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Junkyard Seat Swap

Posted in How To: Body Chassis on March 14, 2019
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The world is flush with sports analogies, most of them for round-ball sports. As lifelong and fully obsessed off-road enthusiasts we don’t get many of them, but as consummate cheapskates the terms “nosebleed seats” and “the cheap seats” aren’t lost on us. We can definitely relate, especially with the staggering cost of courtside seating.

While we are happy to pay for tools that will get the job done and last, we also never mind getting by while saving a few bucks. One thing that seems to just about always be worn out in a used 4x4 (or more specifically, one that we can afford) are the seats. Holes, broken springs, worn-out cushions, tears, nasty stains, creaks, unexpected automatic reclining features, and more can render an otherwise perfectly useful seat nearly useless. So when one of our recent 4x4 project acquisitions turned up with nothing but an overturned milk crate for seating arrangements, we were again on the hunt for some inexpensive and comfortable seats.

On a trip to the junkyard we found a lightly used Kia Sportage, circa 1999, flush with usable seats. These seats, frankly, look great for their age and where they came from. They seem to be free of tears, holes, burns, bloodstains, and sticky goop. And since we’ve owned a similar Kia in the past we know the seats are fairly comfy, slide and fold forward (for rear seat access in a two-door SUV), and tend to work as expected even with lots of miles (our old Sportage had well over 100,000 miles). Some work with a couple of wrenches and we had the seats and sliders pulled in minutes and were headed home with our booty in the bed of a pickup. Sure, we were a little more broke (our seats cost $200 plus tax for the pair, but some you-pull-it places only charge $20-$80 for seats and may charge another $10-$15 for seat sliders).

While they are relatively clean and hole-free, our cheap seats aren’t totally perfect. They are designed to bolt easily into a Kia, but we don’t want them to do that. So our plans are to “adjust” the seat sliders to fit a more universal mounting pattern. To accomplish this, we need to remove the sliders, cut some bits off, and weld on new tabs. Ideally we would add the mounting tabs vertically, but since we are trying to keep the seats as low as possible we had to run the new 3/16-inch steel tabs horizontally. Here you can see the original sliders (sides) compared to one of the sliders from the other seat we’ve already modified (middle).
Another oddity that we didn’t notice at the junkyard was that one side (the inside) of each seat had the slider about 2 inches lower than the other side, which is very common for factory seat brackets. No big deal—we’ll just do a little bit of trimming and welding to make the bottoms of the seats close to level side-to-side.
We cut up some 1.75x0.120-wall square tubing to make new feet for the now lowered inner seat mount. We then covered the fabric of the seat with an old leather welding apron to protect it from the heat and weld splatter and then tack-welded the bits in place. We will reuse the 12mm Grade 12.9 metric bolts that hold the slider to the seats.
These 0.188-inch tabs are available at lots of fabrication, metal supply, and even fencing supply shops. They are thicker than the stamped formed metal that makes up the bases of the seat sliders.
With the seat sliders modified and reinstalled on the seats, we could test-fit a seat and figure out the best way to mount them. We used some 1.0x0.095-wall DOM to bend these seat mounts that will be welded to the rollcage in our Samurai. If we weren’t building a ’cage and the rig had decent floor mounts, we might figure out a way to bolt the seats to the old mounts. In a rig with a stout ’cage that is going to get wheeled hard, it’s best to integrate the seat mounts and seatbelt mounting points into the rollcage. That way if somehow the rollcage becomes separated from the vehicles body, your flesh won’t be squished between the two via the seatbelts.
Once the seat mounts were tacked together we could test-fit a seat and actually sit in the rig. This is a great time to make sure there’s plenty of headroom and that the seat sliders actually function as Henry Ford (or whoever) intended.
Since these seats are out of a tiny two-door SUV they are a perfect candidate for our mini two-door SUV. The seats have levers on the side that allow the seat backs to fold and seats to slide forward, making access to the area behind the seats much easier. For our recreational use, that makes these seats better than using aftermarket fixed-back suspension seats in this vehicle. We plan on adding a back seat to this rig and, despite the rollcage, can imagine smaller passengers monkeying their way into the back.
The seats mount to holes in a piece of plate steel on the outside and to sleeves welded to the tubing on the inside. We also added more tabs for the seatbelt pickup points on the right and left side of each of the seats. These tabs, especially for seatbelt mounting, are also readily available in the aftermarket.
With the seat mounts bona fide, certified, and verified for fitment and movement, we pulled the whole shooting match out of the car to finish-weld the bottoms of the mounts. Alternatively we could have pulled the whole rollcage and finish-welded these bits, but that wouldn’t have made as much sense for this vehicle.
Our junkyard seats even came with these fancy covers that could easily be trimmed down and reattached to clean up the hinge area. Now if we could only install seat heaters we’d be set.

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