How hot does a parked car actually get? In just 10 minutes, the heat can be 'miserable'

How hot does a parked car actually get? In just 10 minutes, the heat can be ‘miserable’

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  • Children aren’t the only people at risk of suffering heatstroke inside a parked car.
  • It doesn’t need to be hot for someone to be seriously injured inside a parked car.
  • Conditions inside a parked car can become dangerous in as little as 10 minutes.

It can be tough trying to find a place to cool down as temperatures near or break records throughout the United States this summer, but one place to avoid is the inside of a car.

Eleven children have died this year as a result of being left in a hot car, something that has worried advocates for car safety as this year’s rate is outpacing the number of such tragedies that happened during the same time period in 2021.

But even though children are at high risk of dying inside a hot car, they aren’t the only people at great risk. Older people, people with disabilities and even pets could fall victim to being left inside a car, and it doesn’t take long for someone to feel the devastating effects from being inside.

“Anybody could be susceptible to heatstroke in their car,” Amber Rollins, director of Kids and Car Safety, told USA TODAY. “It’s just miserable in there. It really doesn’t take long for somebody to become disoriented, and just not in their right mind and suffer those from the heat. It can happen very quickly.”

Hot cars: Dozens of kids die in hot cars each year and their parents are rarely charged. This is why.

More: There’s science behind why parents leave kids in hot cars

When is it too hot to be inside a car?

It doesn’t need to be scorching hot for someone to be suffering from heat-induced conditions. 

Laura Dunn, safety specialist for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said the agency has seen injuries and deaths occur when outside temperatures are as low as 57 degrees. 

“If left for enough time, that vehicle will continue to heat up over time. So it’s not something that is just on a particularly hot day,” Dunn said. “It is something that can happen in a kind of temperate environment.”

Dr. Cherice Roth, chief veterinary officer for online veterinary consulting app Fuzzy, says it could be harder for short-snouted dogs – like bulldogs, pugs and Boston terriers – to be in mild temperatures, as well as pets with heart, kidney or liver issues. She said she has treated dogs for heatstroke at 70 degrees.

How hot can it get inside a parked car? How long does it take to get so hot?

There is no set number for how hot it can get, as Rollins said there are numerous factors – the type and color of car, what the interior is made out of, the angle of the sun and the type of pavement, etc. – that could fluctuate temperatures. 

Dunn said temperatures typically can rise 20 degrees in 10 minutes, and Rollins added it can be 40 degrees higher in under an hour. 

Also, don’t think cracking the windows or finding some shade will fix things.

“It’s the same as basically like venting the door on the oven. You’re only going to be able to bring that down maybe a degree or two, if you’re lucky,” Roth said.

How quickly can it become dangerous?

The higher the temperature, the less time it takes for someone to be in trouble. Dunn says if it’s 90 degrees outside, things can get bad as little as 10 minutes.

For pets, it can even happen sooner, Roth said.

“It can take five minutes for a pet to be in a situation that I can’t get them out of, no matter how much support I give them,” she said.

Another aspect Dunn says to consider is how young children can’t regulate their body temperature as quickly as adults, meaning “no amount of time is safe” for them to be left in a car, and it’s not a safe place for kids to play in. 

Experts say these type of incidents can happen to anyone, mostly when there is a change of routine. Ways experts said people can prevent accidents from happening is to have a visual reminder, like leaving a toy in the front seat to remember if someone or a pet is still in the car, as well as to communicate with spouses, family or friends on the whereabouts of those who could be in danger.

“This is something we all want to be aware of and take some extra steps to make sure it doesn’t happen to us or our family,” Rollins said.

Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.


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