There’s another month of warm weather before any kind of cool down, so we put a little list together. Here’s how to keep your car cool in the summer!
You park at Target or Walmart, go inside to get a few items, end up walking the entire store, wait in line for an open register, and then open your car door only to be met with warm, muggy, almost suffocation-inducing heat! It fills the entire car. You can crank your air conditioning, roll down your windows, and leave your doors open in hopes that it will cool off, but by that point, you’re just doing your best to salvage the situation. The trick is to keep your car cool in the first place.
Keeping your car cool isn’t just more comfortable for you, but it also helps your car run better when it’s first started. The heat of the sun can even cause stress cracks in your windshield when temperatures are up in those triple digits. If you think to yourself, ‘I’m only going to be in the store for a few minutes,’ think again. Studies have shown that temperatures increase the most during the first 15 to 30 minutes that a vehicle is parked in the sunlight. Some of the most intense heat of the summer is upon us right now, so here are some tricks that’ll help you and your car beat the heat!
This is the easiest and most obvious option. Whether you’re parking in a garage, in the shade of a building, or under the cover of a tree, let Mother Nature help you out. You may have to walk a little farther sometimes, but if you’re going to be parked somewhere for a long period of time, covering your vehicle in as much shade is an easy way to keep the temperatures in your vehicle down to a manageable level. Also, the sun’s heat is most intense at midday. If you have the option of parking on multiple sides of a building, factor that into your decision making when you show up to work in the morning and return after lunch. As the day progresses and the Earth rotates, new shade emerges.
This option may not seem like it helps much. After all, if a vehicle is in direct sunlight for a long time, you are still going to get into a vehicle that’s hot and uncomfortable. Still, allowing that warm air a path to escape the vehicle does help. The greenhouse effect lets heat enter a vehicle through the glass windows and then keeps it inside a vehicle with closed windows, increasing the temperature with each passing minute. Leaving a window cracked gives the heat a pathway to escape your vehicle. Oh yeah, it’s a FREE way to battle the sun.
Leaving a window open just a bit is a nice option in some situations, but it’s probably not something you’ll want to do all the time. After all, you don’t want to invite strangers into your car by leaving your windows completely open all over town. If you’ve got a Subaru Forester or older Tesla Model S, you’ve probably made use of your impressive panoramic sunroof a time or two. You could leave those open the same as you would a passenger window. Keep an eye on the forecast, though! You don’t want an unexpected afternoon shower to soak the cabin of your vehicle. Mold and mildew odors in your car can be hard to get rid of!
Shades aren’t just for your face. A pair of sunshades for your vehicle, against your front windshield, can work wonders in the heat. It’s easy to forget about them. I know I’ve made a few trips back across the parking lot to put them up after realizing they were still tucked away in my rear seat pocket. That trip back was worth it though.
Best of all? They’re cheap. You can find them at major online or in-store retailers for less than $15. Like anything, the price increases with the quality. Some companies have custom sunscreens that perfectly fit the vehicle you own. Ford, for example, sells 2021 and 2022 Mustang Mach-E sunscreens for $79.
It should be noted that if your sunshades have a dark side and a reflective side, the shiny side should be placed facing outward. That way you can send those sun rays back where they came from! Although they’re more hassle than they’re worth for me, there are also window shades for driver and passenger side windows, too. Those come in several varieties that are set up in different ways.
If the window visors just aren’t enough, you can take prevention up a level with a dashboard cover. It’s the same concept, but the cover goes over your dash. This can prevent dashboard plastic from peeling, losing texture, or decreasing in color. It also prevents all of that surface area on your dash from soaking up the heat.
There is a wide range of prices when it comes to dashboard covers. Some are as low as $20 and some are as high as $185. Most of them sit around the $40 mark, though. Many of them will instruct you to paste a few Velcro strips on the dash. The mat then attaches to those strips. I don’t necessarily like the idea of attaching anything with glue or paste-like stickiness to my dash, so I’d probably forgo those options. There are other dashboard covers that have nonslip silicone padding on the bottom. No paste required. However, if I’m using my sunshades, then most of my dash is covered anyway, so I’d probably save my money on this option and put it somewhere else.
Leather or vinyl seats can get hot! If you’ve been in shorts and hopped into a vehicle that was parked in the sun, you know what I’m talking about. At first, it feels kind of nice, but then it gets really hot really fast. I still remember a somewhat painful ride on a hot August day in my friend’s 1998 BMW M3. My Nike shorts didn’t mix well with those Napa leather seats.
Another disadvantage of leaving your leather seats exposed to the sunlight is that natural oils in the leather will eventually evaporate. That leather then stiffens, which can lead to cracking. You can prevent all of that from happening by using seat covers or cushions.
You can go ultra-cheap and get some extra blankets from your spare closet to throw on your seats, but there are seat covers that are made with specific fabric made with the sole purpose of being breathable, letting the heat escape, and thereby keeping your seat cooler. If you’re OK to spend a little more money, there are crystal-infused and gel-infused seat covers, too.
If there’s a dashboard cover and seat covers, of course there are going to be steering wheel covers! I understand the preventative nature of the dashboard cover, but I can’t say that I really touch the dash much when I get into my car right away. The steering wheel is something you can’t avoid though, and sometimes that sucker can get hot!
This won’t be an expensive purchase. Most steering wheel covers range from $6.00 to about $30. Just read the specifics to make sure your cover isn’t all style and no substance. As you’d expect there are dozens of varieties of steering wheel covers by dozens of different companies. Some focus more on the decorative aspect and feature fun, contemporary designs. You’ll find some that provide a better grip on the wheel. Others specifically state that they are heat (and sometimes cold) resistant.
Getting a solar-powered fan and mounting it to the window can help as well. The fan, charged by sunlight, is attached to the outside of a rolled-up window. The solar panel faces out so it can soak up all the sun’s rays. The fan then blows the hot air out from inside your vehicle. This isn’t going to cool your vehicle the way air conditioning would, but creating air circulation prevents the heat from constantly building up. There are lots of solar-powered fans available these days, but most are going to be around the $30 mark.
A long-term (but a little spendier) solution to high summer temperatures is to tint your windows. Quality tints allow some light to pass through but block much of the ultraviolet and thermal radiation coming from the sun. A tint for the entire car ranges anywhere between $100 and $450. It depends on who you go to and what kind of quality you’re looking for. Many new vehicles come with a certain amount of tinting already in place, so maybe that’s enough for you. If you decide to tint your windows, be sure to check on vehicle tinting regulations for your area. Local ordinances determine just how much tint you’re able to have on your vehicles.
Just like people in colder climates start their cars in the winter to let them heat up, some start their cars in warmer climates to cool them down from the extreme heat. Although it’s tempting to leave your A/C on full blast in these instances, don’t do it. Extreme temperature changes made very quickly can put stress on your windshield, increasing your chances of cracks and breaks. If you start your car, leave the air on a lower setting. You can gradually increase it when you get inside. In order to benefit from air conditioning in your car, whether you start it before you get in or not, you have to keep your vehicle regularly maintained. The A/C won’t do you any good if your freon levels are too low.
I can’t let you go without offering a couple more tips, but this time for your things. Keep your belongings out of direct sunlight. Thank goodness CDs aren’t a thing anymore because I became the owner of a few melted discs! There are still other things that can melt, too. The plastic casing of my work badge gets a little flimsy after some time in the sunlight. In the glove box, in a rear seat pocket, or even under the seat are all places to stash things.
If you have food in the car that you don’t want to get too warm on your way home, grab an insulated bag. They are cheap and work great with anything from the frozen foods aisle. We’ve got even more must-have items for your car in our list of Car Accessories for New Parents, 20 Road Trip Essentials, and the Best Car Accessories Under $25.
Don’t forget to check back here once the heat moves out and the cold weather moves in because we also have the Top 10 Tips to Winterize Your Car, but let’s not think about that for now. There’s still plenty of nice weather left to enjoy!