Truck camper owners spend a lot of time behind the wheel. Indeed, 10 hours a day on the road is pretty common. This amount of driving can be problematic to our backs and legs, since OEM seats are often akin to medieval torture devices. There’s no doubt about it, back, leg, and knee issues become more of an issue as we age. We can slough-off such aches and pains in our youth, but not as we get older. While it’s true that seat quality has improved over the years, they are still subject to wear and degradation over time. The bucket seats in our 2013 Ram 3500 were not only showing signs of age, but were becoming increasingly more uncomfortable. That’s why we were intrigued when we recently came across a review of the Scheel-Mann Vario F orthopedic seat. After hashing out the pros and cons of purchasing this imported seat, we decided to give it a try.
The Scheel-Mann seat is widely regarded as the best aftermarket seat in the automotive industry. Aside from the vast improvement in looks, the Scheel-Mann seat offers several ergonomic improvements over OEM. Most OEM seats have only two adjustments—seat length and backrest inclination. In contrast, the Scheel-Mann Vario F offers seven adjustment points—seat length, seat depth, lumbar support in/out, lumbar support up/down, headrest adjustment, kidney bolster adjustment in backrest, and backrest inclination. These provide an infinite number of adjustments to conform to the specific needs of a person’s body-type, whether that person is short or tall, thick or thin, or average. Optional heating, arm rests, a mounted seat belt, and a baggage net can also be added to provide additional comfort and capability.
The Scheel-Mann orthopedic seat is imported from Stuttgart, Germany. The company has been making aftermarket seats for automobiles since 1966. While Truck Camper Adventure prefers American-made products, there simply isn’t an equivalent to the Scheel-Mann seat here in the USA. Fortunately, you don’t have to speak German to order a pair of seats. The company has a satellite office in Portland, Oregon, managed by one Toby Pond. He can be reached via email at [email protected] or by phone at 503-482-8549. He is very responsive and will answer your emails and phone calls almost immediately. In fact, we had several questions related to our install and he was very patient and courteous in responding to each.
The good looks of the Scheel-Mann seat are readily apparent—the material, frame, and stitching are first-rate—but the real benefit of the seat lies beneath the surface where you can’t see. One thing that sets Scheel-Mann seats apart from the rest is the structural design. All cushions are molded into the welded seat frame. This means that the proprietary foam has been cast into all of the nooks and crannies of the frame, becoming a structural element into the overall design. This results in a cushion that not only lasts longer, but is more supportive than the typical seat cushion where the foam is cast, then glued into position. Scheel-Mann is the only company in the world that does this.
As you’d expect for a seat of this quality, The Scheel-Mann Vario F seat is expensive. Depending on options, two seats will set you back anywhere between $3,400 and $4,000, and this doesn’t include the price for mounting brackets and slide rails, an additional $460. Obviously, cost needs to be weighed carefully against need. Fortunately, Scheel-Mann offers several lower priced options called the Touring, Traveler, and Sportsline. While these options are lighter on the wallet, many features and options are unfortunately lost, making them less attractive for those who are seeking comfort. However, if good looks are what you’re truly after, then either one of these will fit the bill.
This brings up a important point. While Scheel-Mann offers four basic models of seats only the Vario should be considered for those who are looking for less pain and more comfort on the road. The Traveler, Touring, and Sportline have fixed seat bottoms with differences in the bolsters and maybe an option or two thrown in. The Vario, on the other hand, offers seven adjustments to obtain that perfect ergonomic fit for your body. Three major variations of the Vario are also offered: the Vario R seat base has longer, taller thigh bolsters while the Vario F seat base has shorter, smaller thigh bolsters in the lower seat. The Vario XXL model is made for taller drivers with a backrest that is 3 inches taller than the standard Vario. Drivers taller than 6-foot-5 have no problem using this seat.
We ordered a pair of Scheel-Mann Vario F seats for our 2013 Ram 3500. The seats were shipped flat in two, very large boxes, each weighing a manageable 68 pounds. The seat height in our unlifted truck is perfect and will probably remain so even with a 2-inch lift. Ten upholstery choices in center fabric and six choices in side bolster material are offered. If you want to go all-out, Scheel-Mann also offers nine elegant choices in real leather for an additional $699 each. In order to keep down costs, we opted for the salt and pepper fabric for the center with grey leatherette bolsters to match the grey interior of our truck. We paid $1,699 for each seat. Overall, the look is pretty fabulous even for an “entry level” seat. While we considered going with an all-leather look, we opted to go with a fabric center since leather has a tendency to get hot and sticky in summer, a major negative in Arizona where we live.
While this retrofit offers significant pros, there is, unfortunately, one major con. Side air bags are not an option with the Scheel-Mann seat. We asked Toby why this is and he explained that with all of the differences between vehicle makes and models, not to mention the cost of development and testing for such a low-volume specialty product, offering this option simply isn’t practical. This means the air bag warning light on your vehicle’s dashboard may illuminate after this retrofit. If your air bag light illuminates like ours, don’t fret. The light can be disabled by simply providing the SRS air bag system in your vehicle with the right amount of electrical resistance, which in the case of our truck is 2 ohms. There are two ways to disable this warning light—buy a pair of air big disabling kits from airbagsystems.com for $29 each or buy a pair of 2 ohm resistors and solder them to the two air bag wires in each seat’s wiring harness (note: the resistance value for your vehicle may vary).
In general, Scheel-Mann’s instructions are well-written and easy to understand even after taking into account the translation from German to English. No assembly of the seats is required, old YouTube videos notwithstanding. The only exception is if you order optional items like arm rests and seat belts. In addition to the seats, you will need to purchase two mounting brackets and two sets of slide rails. As for the electrical side, you’ll need to reuse the wiring harnesses that came with your seats. These will be needed to handle the seat belt occupancy alarm feature and to disable the aforementioned air bag warning light.
Overall, the installation of the Scheel-Mann seat is pretty simple and takes about four hours for two seats. Since many reading this review will be looking for specific guidance on a Dodge Ram 1500/2500/3500 installation, we will provide it here. First, you will need to remove the OEM seats. Ram anchors its seats using four massive bolts—15 millimeter bolts in the front, 18 millimeter bolts in the back. The 18 millimeter bolts were torqued tight, so much so that we needed a breaker bar to get the right amount of leverage to loosen them. Before setting the OEM seats aside, you’ll need to remove the wiring harnesses and the seat belts. You’ll need a T-45 Torx bit to remove the seat belt anchor bolts. It’s very important to use the correct size torx bit; otherwise, you can strip the torx head.
As stated earlier, a mounting bracket will be needed to mount each Scheel-Mann seat in your truck. You can either make these metal brackets yourself or you can buy them. We bought ours from a company called Wedge Brackets, a company based out of Bluffdale, Utah recommend by Toby. The cost for each bracket was $99.00. The brackets supposedly fit all Dodge Ram pickups made between 2003-2018. The quality is outstanding though we had a couple of issues. First, the driver side seat bracket had only one seat belt attachment point. Two should have been included, one for the driver seat and one for the center console seat. We made it work by sharing the same bracket, but two would be ideal. We also had an issue with the passenger side seat bracket as it did not include attachment points for the center console. The center console has front and rear attachments points consisting of two screws each. If your truck has a center console seat, make sure Wedge knows this when placing your order.
In addition to the brackets, you will also need to order a set of Scheel-Mann slide rails for your seats. The price is $120 each, $260 total which includes $20 shipping. The guide rails are easy to install. The seats come with all of the hex screws and lock washers needed to install these rails. Make sure the hex screws used to attach the rails to the seats are tight, but not too tight. The same advice applies to the four nuts and screws used to attach the seats to the Wedge brackets. Overtightening the nuts will result in sliding mechanisms that won’t move once the seats are installed. Important, when installing the U-shape adjustment bars, ensure that the bend in each bar is facing downward not upward. According to Toby, this is a common mistake owners make when installing their Scheel-Mann seats.
Can the Ram mounting brackets and slide rails be used with Scheel-Mann seats? It doesn’t look like it, but my OEM seats were manually operated, Ram’s electrical seats might be different. The problem with the manual seats lie with the location of the seat belt anchor bolts. Unfortunately, the anchor points are located on the driver and passenger seat frames not on the mounting assembly for the slide rails and footers. That’s too bad. If the driver and passenger seat belt anchor points were attached to the mounting assemblies like the center console seat belt we could’ve used all the OEM trim pieces to not only save money, but also “hide” all of the tools and wiring located under each seat. It looks like you can, however, use the OEM slide rails. This will involve taking a hacksaw and/or a drill to the metal buck rivets used to attach the assemblies to the undercarriages of the seat seats and the footers.
We found the Scheel-Mann seat amazingly comfortable. My wife, who has back issues, noticed an immediate reduction in pain, while I noticed less driver fatigue after long days behind the wheel. The comfort provided by the Scheel-Mann seat can’t be beat. The adjustable lumbar support provides the right amount of support, while the adjustable side bolsters keep you firmly planted on sharp turns. One adjustment you’ll need to make with the Scheel-Mann seat is how you sit. The seat’s benefits can only be realized with the correct posture, meaning your hips will need to be firmly planted against the bottom of the backrest with the angle of inclination close to 95 degrees. This is where you really feel the benefits of what the seat offers.
For those first trying out the seat, beware! The molded seat cushions are a bit stiff at first. This is normal. Like most things that are brand-new, a break-in period is needed before the full-benefits and comfort of the seat are realized. According to Toby, the break-in period for the Scheel-Mann depends on the weight and size of the passenger, as well as the hours spent in the seat. This makes sense. It took a good two weeks for our seats to soften up. We suspect that as the seats age they will soften up and will be even more compliant, like a good pair of leather shoes.
So how long do Scheel-Mann seats last? We asked Toby that question and he cited numerous examples of 30- and 40-year-old seats still going strong and looking good. Like anything, it depends on how well you take care them and how often you use them. We can’t really speak to longevity of the product since we’ve only owned ours for three months, but we know several people who have owned these seats for years and wouldn’t own anything else. Well-used Scheel-Mann seats that are 10-15 years old are common-place and they still look brand new. This probably explains why the seats have a cult-like following in the automotive world and SEMA.
Is the Scheel-Mann seat for everyone? Absolutely not. If you’re looking to improve the interior look of your rig, you’re better off getting leather replacement covers. On the other hand, if your seats are a torture to ride in, then these seats come highly recommended. No doubt, the price will be a non-starter for some, but if you’re vehicle is paid for and you’re looking for a way to extend your truck’s value, comfort, and looks, then this is a great way to do it. What would we rate the Scheel-Mann Vario F Orthopedic Seat? This is a tough one. We love the product, but hate the steep $3,900 price. Nevertheless, we still have to give the seat an enthusiastic rating of 5 stars. It works that well and looks that good.