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Cool down your car during a heat wave — 7 essential tips

woman in hot car with water bottle held to her head
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The unfortunate fact of car ownership is that they don’t really mix well with hot weather. Heat wave or not, even just a few minutes out in hot sunny weather can cause the temperature inside your car to rise, and before you know it, your car feels like an oven. 

It’s a problem we’ve all had to deal with at one point or another, especially if you live in a hot climate. Thankfully there are a number of things you can do to quickly cool down your car — or in some cases stop it from heating up in the first place.

Here are 7 essential tips for keeping your car cool during a heatwave.

Looking for other ways to beat the heat? Be sure to check out our picks for the best smart air conditioners, 7 essential tips for staying cool in a heatwave, how to cool a room down in a heatwave, and what to look for when buying an air conditioner.

Use windshield covers 

reflective windshield cover in silver car

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The easiest way to keep your car cool is to stop it from getting hot in the first place. That’s where windshield covers come into the mix. Much like covering your home windows in aluminum foil, these reflective sheets reflect light (and heat) to stop your car from heating up quite so much. 

The price of these covers varies based on size, but they can be purchased for less than $20 on Amazon (opens in new tab). If you’re worried about your car having a cheap-looking cover, then it is possible to get screens that are tailor-made for individual car models.

If you have the money, you can also keep out some extra light by having your windows tinted. Or purchase some removable window shades (opens in new tab). You can usually purchase these in pairs, and for less than $20.

Fan the doors 

Once a car has heated up, it’s tricky to get rid of that hot air, even with air conditioning. Thankfully you can speed up the cooling process by “fanning” your car door, and forcing the hot air outside. And it’s quite simple to do.

Open a window on one side of the car and make sure the door is closed. Then, on the opposite side, open the door and make sure the window is shut. You then proceed to swing the car door open and closed to force the hot air out of the opposite window. 

It looks and sounds weird, but you’re effectively replacing the hot interior air with the (comparatively) cool air from the outside. 

Air condition the proper way

active air conditioner vent in car

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Air conditioning is great, but you can do more than just flip a switch to turn it on. The way your air conditioner is set up can change how fast your car cools down. So if you want to do cool as quickly and efficiently as possible there are a few things you can do.

The most obvious thing is to make sure the A/C is on the coldest setting, and then that the climate control is set to draw in external air — rather than recirculate the air already in the car. You then open the windows slightly, and set the A/C to come out of the lowest vents. Since cold air is heavier than hot air, it’ll make sure the hot air gets pushed up and out of the window.

Once the air coming from the vents feels cooler than the outside air, shut the windows and switch to recirculated air. Then the A/C will do its thing and keep you nice and cool.

Use ice packs 

ice packs and water bottle on grey surface

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If your A/C is busted, or your car never had it to begin with, then your options are limited. But you can borrow one principle from keeping a room cool and apply it to your car. All you need are some ice packs — or failing that, some frozen bottle of water.

Turn on your car’s fan, switch to exterior air again, and position those ice packs in front of the vents. The air outside is already going to be slightly cooler, and being blown over the ice pack will cool it off even further. Not as much as a bonafide air conditioning unit, but it’s definitely a better option than nothing.

Wipe down hot surfaces 

cleaning car dash with microfiber cloth and spray bottle

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

f you don’t have A/C or ice packs, then some of the things in your car are going to be painfully hot. That includes things like the steering wheel, gear lever and even the seats. Driving with the windows down can get some breeze coming in, but you need to get to that point first. Your best solution? Wipe down the hot surfaces with a damp cloth.

This method will only be slightly effective, and won’t actively cool the inside of your car, but it will stop you from burning your hands. Keeping a spray bottle and a cloth in your can will also ensure you can still do this when you’re out and about. Or, in a pinch, you could get away with using some wet wipes.

Pre-condition your car 

air conditioner dial in car

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If you have one of the best electric cars, then there’s a good chance it has the option to pre-condition the car's air. In simple terms, this feature lets you set regular departure times so that the car can switch on climate control and make sure the interior is a comfortable temperature. 

This is great if you know when you’ll be driving and can plan ahead. Just set it up on the car’s infotainment display, or via the companion smartphone app. 

If your EV doesn’t have specialized pre-conditioning, it may still have the option to set the interior temperature remotely via the official app. This means you can come back to your car to find it’s nice and cool, regardless of what the temperature is outside.

You just need to be aware that this does drain power from the battery, which in turn affects range. While climate control doesn’t tend to use that much energy, this is worth bearing in mind.

Park inside 

underground parking garage full of cars

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Parking your car inside is a great way to stop it from heating up in hot weather. It’s not always possible, but keeping your motor out of the sun is the best way to keep its interior nice and cool. 

If you have a garage, make sure you park in it, and if you’re out in the world try and park in interior or underground parking lots wherever possible. At the very least, your A/C will have less work to do when you do get back inside.

Tom Pritchard
Tom Pritchard

Tom is the Tom's Guide's Automotive Editor, which means he can usually be found knee deep in stats the latest and best electric cars, or checking out some sort of driving gadget. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining that Ikea won’t let him buy the stuff he really needs online.