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Short, Tall, Grande: Car Talk's Guide To Getting a Good Fit With Your Car

Drivers come in all sizes. There are the vertically challenged, there are averaged-sized folks, and then there are guys like our pal Daniel Pinkwater, who refers to himself as, "humungous."

Everyone has to find a way to live within his or her own dimensions, and that includes finding a comfortable car - a frustrating chore, if you're not particularly close in size to the crash test dummies used by Tokyo and Detroit.

There are countless factors to consider, when looking for a car that's a good fit for your body. We've compiled what we think are the most important considerations right here.

Our most important piece of advice, however, is to take a long test drive, or rent the vehicle for a day.

Whatever size you are, we hope the information we've gathered here is helpful.

Tips for the Vertically Challenged

Tips for the Exceptionally Tall

Tips for the Circumferentially Challenged

Read Car Talk Columns on this topic


Tips for the Vertically Challenged

Being a short driver brings its own set of challenges.

Airbags are a particular concern. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety consider 10 inches to be a safe distance from the air bag. If you're sitting closer than ten inches to your car's airbag, you should have an on-off switch installed. Alternatively, you can have pedal extenders installed on your vehicle. See the resources, below, for more information.

Other concerns include the ability to reach controls, visibility and seat belt positioning and comfort.

Of course, being a short driver can have its advantages. Our grandmother, for example, built up her biceps with the thousands of pull-ups she did, to see over the dashboard.

Resources for the Vertically Challenged

Need An Airbag On/Off Switch? Probably Not (pdf)

Most Shorter Drivers Can Eliminate Risk Without Deactivation
Minor seating adjustments help shorter drivers sit farther away from air bags.

Air Bag Seating Position Fact Sheet

Air Bag On-Off Switches

How To Get An On-Off Switch

Power Adjustable Pedals Are a Fantastic Feature

Consumer Reports Best And Worst Vehicles For Short (and Tall) Drivers

Resources for Pedal Extenders:

Pedal Pusher Pedal Extenders
7301 Brookside Drive
Frederick, MD 21702
301-473-7908 or 877-773-7908
email: info@pedalextenders.net
Easy to install. Improve comfort and safety for shorter drivers. Extend pedals from 2 to 4 1/2 inches.

Creative Controls, Inc
1470 Souter Blvd
Troy, MI 48083-2824
Phone: (248) 577-9800
1-800-539-7237 or 1-800-KEY-PADS
Good for someone 4 feet 10 inches to 5 feet tall. Universal design fits most cars.

Special Pedals
Click on Products for Special Pedals
Drive-Master Co., Inc.
37 Daniel Road
W. Fairfield NJ 07004
Phone: (973) 808-9709
FAX: (973) 808-9713
Sells fold-down pedal extensions and block pedal extensions.

Easy Rider Pedal Extenders
P.O. Box 251677
Glendale, CA 91225-1677
Phone: (888) 372-0153 / 818.324.5588
Fax: (818) 247-3329
Email: pedalextenders@yahoo.com
Portable pedal extenders for height of 2 feet 7 inches to 5 feet 2 inches tall. Gives appropriate gas, brake or clutch extenders for specific vehicle manufacturers/models.

Automobility Pedal Extensions
Scott's Adaptive Devices
3209 Walker Rd.
Linden, NC 28356-8825
Phone: (910) 814-0425
Fax: (910) 814-2716
Email: handcontrols@aol.com (Sean D. Scott)
Sells gas and brake set, gas, brake and clutch set, and single pedal extensions.


Tips for the Exceptionally Tall

Not that we'd know anything about it, but we've heard that being an especially tall driver has its own set of challenges.

Ironically, visibility is often one of the biggest concerns. Very tall drivers often have to crouch even to see traffic lights. Crouching can also impact the distance from the air bag, bringing the driver within the 10-inch distance recommended by NHTSA and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Some vehicles will also need to have their seat tracking extended, which can also affect the driver's safety, by placing him or her too far away from the airbag.

Other considerations include obvious items, such as finding comfortable seats, head and leg room, ease of entry and exit, and whether the seat belts can be adjusted to your size.

A surprising entry in the "cars for tall people category" is BMW's Mini Cooper. As 6 ft. 8 in. listener Chuck Bergen writes, "Cars that look big are not always accommodating. In many cars - especially imports - sun roofs are almost unavoidable and almost always are the kiss of death for tall drivers who like to hold their heads upright. I have two words for your very tall listeners, particularly those like me who love small, nimble cars: Mini Cooper. How they do it, I do not know, but mine even has a sun roof. If a car that small, efficient and nimble can fit a guy like me, the other car makers really have no excuse."

Resources for the Exceptionally Tall

Car Headroom Tips and Winners (2002-2003 vehicles)

Head Restraint Ratings

New Car Test Drive
Car models with specifications for front head/hip/leg room and rear head/hip/leg room dimensions.

Cars & Trucks For Talls
List of favorite tall cars, SUVs, minivans, and pickups.

Consumer Reports Best And Worst Vehicles For Tall (and Short) Drivers

Top 10 Vehicles For Tall Drivers

Seat contour and movement good for tall drivers.


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Tips for the Circumferentially Challenged

Watching our pal Daniel Pinkwater get extricated with the Jaws of Life from a Porsche Boxster gave us a new appreciation for the challenges faced by the circumferentially challenged.

Seat belt positioning may be a particular problem. Be sure to ask whether seat belt extenders are available. Federal regulations require car manufacturers to produce seat belts that only fit people up to 215 pounds. In other words, not all cars have seatbelts suitable for the girth-enhanced.

Second, check your distance to the air bag when shopping for a car. It's not usual to discover that the circumferentially-challenged portion of your body is closer than the NHTSA recommended ten inch spacing.

Other concerns include seat comfort, range of steering wheel adjustments, your distance to the air bag, and the relative ease of entry and exit.

Resources for the Circumferentially Challenged (Including Pregnant Women)

Guidelines On Buying Cars
Helpful tips about seating, seat belts, air bags, and reach, entry, and exit.

Big Folks FAQs
Best cars and good tips about seats, seat belts, airbags, reach, and exit/entry.

Large Drivers Demand Safety Belts Fit For All
49 states have mandatory seat belt laws, and more Americans are overweight. List of car manufacturers' seat belt extender policy.

Honda Says No
A woman's personal experience and campaign for seat belts for larger people.

Should Pregnant Women Wear Seat Belts? (pdf)

Resources for Seat Belt Extenders

JC Whitney
Has seat belt extenders and seat belt shoulder strap tension adjuster.

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Car Talk Columns

Charles is very tall, and is searching for a car he can see out of. See what Tom and Ray recommend.

Scott's wife is very small - and Scott's wondering, should they get the airbag disconnected?

Find out how pedal extenders can help you get the proper distance from your airbag.

Seatbelt extenders can make driving more comfortable for the "altitudinally challenged"

Find out about the seatbelt repositioner that's recommended by Chrysler, and has been successfully crash tested.

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