How the Spanish sun can turn your car into a dangerous oven

When it’s 35ºC outside, the temperature inside a vehicle can quickly heat up to 55ºC

Cars line up to board a ferry in Algeciras.
Cars line up to board a ferry in Algeciras.EFE

Did you know that if you leave your car in the sun at a temperature of 35ºC, the interior can reach 55ºC within an hour? The long, hot Spanish summer turns vehicles into ovens, which can be dangerous for drivers, passengers, and pets.

This summer has seen some of the most consistently high temperatures in the last three decades in Spain, and they show little signs of abating in August. In response, breakdown assistance organizations are warning drivers of the risks of being in vehicles that have been exposed to high temperatures.

A sun shade can prevent the dashboard, wheel and gear shift heating up as high as 80ºC

A car left in the sun at a temperature of just 25ºC can heat up to 40ºC inside within 25 minutes. Getting into a car that has reached this temperature can be dangerous, producing dizziness that on occasion can require hospital treatment. The dashboard will likely be more than 72ºC, which can cause minor burns, according to a study by the Real Automóvil Club de Catalonia (RACC) in conjunction with its Swiss equivalent, the TCS.

The RACC also reminds drivers not to leave children or pets in vehicles parked in the sun or when temperatures are above 25ºC, even for short periods of time.

The exterior of the vehicle can also be dangerous: touching the paintwork of a car that has been exposed to the sun for just 10 minutes can cause burns, although color helps minimize the risk: black-painted cars can heat up to 20ºC more than white ones, with the outside of dark-colored cars reaching 80ºC.

Police in the US break the window of a car in which a child had been left while her mother went shopping.  

To avoid risks, breakdown associations recommend using a sun shade, which can reduce the temperature inside the car by at least 11ºC and prevent the dashboard, seats, steering wheel and gear shift heating up as high as 80ºC.

The RACC recommends opening the doors to your car for a few moments to allow air in before setting off on a journey; it also notes that leaving the windows of vehicles parked in the sun slightly open will do virtually nothing to keep temperatures down.

If you begin to feel distracted, bloated, and begin sweating or suffering from a headache, it is likely you are dehydrated and if driving, you should stop as soon as possible to drink water.

More information
Spain’s heatwave: a survival guide
Why the heat puts us in a bad mood
How to sleep in the Spanish heat
Moroccan migrant dies after hiding in vehicle trunk during ferry journey

Air conditioning might seem like the solution, but can actually contribute to dehydration, making you thirsty and tired, thus affecting your judgment. To avoid accidents, remember the three basic rules on long journeys: stop every two hours, stretch, and drink something cold, preferably with sugar, which will help keep glucose levels up in the brain.

The functioning of vehicles is also affected by heat. High summer temperatures can provoke problems with batteries, tires and the engine. It is essential to keep a car properly maintained, says the RACC, pointing out that 80 percent of breakdowns are the result of poor maintenance. Similarly, the Spanish DGT highways authority is calling on drivers to be especially alert this summer. Last month, 111 people were killed in traffic accidents, four more than in 2014.

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