What’s In A Seat: Active Headrests

As vehicles are becoming more advanced, we are finding technology where it never was before. Sometimes it is in plain sight, such as infotainment systems, GPS, and a head-up display. However, sometimes it is concealed in places one may not expect.

Let’s take a look at automotive seats, they do far more now than just provide a comfortable place to sit. Seats now may have an occupant classification system (OCS), airbags, haptic feedback (vibrating seats), or heated and cooled seats. These systems typically go beyond simple switches and relays and rely on control modules and computers to make them function.

Front headrests have been mandatory on vehicles in the USA since the late 1960’s. They offer a comfortable place to rest your head and provide a backstop to limit head travel in the event of a rear end collision. In recent years though, headrests have become more advanced and filled with technology.

A traditional headrest is of a fixed design, only offering height adjustments. Now some headrests have an active restraint function, meaning they will move and react in a rear collision. There are a number of ways active headrests function. Some active headrests use pyrotechnics to push the headrest forward to lessen rearward head travel. Others are mechanical, using springs, pressure plates, and levers to provide the controlled movement toward the occupant.

Some active headrests are able to be reset. The reset process for some is manual, while others reset automatically. Some pyrotechnic activated headrests may be reset with the installation of new cartridges, while others require replacement of the entire headrest assembly.

Advances in headrests go beyond increased safety. Some headrests are equipped with video screens for the rear seat passengers, and some have built in speakers for the front passengers. These will typically be part of the infotainment system.

Due to the complexity of these systems, many of the functions are computer controlled. This means that diagnostics and repairs are more in depth. However, this also means that DTCs may be set if there are any malfunctions. A scan tool will be required to pull these trouble codes and diagnose any issues.

It is important to know if a vehicle is equipped with these features, what parts are used in the system, and where they are located. This will enable you to check for proper operation to ensure a complete, safe, and quality repair.

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