Repairing heated seats and the "memory" power adjustment system 1999-2006

Discussion in 'GM Electrical Tech' started by Jamm3r, Dec 17, 2012.

  1. Jamm3r

    Jamm3r Member 2 Years 100 Posts

    This applies to everything built on the full-size GMT800 truck platform -- Silverado, Sierra, Suburban, Yukon, Escalade, Tahoe.

    The seat system on these trucks is complex and is not covered in depth in the Hayes book or anywhere else on teh internets so here is the GM Truck Club exxclusive writeup. I will add some photos another day.

    I'll explain basic troubleshooting steps, common problems, and repair methods with the heated seats, which fail frequently. Much of the same info applies to problems with the power seat adjuster.

    Before you complain tl;dr well these things are complicated and so I'm going to have to use a lot of words to explain it so hold on and pay attention, you want simple either get a 1997 or complain to The General.

    == System design ==

    There's microcontroller module under the driver's seat that runs the whole show. The General calls this the "memory seat module." It connects to a wiring harness in the rails under the seat using four large multi-pin connectors. This wiring harness, in turn, has connections to each of three seat motors, the chassis, the seat bottom, and the seat back.

    There's just one "memory seat module" controlling both seats, and also controlling the adjustable brake and accelerator pedals.

    The control switches for the heated seats in each door don't have a physical circuit to the "memory seat module" but rather communicate using the chassis serial bus.

    The reason we didn't really see heated seats very often before the late 1990s is that they tend to fail in ways that cause them to overheat and start the seat foam on fire. To deal with this the microcontroller in the "memory seat module" provides close supervision of the whole system, with a temperature sensor in each seat, and sensing of the current draw for each of the four elements. If the microcontroller detects anything dodgy going on it shuts down the whole heated seat subsystem until the next time the ignition is switched off and on.

    There are nine sensors in this system. Each seat has three position sensors and one temperature sensor, and then there's a sensor for the position of the accelerator/brake pedals.

    These sensors all share a 5 volt supply from the "memory seat module." As a result, if any of them short to ground, the "memory seat module" can't sense temperature or seat position and pretty much shuts down everything.

    == Common failures ==

    The flexible heater pads fail most often. The temperature sensor is incorporated into the seat back heating pad, and the whole thing with connectors is serviced as an assembly. The seat bottom heating pad doesn't have a sensor. Dorman makes both these so you can get them from NAPA, Carquest, Rock Auto, etc., for around $100 each. They're a fast moving part and my local NAPA had them in stock.

    Next most common is a wiring short to ground, most commonly in the wire bundle that goes up to the seat back assembly next to the seat belt latch. That's an easy fix with some tape and a little piece of wire loom. Otherwise well yes you can have a wiring short pretty much anywhere under either seat because the seats move and the wires flex, and if they're not dressed quite right they will rub.

    Next up we have the power wiring to the drivers side seat. Well when you hit the memory button there's the possibility of all 7 motors running at once and so that's quite a current draw, more than for the heated seats, and it's common for the connector between teh chassis wiring and the seat frame to overheat. Now this connector has maybe 24 circuits going through it but you can just cut the power and ground wire and crimp on some bullet or spade connectors on those and call it good.

    Finally though rare the position sensor for the accelerator/brake pedal assembly can short out and since it shares the same +5 volt power supply with everything else the whole thing quits working.

    == Troubleshooting ==

    If you are a tech at a stealership then The General gives you access to DTCs in the "memory seat module" that are supposed to help. The rest of us have to go lo-tech.

    If nothing on either seat works at all, no movement, no heat, nothing -- either intermittently or all the time -- undo the grey connector near the floor under the driver's seat. On anything with a second row of seats you can get at it fairly easily from the second row, on a regular cab pickup you'll have a time of it. Look at the connector pins for signs of overheating on the orange and black wires, if so, cut those two wires and crimp on a suitable bullet or spade connector. They are hot with the key off so either be careful or disconnect the battery ground strap.

    For heated seat problems the first thing to do is determine if one side or both sides are affected. The engine has to be running for the heated seats to work so start things up and check one side. See if you can turn on the seat heat, and then see whether it will stay on for at least a minute or so. Then turn the key all the way off to reset the "memory seat module," want a few seconds, fire it back up, and check the other side. Once the "memory seat module" has identified a fault in either seat it shuts them both down so you have to do this or you'll fool yourself into thinking they're both broken.

    If one side works OK but the other side doesn't do anything at all, the lights don't flash even a little, or one button works when you mash it but the other one doesn't, then the switch module in the door panel is probably toast.

    If one side works OK but on the other side the lights come on and then shut off either right away or after a few seconds or half a minute or whatever then chances are that you just need to replace the heating pad on the bad side. You can isolate whether it's the back or the bottom pad by shutting off the engine again, starting it up, and mashing the "back heat only" button on the bad side. If that works OK and stays on for a minute or more well then the problem is with the bottom pad, on the other hand if it shuts off on "back heat only" then it's the back pad that you have to replace.

    If both sides are bad try moving the seats using the power seat controls. If the seats just move in fits and starts well then you have shorted sensor wiring somewhere. You can crawl under the dash and disconnect the connector to the brake/accelerator pedal position sensor, which is up above the brake pedal. If you hold the brake pedal down and look up there you can see it moving on the pedal assembly. Just pop the connector out. Now that you've done that you can fire up the engine and see if that fixed anything, if it did well you need a new pedal position sensor from your local stealership.

    Otherwise there's a short somewhere else and you're going to have to take the seat bottoms out and look for wires rubbed off. The wire going to the seat back, near the seatbelt latch, is a known problem area, but the short could be anywhere. You remove the seat bottoms by undoing the two nuts underneath at the front of the seat, and the disconnecting *all* the connectors. It took me a half hour to figure out how to pop them all loose because they're all different. I'm not going to try to describe it so just take a deep breath, get your flashlight and a little screwdriver, and start fussing. I would suggest disconnecting the battery ground strap before you start so one of the seat motors doesn't fire up at the wrong time and squish your fingerz.

    The power seat module itself can fail but that's rare and expensive to fix. The stealership has to flash it for your specific situation so there's no guarantee that a boneyard one will work. There were some flash updates that came out ages ago to fix a problem with the heated seats shutting down for no good reason -- apparently the original software was a little too paranoid -- but most vehicles will already have those applied.

    Well if you try all that and still can't get the seats to work you probably should just trade in your truck because chances are at that point even if you take it to the stealership they'll charge you $500 for half a day of diagnostics and won't be able to figure it out either.

    Photos to follow tomorrow
    nvestysly and Pikey like this.
  2. Pikey

    Pikey Moderator Staff Member 5+ Years ROTM Winner 5000 Posts

    Nice writeup! Thank you. You stated that there are 3 seat position sensors. Do you know were those are located? My memory seat never goes back to the programmed location, it always goes all the way back. The pedals will go to the correct location, but the seat does not.
  3. Jamm3r

    Jamm3r Member 2 Years 100 Posts

    They're all under the seat bottom. One, a hall effect sensor, is on the outboard side and has one of the hard-to-disconnect connectors to the seat bottom wiring harness right on it. I believe the others are built into the motor assemblies but am not sure.

    Now that I've written this it occurs to me that there is possibly a fourth sensor for the lumbar support adjustment in the seat back.
  4. Jamm3r

    Jamm3r Member 2 Years 100 Posts

    Please excuse my tardiness, clubbers. A brake job intervened since stopping is rather more critical than a warm, and the brake job became more complicated because it involved parking brake repairs which entailed pulling the axle hubs (q.v.). And as advent turns to Christmas there have been social and family responsibilities.

    But just as God will keep his advent promise of the second coming, I'm keeping my promise to share the Rest of the Story (tm) with pics.

    Let's begin with some orientation. Here's the driver's side seat in my burb:


    The repair begins by removing the seat bottom, which is simply a matter of removing two nuts at the front corners, undoing all the connectors, and pulling the seat up and forward to release the blind keyhole fasteners at the rear of the seat bottom. Two of the connectors are visible from the front of the seat, looking back from the area of the brake pedal:


    You may find that you can disconnect them in place. I ended up prying them down from their attachment to the frame, which works too, and allows more ready access to the latch that allows them to be disconnected.

    One connector is readily visible from the rear of the seat, the large connector at bottom center in this photo:

    The rest are probably most easily disconnected after the seat bottom is partially removed. Once it's out, here what you'll see. The seat bottom, upside down and on the garage floor:

    And the seat frame, as viewed from the headliner:


    - - - Updated - - -

    The seat back doesn't have to be removed. All we have to do is work the pad out of it. The first step is to open the Z-fastener at the bottom of the seat back, which attaches the front of the upholstery to the rear of the upholstery. You want to pry it apart at one end then the whole thing comes undone like a zipper. I found that an offset flat blade screwdriver made the job easiest. We're looking down along the seatback here:


    It's hard to show much but the upholstery is fastened to the cushion with a couple of rows of velcro, and the heating pad is attached with a couple of adhesive strips, and kept in place by velcro that surrounds it. All you have to do is reach up with your fingers and work everything apart. Here's a photo showing some of the velcro on the cushion, from the steering wheel looking back:


    Once you work everything apart and undo the connectors you will have the heating pad out.

    The Dorman replacement pad comes with terrible instructions -- don't follow them, they tell you to remove the whole seat assembly from the truck, which is a major undertaking and which will not help matters. They also come with a set of hog rings and hog rungs pliers that are, apparently, useful for some other application, since they're of no use here.

    Here are the pads side by side, old and new:


    The Dorman pad comes fully connectorized but there's a tiedown you'll want to move from the old wiring to the new:


    The other difference is that the adhesive on the Dorman pad faces towards the upholstery rather than towards the cushion. Since it appears that the velcro does most of the job of holding the pad in place, I don't think this is an important difference.

    The OEM pad is constructed with a woven conductive polymer grid in a diamond shape. At the top and bottom there are about five rows of metallic wires going across the width of the pad. There are burn marks at one part of the pad where the wires weren't making contact:


    Putting everything back together, the important thing is to get all the wires dressed in so they won't chafe. The three connectors at the rear inboard corner of the seat have to be connected before assembly. The others can still be reached after the seat bottom is installed.

    I checked the operation of all the power seat movements before starting the engine and confirming that the seats heat properly.

    A final note of caution: there is a bright yellow connector below the seat that is the circuit for the airbag mounted in the seatback. It should not be disturbed.
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2012
    Don Owen likes this.
  5. vncj96

    vncj96 Epic Member 5+ Years 1000 Posts

    Does this info relate to the OBS suburban of 1999, neither of my heated seats work but all power movements work just fine, by butt is getting cold.....
  6. Enkeiavalanche

    Enkeiavalanche Loving the Outdoors Staff Member 5+ Years ROTM Winner 5000 Posts

    Gotta say Very nice write up....:great:
  7. the phantom

    the phantom Epic Member 5+ Years ROTM Winner 1000 Posts

    Excellent write up!!! My heated seat in my 03' Escalade goes off after 20 seconds or so and before this started happening it would get hot!! To the point that I thought I smelled plastic burning but just a hint of it. I believe that the drivers side heat pad is the culprit and this write-up will help me change it out. Thanks @jamm3r:great:

    BIGREDDADDY53 Epic Member 5+ Years 100 Posts

    HYi Guy's, Just wanted to get this right. If only one side of your heated seat works (and if the the other one is on and I push my buttons it turns both off) it's the "memory seat module". Do I have that right. Thanks Guys
  9. TL24

    TL24 New Member

    Awesome write up, my 04 Yukon Denali just started having this issue starting on the weekend, the seat would get hot as hell to the point where it felt as if my ass was burning!

    Since I live in MN I'm going to have to do this sooner than later, it sucks waking up in the morning to start the car and drive off seating on a cold leather seat!
    Toe-Knee(Tony) likes this.
  10. 81jimmy81

    81jimmy81 New Member

    Hi I am new to using forums,but I hope someone can help me. I have two power/heated swats from a 2006 Chevy 2500, and I am having problems with the driver side; the passenger side works fine. All the functions work when I hook up power and ground but forward/reverse and tilt move briefly then stop. When you let go of the switch for a moment then try again they will move briefly and quit again. When I hot the seats all the wires were cut. I figured most of it out but there are connectors on these motors with three wires, blue,black,red I don't know where they go or if I can connect them in a manner to make it work. Any help would be greatly appreciated. IMG_00000042.jpg IMG_00000040.jpg

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