There’s a meme making its way around Facebook saying that car manufacturers make car seat headrests detachable so they can be used to break window glass in an emergency. Well, let’s take a look at that.
First, we’ll posit the primary reason they’re detachable is not because they’re so much “kept detachable” but rather because headrests need to be adjustable for differing seat occupant height. That’s why they slide up and down. Manufacturers could make them so they don’t come out, but that would require an extra mechanism. But that would cost more and carmakers are loathe to spend another nickel if they can help it. A nickel they spend on every car they build is, well, a lot of money, especially if it’s for nothing.
That said, let’s consider trying to use the headrest as an escape tool. First you’d have to turn around in your seat to slide the headrest out. That’s not easy. Give it a try, especially from the driver’s seat where the steering wheel is in the way.
Then you need to get your fingers on the release button at the bottom of the headrest rods and push it so the headrest will slide up. And it had to slide far enough to come out. Can you say awkward?
But assuming you’ve been able to accomplish that and you now have the headrest in your hands. You have to turn around so you can somehow start hitting the window. What do you hit it with? Do you hold it by the posts and hit it with the–soft–headrest part of the headrest. Yeah, like that will work. Why not try the emergency pillow you keep in your glovebox?
So turn it around and hit it with the spikey part. Well, we haven’t tried this with our car, but window glass is rather tough. There’s the matter of it having to be strong enough for safety’s sake. You don’t want a side window blowing out easily.
And to be sure, it takes a solid whack to break a car window. We could tell you how we know, but it involves vacationing in England, a rental Volkswagen Sirocco, efforts by an Automobile Association guy, a local locksmith and then another AA guy, before the last AA guy, after exhausting all nondestructive alternatives, had to whack a window hard with a hammer. But that’s another story…and a sad one at that.
Going back to the headrest, consider that one doesn’t weigh very much—carmakers reduce weight wherever possible to improve fuel economy—we’re going to take a gamble and say that it’s not going to happen.
If you want to see just how much effort it really takes to break a car window, there are many videos on YouTube showing just how difficult it really is.
For example, this Japanese video shows not only a woman trying to use a headrest to hammer the window out of a sinking car—it fails—but also a more effective way to use a headrest to break side window glass, using the headrest posts as a lever. It’s still not easy to do. Go ahead and try it on your own car. We’ll wait.*
And if you’ve seen the trick of someone breaking auto glass with their fingertips, watch this:
If car headrests were really intended to break car windows, we think we would have heard it before…and we think we would have seen it in those massive owner’s manuals.
Our advice? Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.
* On second thought, don’t try it. We don’t want to be sued if something goes really wrong.