Summer’s coming up and while it may not be hot yet where you are, it’s definitely hot where I live. I’m a desert rat, grew up in a desert city, and heat is what I know and love (trust me, if you throw a snowball at me, I’m liable to hurl a cactus at you ).
It’s hot outside and even hotter in the car. The kids are crying in the back seat, they’re all sweaty and red and mom is panicking, thinking they’re going to get heatstroke. They could, I suppose. Kids’ bodies don’t have temperature controls like adults do; they can’t dissipate heat effectively and overheat quickly. Heat exhaustion strikes first: skin is pale and sweating is profuse, child may complain of nausea, headache, and dizziness, there are muscle cramps. It’s very uncomfortable; I’ve had it a few times. Heat stroke comes after heat exhaustion and is the most severe form of heat sickness-it’s LIFE THREATENING. Symptoms include flushed and DRY skin-sweating has stopped, altered mental status, core temperature of 105˚ or higher.
What can we do to keep our kids happy and cool in our hot vehicles when we first get into them and as we drive? There are some basic things we can do plus there are some products on the market made specifically to keep kids cool.
First, let’s understand how our vehicles heat up. Jan Null of San Francisco State University has studied how vehicles heat up and has shown that as the sun hits the surfaces of the vehicle, the objects inside the vehicle heat up by conduction: just like a pot gets hot on an electric stove element. The air warms inside the vehicle and as it warms, the molecules get excited and bump around faster and faster, which in turn make the air warmer. Sun also comes in the windshield and other windows and heats the air and surfaces inside, making those molecules move around faster-you get a bunch of hot air in the vehicle moving around like in a convection oven, minus the fan. So, you’ve got a vehicle heated by conduction and convection. Science aside, it’s hot in there.
How can we keep cool?
- Start by covering up the windows. Use sunshades to cover up the windshield. Use one in the back too if you have a sedan. It really does make a difference, especially if you have leather seats (can you say yeouch!). Have your windows tinted as darkly as you can tolerate. This, too, makes a huge difference. There are varying shades of tint and varying colors ranging from smoky browns to grays to mirrored finishes. They darker the tint, the harder it is to see out of at night; on the flip side, the darker the tint, the harder it is to see in the vehicle during the day. On our last van, we had limo tinting on the back windows and the darkest legal on the front windows and it stayed pretty cool during the summer. On our current van, we’re one step lighter than limo tinting in back and still have the darkest legal on the front windows. It feels warmer to me, but it’s also a dark gray van and the air conditioner isn’t as robust as the last van. We didn’t have tinting on our SUV for the first year we had it and it was truly nasty. The leather seats nearly burned off my skin every time I sat on it in shorts, it was uncomfortably hot to ride in all the time, and we would get sunburned on even the shortest trips. Tinting the windows made all the difference in that vehicle.
- Throw a white towel over the car seat. This keeps the sun off the seat and the light color of the towel reflects the sun’s rays. They also make special car seat covers that look space-agey.
- If you have a van or SUV with rear air vents, you’re lucky. That helps cool off the back seat faster and you can aim them at the kids. If you don’t have rear vents, aim your front air vents toward the ceiling. The cool air will bounce off the ceiling and back down toward the back seat. Remember, warm air rises, cool air falls.
- Put ice packs in the car seat while you’re out running errands to keep the seat cool. While several mompreneurs have their own designs, the Cold Seat is the most well-known of them. Remember to never leave an ice pack on the seat when it’s time to put your child in the seat; ice can actually burn fragile skin and the ice pack can interfere with proper harness use.
- Use a spray bottle with cool water and spritz your kid. Some kids will probably hate this with a passion , others will love it. As the water evaporates off his skin, he’ll cool down.
- Sunglasses help little eyes handle the glare of direct sunlight and you want to make sure they’re UV-rated. These from IPlay get good reviews for babies and for older toddlers and preschoolers, Kid Banz sunglasses seem to be the way to go.
- Above all else, don’t forget to bring water to drink. You never know when your battery will die or a flat tire will happen and dehydration happens quickly in warm weather. When it gets warm out, we never leave the house without each of us grabbing a water bottle first. It’s just smart. (And speaking of break-downs, or even worse, a crash with injuries, keep a towel or blanket in the car in case someone needs to sit or lie down. Blacktop can quickly burn skin if the sun’s been shining on it).
What if you can’t tint your windows? Baby stores sell static cling (http://astore.amazon.com/carseatblog-20/detail/B001OC62QY ) and (http://astore.amazon.com/carseatblog-20/detail/B001LJG60C ) or (http://astore.amazon.com/carseatblog-20/detail/B001IY0HEQ ) window tinting in the car seat accessories aisle. You could try one of those lightweight screens that suction cups to the back window, but will it actually stay up? Not if you have my luck. What don’t you want to buy? Those roller shade things that suction cup to the window. Why? In a crash that shade will fly off the window and smash into someone in the car. When was the last time you had a suction cup stay up?
I have to admit I’ve borrowed some of these good ideas from others over the years. What are some of your warm weather tips for staying cool in the car?