How to Fix A Car Seat That Won’t Stay Up

Car seats are designed to withstand extreme forces and weight so that they can support occupants and provide protection in case of an accident. Most of the time, they are the last item on your car that you expect to go bad. But, life happens. The car seat recliner mechanism may go bad, leaving you wondering how to fix a car seat that won’t stay up.

You may have slept on the seat for way too long in its reclined position. Or maybe, you got involved in a car accident that ruined the seats. Whatever the case, if your car seat won’t lock in place, you’ll be left with no support. To fix the problem, you’ll need to inspect it carefully to figure out how it works.

Car seat mechanism: How do car seats work?

The most common types of seats that you’ll find in most cars are referred to as “4-way adjustable seats.” This means that the seat can be moved forward/backward and reclined up/down.

A “6-way adjustable seat” on the driver’s side works the same way as the “4-way” seat with the added ability to adjust the height up/down.

An “8-way adjustable seat” works the same as the “6-way” with the option of adjusting the lumbar up/down. This means that you can change where the seat hits your lower and upper back.

A “10-way adjustable seat” allows you to do everything an “8-way seat” does including the ability to move the front part of the seat up/down.

If your driver’s seat won’t recline or you have a power seat stuck in recline, it means the car seat recliner mechanism isn’t working. You may have a stuck manual car seat, a damaged car seat adjustment knob, or a broken car seat back. Here’s how to fix a car seat that won’t stay up whether you have manual or power seats.

How to fix a car seat that won’t stay up

What you’ll need:

  1. Digital multimeter
  2. Test light

Solution 1: How to fix an electric car seat that won’t stay up

If you have a power car seat that won’t stay up, chances are there’s a problem with the wiring that goes to the seat. This is especially if all other seat functions also don’t work.

You’ll need to check the power and ground and test them. If only one function is not working, such as the recliner, you’ll need to test that particular circuit, fuse, and circuity breaker.

Step 1: Test the circuit breaker

Test relay

The circuit breaker is located in the junction box right next to the brake pedal. Remove it for testing. Set your digital multimeter to the Ohms setting and probe the terminals of the circuit breaker. Getting a reading shows that the breaker is working fine.

If you get an “OL” reading, this means that the circuit is open. You can confirm this by reinstalling the circuit breaker into the car and listening to the sound it makes. If it makes a clicking sound, it’s most likely opening up due to a break in the circuit.

This can be narrowed down to a wiring problem. You may also notice the circuit breaker getting extremely hot. This is still a wiring problem that indicates there’s too much load going through the circuit.

Step 2: Check the fuse

You can find the fuse related to your power seats inside the fuse box under the dash. Check the fuse chart under the fuse box cover, your owner’s manual, or online to confirm its location.

Once you find it, remove it and give it a physical inspection. A blown fuse usually has a break in the wire that’s inside. Other signs include charring and discoloration.

Since a bad fuse can still look as good as new, it’s best to test it using a test light to confirm if it’s working. Connect your test light to the negative battery terminal and probe the contacts on the fuse while the latter is plugged in. No light means that the fuse is bad.

Fuses don’t just blow on their own. It’s normally a sign that something else is wrong in the circuit. You’ll need to continue diagnosing the electricals to trace the problem.

Step 3: Test the power seat connector

How to Fix A Car Seat That Won’t Stay Up

Find the main connector that goes to the seat. It’s usually located underneath. Move the seat forward to gain access to it from the back. Check if the connector is loose, has popped off, or if it’s corroded.

If it looks fine, disconnect it and test for power and ground. The ground wire is either black or brown while the power wire (positive wire) has a bright color such as red. Both wires are also usually thicker since they power the motor.

Connect one end of the test light to the ground terminal and the other end to the positive terminal. The test light will light up if the connector is delivering power to the seat motors.

Step 4: Check the seat motors

How to Fix A Car Seat That Won’t Stay Up

For this step, you’ll need to remove the seat using a ratchet and socket set of the appropriate size and tip it over. Have the main connector plugged into the seat for this test.

A typical power seat has about 4 motors. Two control the seat’s forward and backward movement while the other two control how it reclines up/back. The more functions the seat has, the more motors it will have.

There are two wires for power and ground that go to each motor. Disconnect the power connectors for testing. Pick a test light, connect one end of the test light to one terminal and the other end to the other terminal.

Have someone move the seat switch. If the test light lights up, it means there’s current flowing to the motors.

If it doesn’t light up, there could be a problem with the switches and control knobs. In case everything checks out up to this point; the problem narrows down to the motor that controls the movement of the seat.

A car seat that won’t stay up or a power seat that won’t recline can be due to a bad motor that controls the reclining feature.

Step 5: Test the switches

How to Fix A Car Seat That Won’t Stay Up

The switches that control the movement of the seat are typically located on the right side of the driver’s seat and on the left in the case of the passenger’s seat. Remove the connector that goes to them and check for green corrosion.

If everything looks good, test to see if there’s power and ground using a test light just like in the steps before. This will help you confirm if the problem is with the switches or the motor.  

Procedure 2: How to fix a stuck manual car seat

Most manual car seats provide 4-way or 6-way adjustment. If you’re looking to fix a car seat that won’t stay up, you’ll need to understand how the reclining mechanism works. Unlike power seats, there are no electrical connections, buttons, switches, or wires.

Car seat recliner mechanism

The seat mechanism is made up of a lever, springs, stabilizer plate, and gears. When you pull the lever upwards, the gears disengage to allow the seat’s back to move forward. The movement of the seatback is enabled by a radial spring that exerts a torque or rotary force.

When you push on the seat with your back, the gears mesh back into place. A linear spring allows the lever to move back to its original location. The stabilizer plate holds the parts in place and provides the support needed to prevent unnecessary lateral movement.

When figuring out how to fix a stuck manual car seat or one that won’t stay up, you’ll need to remove the plastic panel that covers these parts and inspect them. Check for:

  1. Loose or broken lever
  2. Missing bolts
  3. Worn gears
  4. Deformed springs
  5. Bent parts that make contact

There’s a bit of engineering that goes into a manual car seat adjustment. If you can’t really get your head around the problem, it’s always a good idea to reach out to a professional. Many dealerships have an “upholstery guy” that handles all things seats. Reach out to them or a certified mechanic that you trust.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How do you remove a recliner seat handle?

Start by lifting the handle. Take a right-angled ‘pick’ and unclip the handle from where it’s secured. The clip is located underneath the handle on the backside. Be careful not to ruin the plastic by pulling too hard on the handle. It will slide right off once the clip is removed. You can slide the handle back to reinstall it.

How do car seat adjusters work?

Car seat adjusters allow the user to make rotational and linear adjustments to the seat. Rotational adjustment changes the angle of the backrest and seating part while linear adjustment changes the position of the entire seat either forward or backward.

These changes can be made either manually or electronically. Many cars provide additional functionalities including the ability to change the height of the seating part and what part of your back the backrest supports.

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Where is the power seat switch located?

You’ll find the power seat switches right below the seat. On your driver’s side, this will be on the right side of the seat. The power seat switches are located on the left-hand side of the passenger’s seat. They allow occupants to adjust the seat in different ways to improve comfort.

How much does it cost to fix a power seat switch?

A power seat switch costs between $15 and $300. This depends on the type of vehicle you drive, the year, and the location of the seat. Labor will cost you between $50 and $60 if you’d rather have a mechanic do the repair for you. All estimated costs are dependent on location and do not include taxes and fees.

How much is a seat motor?

A seat motor costs between $50 and $340. The cost depends on your car’s make, model, and year. Seat motors allow your power car seats to change according to your desired seating position. When they go bad, they’ll need to be replaced so that you can have the functionalities.  

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Can you put electric seats in any car?

You can replace your manual car seats with electric power seats for extra convenience. When picking the type of seats you want, go for those that have the control switches located on the seat itself rather than on the door. This will reduce the amount of work you need to do when running power and ground from a power source.

How much does it cost to replace car seats?

The cost of replacing all your car seats ranges between $500 and $2,000. This is the replacement cost for a 5-seat car. You get two bucket seats for the driver and front passenger and a bench seat for the back. The cost depends on the type of material you choose and for which vehicle model or make.