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Summer death trap: Your car
Temperature can easily climb past 140 degrees
Kids keep cool at Manuel Valverde Park Thursday as the high hit 103 degrees. - photo by HIME ROMERO/ The Bulletin

The stories come all too frequently.

A couple of young frazzled parents pull into the driveway and go inside – leaving a sleeping infant sitting in her car seat.

They’re inside for what seems like only a short while before they rush back out to the driveway frantically, only to discover that the sleeping girl isn’t waking up.

That’s because temperatures inside of the car have turned what was less than an hour ago a habitable environment into a virtual oven – the heat from the sun warming up the seats and the dashboard and anything else its rays come in contact with, and the glass working like a greenhouse to retain everything.

So just how hot does it get inside of a parked car on a hot summer day?

Well, hot enough to bake cookies if you’ve got a few hours to spare and the appliances in the kitchen aren’t working.

After discovering that the Central Valley heat can create scenarios where an egg will literally cook on the ground – albeit slowly, but still – I wondered just exactly how hot it gets inside of the car that I’m all too often finding myself cooling down before I actually get in to leave by running the air conditioning.

With a few hours to spare on Thursday and the constant reminder every time I opened my front door that the mercury had topped the century mark, I went to Orchard Supply Hardware and picked up a digital thermometer that I could leave inside to measure how hot the car had gotten after a certain period of time.

Here’s what I was able to record and able to estimate – in a most unscientific way:

2:17 p.m. – The digital readout on the dash of my Acura tells me that it is already 100 degrees outside, and it’s typically not wrong very often. I park in the sun, setup the thermometer that I just purchased, and go inside to watch an episode of the The Sopranos.

2:45 p.m. – Less than 30 minutes after I go inside and it is already, according to the digital readout, 114 degrees inside of the car. I had the air conditioning blasting at 58 degrees just before I parked the car, and it is already hot enough to give somebody heatstroke. I decide that it’s too hot to have a beard and go back inside to shave.

3:11 p.m. – Freshly shorn, I head back out into the driveway to see if anybody will recognize me. Nobody did – mission accomplished. But what I did recognize was that the thermometer now said that it was 122 degrees inside of the car. I wonder whether the leather seats somehow attract more heat than cloth because they are uncomfortable to the naked skin at this point. I decide to come back 20 minutes later to see if things have heated up anymore.

3:37 p.m. – It is now nearly 104 degrees outside, depending on which source I look at, and my quick check in with the vehicle now shows that it is #%$ degrees inside of the vehicle. I can’t be completely certain but I’m pretty sure that the temperature in my parked car has exceeded the capability of the digital readout and the accuracy of my cheap, $20 digital thermometer. I go back inside to get a meat thermometer to take over.

4:15 – Now I’m headed out to my car to go to work and when I pick up the thermometer it shows a readout that appears to be north of 140 degrees. This is a completely unscientific reading, but I check it three times because the number astonishes me. Either the thermometer is wrong and unable to accurate measure air temperature or I literally could bake cookies on my dashboard if I had a few hours and didn’t mind the chance of eating what was cookie dough that had been sitting in the sun for a prolonged period of time. My G.I. tract thanks me for not trying.

Now this wasn’t anything that is going to win me a blue ribbon at the science fair, but my little experiment showed leaving your car sitting in the sun can easily turn the inside into a sauna – ensuring that anything left in the car, including pets, would be suffering a cruel fate after just 30 minutes, and surely death beyond that.

It doesn’t long to turn your main source of transportation into a death trap.