’s come off for any reason, pressing buttons or moving levers won’t make it move. Getting the seat back on the track could be a two-person job or something you’ll need a professional to handle. Be careful of fingers near the tracks and wheel mechanism where the seat will reconnect. 

To fix the recliner mechanism that may have fallen off the track, you’ll have to find the space where it is. In some cases, it’ll be on the side. In other cars, it may be in the back. Some recliner mechanisms don’t run on a track. Further troubleshooting for this instance is detailed below. 

Look for Disconnected Levers

Many cars use lever mechanisms for the recliner part of the car seat adjuster. The back of the seat or the side would be where this piece is located. Use a light to find the piece and check for disconnections.

If you see disconnected cables or other mechanisms, reconnect them and then check the car seat adjuster buttons for the recliner. If it works, you’ve reconnected the right part. If it doesn’t, there may be other disconnected levers or other issues. 

In older or manual cars that use the bar or lever in the front to adjust the seat, it may be harder to check for a disconnected lever. You should be able to tell if the lever is loose by just pushing it down and checking for too much give on the lever. 

Removing the Seat for Difficult Repairs

Older cars that have car seat adjuster mechanisms under the seat may need to have the seat removed in order to do the necessary repairs. If possible, move the seat back as far as it will go. You should see bolts where the seat is attached to the floor of the car. Use a socket wrench to remove the bolts. Not all are the same size so you’ll have to figure out which size socket wrench works for the bolts on the seat of your car. 

Once the bolts are removed, you should be able to lift the seat out or at least tilt it back to access the bottom of the seat. Be careful of any electronic connections before removing the seat completely. Be sure to do your repair in a well-lit area so that you can clearly see what you’re doing. Check for all the same things you would have with the seat in the car, then go back into the car and check the tracks and the space where the seat was. 

Cars with electric seat adjuster mechanisms may have a more complicated process for seat removal. In these cases, it is usually more prudent to tilt the seat back to access the underside instead of completely removing it. 

Why Is It Important to Fix the Car Seat Adjuster?

You might think it’s easier to just endure the discomfort and leave the car seat adjuster broken but this is a bad idea. It’s not only about your (or your passengers’) discomfort but also about safety. Some things that can be compromised if you don’t have your car’s seat properly adjusted are:

  • Seat belt integrity: if your seat belt doesn’t fit the way it should, it won’t protect you in the event of an accident. 
  • Airbag effectiveness: An improperly adjusted seat could result in serious injury if a situation happens that deploys the airbags. 
  • Your spine health: If the car seat cannot be adjusted to support good posture and you spend a lot of time in the car, you could end up with serious injury to your spine over time. 
  • Your control of the car: If your car seat is not adjusted properly, you may not be able to reach the gas and brake pedals to control them effectively. You also may not be able to control the steering wheel safely. 

An easy fix can turn into something much worse if you don’t check a problem when you first notice it. You might only need to clean a track or remove an obstruction but if you let it go, you could end up having to replace an expensive part or change out the seat entirely. 

The Comfort of Your Passengers

While your discomfort may not bother you and while you can decide for yourself that you accept the consequences that come with a poorly adjusted seat, you can’t say the same for your passengers. Imagine getting into someone else’s car and feeling uncomfortable and unsafe because you can’t adjust the seat. Do you want to make your passengers feel that way?

If you’re transporting other people, especially if they’re children, you’re liable for their safety while they’re riding in your vehicle. You’ll want to be sure that everything about your car, including your car seat adjuster, works properly so that the ride is as safe as possible. 

When to Call a Professional

After you try all of these troubleshooting techniques your car seat adjuster is still broken. Or if you go through the list of issues and find something that is beyond your skills to fix safely. Don’t try to do things you’re unsure about or that scare you. Everyone has different knowledge, tools, and limits. Know your own before you start this project. 

If your warranty warns against this type of DIY repair, call the number in your manual for the warranty and find out if it’s allowed before you start. You could end up repairing the car seat adjuster and then find out your warranty is void when you need a bigger repair down the line. 

Check all recalls on your car online before you decide to do any repairs. If any part of the car seat adjuster was recalled before it broke in your car, you’ll be able to get it fixed for free.

All in all, trust your gut when it comes to safety for yourself and your car. This is a skill that most people can learn pretty quickly and, when you do, you’ll feel great that you got it done and that your car seat adjuster works every time.  You may be interested in our post about how to fix a stuck car seat

Welcome to my car seat blog! As a mom of 3, I put together with other hard-working moms a highly informative one-stop car seat resource, full with many reviews and buyer guides. I hope you find it invaluable. Thank you for trusting me & my team! - Keren