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Having just finished a game of basketball at the local park, four friends return to their car only to discover that the temperature within is dangerously hot and particularly uncomfortable. On a day that is 80°F, the temperature in a vehicle can reach over 120°F because sunlight gets trapped inside. Not only are these temperatures harmful to the body with prolonged exposure, but they can provide unnecessary wear and tear on a vehicle. Fortunately, with the proper precautions there are many ways to keep a car cool in the summer sun.

Keeping the Car Cool While It’s Parked

One method that is somewhat handy and completely free is leaving blankets on the seats while the car is not in use. The blanket will be exposed, but the seat will be shielded from direct sunlight. Of course, the blankets will be hot when the driver and passengers return, but they can simply be tossed on the floor or into the trunk. An alternative to the blanket method is using a sunshade. Sunshades are sometimes metallic and look almost like aluminum foil stretched across the inside of a windshield. Others, especially ones designed for back seat windows, have child-friendly designs such as Winnie the Pooh on them. Their use is obvious: they keep the sun from reaching the inside of the car and heating up the seats. For cars without a sunshade, the driver should attempt to park facing away from the sun. Parking in the shade or in a garage is also highly effective and recommended whenever possible.

When returning to a car on a hot summer day, the driver and his or her passengers may want to take the time to wipe down the steering wheel, gear shift and safety buckles with water. The water will evaporate quickly due to the heat and with it some of the heat will be carried away. Another simple way to lessen the intensity of the interior is by leaving the windows open. It is foolish to leave car windows completely down. However, leaving them open a small crack – less than the width of a person's arm – can help ventilate the inside of the vehicle. If rain is expected, you can still crack the windows as long as you have window vent visors. The visors are small tinted pieces of plastic that attach to the top of a car’s window. Window vent visors are also useful for reducing wind noise when driving with the windows down. About five years ago a new device with a similar use came into the public eye: a solar car vent. The small device houses a solar panel that when triggered, powers a fan that helps to exchange hot air from inside the car for cooler air outside.

Keeping the Car Cool When It’s In Motion

Windshield and front window shades cannot be used while driving. To combat the sun while the vehicle is in motion, many cars have tinted windows. Tinted glass allows light to pass through, but bounces some off. The amount that is reflected is dependent upon how dark the tint is. Be advised that at least 70% of light needs to pass through the tint in order for it to be legal in the United States. 

Be sure to keep coolant in the vehicle. People are often misled by the term antifreeze. It earned its name for having a low freezing point, however, it is designed for use in cars because it also has a high boiling point. When the car is full, the driver can rest assured it is circulating and helping to keep the engine cool. Keep an extra jug of antifreeze in the trunk in case of emergencies. 

In addition to the engine, there is another part of the car that needs to be kept from getting too hot: the tires. Tires spin quickly against very hot pavement. This friction creates heat. The best way to prevent this heat from getting too great is to make sure the tires are inflated properly. Underinflated tires cover more surface area of the ground and therefore create more friction when they spin. The resulting heat can cause them to wear faster and even break suddenly.

Many “green” organizations discourage the use of air conditioners at all costs, but air conditioning is put in cars for a reason. Indeed it drains energy, and it’s not particularly good for the environment. However, using it for a portion or portions of a car ride will help to keep the engine cool and decrease mileage. Of course, using the car's air conditioner is only recommended when it is truly hot outside. When the air conditioner is not in use, utilize other ventilation methods. 

Links to some additional info about keeping cars cool

Parting Words

While keeping the car cool is for the benefit of comfort and condition, it also saves lives. Under no circumstance should an animal or small child be put into or left in an overheated vehicle. Young children can develop heat stroke in a matter of minutes. At least twenty-seven people die each year from being trapped in a stifling hot car, and this number does not even consider how many animals. If a small child or animal is spotted in a car on a hot day with no significant ventilation, it is advised to contact 911 immediately. 

Matt Robertson's small picture
Article by
Matt Robertson
Matt is the Managing Partner at Leland-West Insurance Brokers, Inc. He started with the firm while still a college student, way back in 1984. According to Matt his only remaining hobby is Motorsport ... because its all he can afford ("will work for tires"). Reach him at matt@lelandwest.com