Temperature Check: How Quickly Temps Change in a Car

cute little baby sleeping in child safety seat in car

It’s no secret that leaving children in a hot car can be dangerous during the summer. Did you know it can be dangerous other times of the year, as well? The ambient temperature outside is usually quite different than that of a closed car and children are a lot more susceptible to health effects of temperature extremes than adults.

Most of the time, babies and kids are not left in a car on purpose. Parents and caregivers can go on autopilot when driving to work and forget a sleeping child is in the backseat. Or curious kids can get into unlocked vehicles and can’t figure out how to open the door and get out.
Let’s explore the science behind why this is dangerous and ways you can prevent kids being locked in cars.

Outside temperatures are different than inside car temperatures

Have you ever sat in your car on a warm day waiting for someone without the air conditioning running? Within minutes you’re most likely feeling a bit toasty and being tempted to turn on the vents to cool you down. There is a temperature differential between ambient (outside) temperatures and the temperature inside a closed vehicle. A study showed temperature differences of up to 20 degrees Fahrenheit increase in just 10 minutes. Stretch that time to 20 minutes and the internal car temperature was up to 33 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the ambient temperature.

The Science Behind Temperature Differences:

The reason internal temperatures in a car are so much hotter and can more quickly lead to child heatstroke and the death of a child, is because of the greenhouse effect. To break it down, the sun emits invisible radiation in the form of light that easily passes through the glass windows in your car. That radiation is absorbed by the interior surfaces in your car and is then radiated back to the air as heat. While light can pass through glass windows, heat cannot and becomes trapped – effectively raising the temperature inside the vehicle.
When you’re moving with the windows down, or when the air conditioning is on, air is circulating, and the heat is being forcible removed from the inside of your car. But a parked car that isn’t running has no air circulating, therefore the heat stays put.
While you may think having a white car while helps keep the inside of your car cooler, unfortunately, that’s a myth. The exterior color of your vehicle has no significant difference in the temperature inside your car. While interior color has more effect than exterior color, it’s still not enough to make a huge difference. Tinted windows will slow down the air heating up inside your vehicle; however, cars with tinted windows are still dangerous for kids to be left inside.

Preventing Hot Car Deaths in Children

How do we keep children from being left in cars? The best strategy is awareness, reminders, and action. First, as a caretaker or parent, it’s important to get in the habit of checking around the inside of your vehicle every single time before you leave. Set reminders to check your car on your phone, with your spouse, and on your work computer. The more backups you have, the better your chance of preventing a child from being left in your car.

Remember to lock your vehicle even if you’re at home and store all keys out of reach of children. You don’t want a child sneaking out to play in the car when you’re busy doing something else.

Put reminders on keychains, doors, and at your place of business to help you and other caregivers remember to check their cars for kids. The more places we put reminders about the dangers of leaving children (and pets!) in a hot vehicle, the more likely someone will be worried enough to run out and check their vehicle for their kid.

Finally, if you hear a child crying or see a child locked in a vehicle, take action. Call 911 for help and follow the directions of the dispatcher.