If you’re searching for the best cars for tall people, you’ve come to the right place. This page covers the fundamentals of what makes a car tall friendly, from legroom and headroom to traffic light visibility and ease of getting in and out. All of this is important for both comfort and safety. There are also sections on car seat modifications and general tips for tall people. Lastly, you’ll be left with a view of how the car industry may affect tall people in the future. I put this page together to help my fellow tall drivers on this challenging quest.
Recent Cars for Tall People Posts
Why Car Manufacturers Neglect Tall People
As with other manufactured objects, economy of scale encourages manufacturers to cater to average height and neglect outliers. There are regulations that help. But these tend to be inadequate for tall people. For example, common regulations merely require accommodation of the fifth percentile female through to the ninety-fifth percentile male,1 neglecting five percent of the population. In actuality, this percentage is higher due to varying body proportions.
Flawed Car Seat Adjustments for Tall Drivers
When it comes to chairs, tall people are better suited by taller chairs. This is common sense. But when adjusting car seats, a tall driver is more likely to lower their seat. We do this to get more headroom, but this causes our knees to be higher relative to our hips, which is uncomfortable for our hips and backs. In other words, it’s a flawed seat adjustment for tall people.
Another flawed adjustment is seat slide. Humans have longer legs than arms, so if the seat is moved far enough back for a taller person’s legs, it will have been moved too far for their arms. Hence tall people, as odd as this may seem, will find themselves reaching for the steering wheel. This is worsened by the fact that we like to recline our seats to get more headroom. The result is that we end up slouching in the upper back.
Telescoping pedals and steering wheel columns can help with these issues, but the range of adjustment may be inadequate. This may be true for other adjustments too, like seat belt shoulder height and lumbar supports. In addition to diminishing comfort, these issues also increase our risk of injury.
The Hazards of Tiny Cars for Tall Drivers
When most people picture a tall driver in a tiny car, they find it hilarious. It reminds them of clown cars in circus acts. And I’ll admit, it is a tad funny. But I also know that too small of cars for tall people can be a major health hazard, and the literature backs me up on this.
A lack of legroom can affect reaction time for hitting the brakes,2 increasing the likelihood of an accident. And if an accident does occur, more serious injuries are likely to result; airbags, low head rests, and insufficient legroom have all been implicated in more serious injuries experienced by tall people in a car crash.3-5 Even outside the car our safety is relatively diminished; bumpers are designed to cause minimum damage when striking average length legs, not long legs.6 These are some of the more obvious implications. Somewhat less obvious is the gradual insidious onset of chronic musculoskeletal injuries that arise from poor ergonomics.
Measuring Cars for Tall People
There are things you can do to make your car more tall friendly, and I’ll get to these later. But the most important thing you can do is pick a tall friendly car in the first place. There are a variety of measurements that can help with this. I’ll cover the well-known legroom and headroom measurements first, and then get on to some more novel ones.
Legroom is a measure of the longest leg that can fit in a fully slid back seat. The measurement is complicated by the bending of the knee joint. Though the Society of Automotive Engineers’ (SAE) standards require that a dummy be used to take the measurement, a good approximation can be achieved via a tape measure.
Headroom is the vertical distance, with the seat in the lowest position, from the lowest point on the seat to a point on the roof directly above it. I’ve found headroom to be a misleading measurement as cars differ in the extent to which the roof rises above the vision line; though it may be comfortable to occupy this space, it’s dangerous to do so as visibility is cut off. So an alternative measurement would instead go to the top of the windshield. I like to call this ‘eyeroom’.
Another measurement I have come up with is called Vision Line Height (VLH). It’s the vertical distance from the foot well (floor mat removed) to where the windshield meets the roof (with the floor mat removed, which can often be in excess of 1/2″ thick). VLH is a measurement of useful cabin space, essentially.
Both eyeroom and VLH are better than headroom for picking out the best cars for tall people. As to which is better, this is debatable. For those willing to do modifications, VLH will be better. Otherwise, eyeroom might be better. But VLH has the added bonuses of being simple to measure and also evaluating how easy a car is to get into and out of; even small increases in roof height have been shown to improve posture during ingress and egress.58 When I was searching for my own car, I was desperate to find something that permitted me a straight spine, even if that meant seat modifications, so I went with VLH. You’ll find a list of VLH measurements for various cars at the bottom of this page.
The top cars for VLH are the Ford Transit Connect (51-1/2″), Ford E-series vans (49-1/8″), the pre-2007 Scion XB (47-1/2″), and the Honda Element (46-5/8″). Other noteworthy cars are the Nissan Titan (46″), the Honda Pilot (46″), the Ford Escape (46-1/4″), and the Ford Flex (46-3/8″). If you are truly desperate, there is also the commercial Mercedes Sprinter (52-3/4″).
Much to the contrary of popular opinion, behemoth vehicles don’t necessarily provide lots of space for tall people, the Jeeps and Hummers being prime examples.
Long-limbed tall people may find legroom to be a bigger problem than vertical space. Such people may prefer to use legroom as the main measurement when searching for a car. However, picking a car with a large VLH is still important as it means the seat can be in a higher position, which coincides with more legroom. Besides, it is possible to modify cars to get more car legroom for tall people, but this is not the case for cabin height.
It is my hope that, with your help, Vision Line Height will become a standard measurement provided by car manufacturers. This will make the suitability of cars for tall people more transparent and might even inspire a visionary manufacturer to produce a car with an unusually large Vision Line Height! So please use this term whenever you can. For a list of measurements, see Vision Line Height.
Helping Tall People See Traffic Lights
Another huge frustration for tall people is not being able to see traffic lights. We end up hunching down and craning our necks up as we watch for the light to turn green. I’ve tried all kinds of fixes, like backup cams and mirrors installed on the dashboard and even cutting a hole in the roof (my head ended up sticking out…). Sometimes I would look at the reflection on the hood of my car or on the wet pavement on a rainy day. By far the best solution though that I have come across is what’s called a Fresnel lens.
Fresnel lenses are essentially flattened lenses. They were originally invented for lighthouses to better direct the light to nearby ships without such a big lens. Other applications include gathering light for solar power and magnification for overhead projectors. For us though, they redirect the light from the traffic light to our eyes. Just a thin sheet of plastic suctioned to the window and Voila! you can see traffic lights. It is a small image, and I wouldn’t suggest using it for anything other than checking to see when the light turns green (at which point you double check with direct line of sight).
Modifying Car Seats for Tall Drivers
The following is for information purposes only: see site disclaimer.
As with the rest of the car, seats aren’t designed for tall people. But there are some modification you can do. If it’s extra legroom you want, there are seat rail extensions you can purchase via the image link below. Basically, you remount your seat in a more aft position, gaining you some precious legroom.
If it’s more headroom you’re after, it may be possible to modify the seat brackets to hold the seat in a lower position. Though you might be able to find a job shop to do this, chances are they’ll be concerned about liability so you would have to do it yourself. Perhaps a better option is to remove some material from your seat cushion. A skilled upholsterer may be able to help out with this. As you can see below, I am no skilled upholsterer!
If it’s seat comfort in general you want to address, you can get extra tall car seats. Scrap the plural actually; there is only one I have heard of, and that is the Vario XXL. For more, check out this post from a community member that wrote in about this seat: Extra Tall Car Seats for Tall Drivers.
Finding the Best Cars for Tall People
Though modifications can be helpful, it’s best to start out with a suitable car in the first place. That gets us back to the question, “Which are the best cars for tall people?”
When asked this question, a lot of people might suggest getting a really big vehicle, like a pickup truck or SUV. However, there isn’t much correlation between the size of the vehicle and it’s suitability for a tall person. Rather, extra size is usually devoted to a higher wheel base, larger engine, or more cargo space. Try sitting in a Mini Cooper and then a Humvee and you’ll see what I mean. Another common suggestion is to just get a convertible or stick your head out the sunroof. Funny, but extremely dangerous!
In your search for your ideal car, you might start by looking at the manufacturers’ specs online, including legroom and headroom. There is also the VLH table at the bottom of this page. In the end though, there is no substitute for actually sitting in a car. And it is such an important decision; your health depends on it. So it is best to take the time and do the rounds of the various dealerships. If you’d like extra attention from a sales person, you might try my tactic and say: “If you can put me in a car where my head doesn’t touch the roof, I’ll buy it.” I ended up with a Honda Element, probably the best purchase I have ever made.
More Tips for Tall Drivers
- Avoid sunroofs like the plague; tracks are mounted inside the car, steeling precious headroom!
- If the steering wheel blocks view of the speedometer, try a heads up display.
- Though floor mats keep things clean, you can gain a significant amount of legroom by removing them.
- Rearview mirrors can block your view, these can be remounted higher up.
The Future of Cars for Tall People
Manufactured goods in general tend not to be suitable for tall people. There just aren’t enough of us to attract the attention. Nevertheless, goods like tall clothing are getting better. So why not cars?
The answer has to do with the huge individual price of cars and the rigid manufacturing methods involving costly jigs and fixtures. But there is a promising new manufacturing technique on the horizon. The Urbee, perhaps the first of its kind, uses a 3D printed body. Further down the road it will be possible to 3D print even more of the car. Suddenly, variations in car geometry become cheaper as costly jigs and molds are no longer required. It may be possible, someday down the road, for cars to be made in multiple sizes and perhaps even tailored to the driver.
However, there’s a growing sentiment that our current usage of cars is unsustainable. This is because of pollution, inaccessibility for people who don’t drive, and impaired drivers. Perhaps the most likely replacement will revolve around electric robotized smaller forms of public transportation that can go door to door. The troubling word here is smaller; if these things are designed for the masses, and thus cater to the average size, it will be a chore for us to stand up for more space. Hopefully, knock on wood while there still is some, these things won’t go down the same dark path as airplane seats.
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