What is a Rumble Seat?

Mary McMahon

A rumble seat is an extra seat on a vintage vehicle designed to provide seating for one or more additional passengers on the outside of the car. This arrangement was abandoned in the late 1930s because it was deemed both dangerous and uncomfortable, as passengers were exposed to weather elements, in addition to being prone to severe injuries in accidents. Rumble seats can still be seen on some vintage cars, although they are rarely used except when the car is driven very slowly and in a controlled environment, like a parade.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

The rumble seat design consists of a fold-out seat, usually situated near the trunk. The seat is typically upholstered for comfort, and people tend to face towards the rear of the vehicle when they sit on a rumble seat, at least in most designs. This seating mimics the exterior seats once used on carriages to provide a space for servants. It was considered inappropriate for them to ride in the carriage itself with their employers, so they were obliged to sit outside, along with the luggage.

This seating design could be used to accommodate additional people on a drive and was also used in the same way exterior seating on carriages was, to provide a method for transporting servants without having to carry them in the car itself. The rumble seat could be narrow enough to fit only one, or might be designed as a bench to hold more people. Generally, the seating was not terribly comfortable, especially in inclement weather or when cars were driving quickly.

One significant disadvantage of the rumble seat design was the complete lack of protection in crashes. People seated on the exterior of a vehicle could be at risk of decapitation and other gruesome injuries, as the body of the car offered no protection for them. They also risked falling and being injured in fast cars, and could be hit by objects thrown up from the roadway, such as sticks and stones. This made the seating rather hazardous for occupants.

While some cars retain their rumble seats because of their vintage, generally people are not allowed to ride in the seat except in special circumstances. Many regions have seat belt laws, requiring that people be belted while in a moving car, and passengers on a rumble seat can be fined for not wearing seat belts, since these safety features are usually not included in the seat design although they can be added. Drivers are also usually concerned about the risk of injury to passengers in such seats, and prefer not to use them if possible.

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Discussion Comments


It never dawned on me that the rumble seats might be dangerous. I guess I thought most people didn't drive very fast, since a lot of the roads were still unpaved. However, I can see where it would be really uncomfortable to ride on a gravel road in the rumble seat. I imagine gravel would fly up pretty regularly. That wouldn't be at all comfortable, having gravel flying in your face.

I've seen cars with rumble seats at car shows. I always thought they looked really cool and fun. They might have been if you were driving slowly around town, but not so much on an unpaved road.


My parents are old enough to remember when rumble seats were included in cars. They said none of my grandparents ever had a car with a rumble seat, but they saw them all the time.

If you go to any antique car show that has a fair number of cars from the 20s and 30s, you're bound to see one or two with rumble seats. I'm sure they were dangerous, but there are a good many people who survived many a wild ride in them. Not surprisingly, they were especially popular with young people. You could carry more people and the rumble seat was perfect for a make-out spot.

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