Is your car the safest place to hide from lightning?

By Kennedy Ilediagu
Publish on July 15, 2019

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Many drivers have about the Faraday cage and how it works on cars! To further buttress, here is why your car is the safest place to hide from lightning - or not!

There's a general notion that your car is the safest place to hide from lightning. The school of thought further stated that this is because the part of the vehicle that touches the ground is made of rubber (the tyres). Just as the rubber covering a wire insulates the electricity passing through, the tyres should too. Many people thus believe that since there is no metal on the ground, the lightening won't even touch the car at all. Well, sorry to burst your bubble, this notion isn't entirely true.

You are definitely going to be safe, but there is a level of lightning that passes onto your car and it won't be able to withhold it. You sitting on the car cushion keeps you safe, but using metallic features on your dashboard or any part of the interior can hurt you. So is your car really the safest place to hide from lightning or not?

Let's find out below, through the explanation of Naijauto team!

1. How your car actually reacts to lightning

Different cars react to lightning strike in different ways. Your car is more likely fair better when it's made totally of metal, than fiberglass that can be found in the latest cars these days. How dry or wet your vehicle is, is also a factor. The different levels of the electrical energy coming from the lightning further determines how your car can stay safe. All of these wrapped into one can provide several levels of results.

Here is an example. If lightning strikes a car that is fully metal and the windows are all wind up while the engine is turned off, the skin effect phenomenon comes into play. Skin effect is when current are passed only on the outer body of a metal. Metal pipes and copper wires observe this phenomenon - therefore, your car will too. This skin effect phenomenon is quite different from the Faraday's box theory, though maintain a lot of similarities.

lightning-hit-car

When lightning hits your car, staying inside can keep you safe to an extent

The skin effect phenomenon works for electrical currents moving at a fast pace while the Faraday's box (also known as Faraday's cage) is for static electricity. However, they work pretty much the same way. If your car (made of metal not carbon or fiberglass) is off, windows wind up and engine isn't running, it becomes a Faraday's cage. However, if your car is on and moving, the skin effect will apply but will depend on the frequency of the current and other factors listed above. That said, let's delve into how your car reacts to lightning strike.

>>> See how lightning can affect a car: Shocking pictures of Lexus RX 350 struck and burnt by lightning

2. The engine shuts down

When your car is at one position while lightning strikes, it hardly affects the engine. You must have read that also in stories of cars been hit by lightning. However, if the vehicle is in motion, the engine will shut down. That's why when there's a lot rain, it's wise that you park your vehicle somewhere safe and shut off the engine. If the lightning sends high current, it can damage the engine in many ways than one.

3. There will be damage to the interior

When lightning strikes a car, especially when it's in motion, the interior of the vehicle can go up in flames - depending on the level of electrical energy passed. It first of all passed through the electrical system of your car and can light up wires, wood finishing, leather or plastic along its path. This causes damage to the internal features.

That's why it's always wise that you either switch off your electrical appliances and don't place any part of your body on them either. Furthermore, the current can also make your stereo to come on and deploy your airbags. Now imagine your airbags hitting you while driving and you aren't even in a collision. That will definitely cause a lot of harm. However, if the airbags deploy while the car is off, sit still and try to get off the rubber bag without touching any metal or electrical device in the vehicle.

See the moment lightning strikes a moving car!

>>> The weather in Nigeria is harsh, protect yourself: How to drive safely in the Harmattan season

4. Damage to the body of the car

Due to how high the current from the lightning strike can get, you car might receive some pitting or arching on the external body and even scorch marks. Sometimes, the debris from the road affected can also damage the external body of the vehicle. That's why you should simply stay put inside the car.

5. Effects of different lightning currents

When a lightning strikes with low current or electrical energy, it doesn't do much to your vehicle. Perhaps a few scratches or even nothing at all. When the strike comes with average energy, the harm done can be a bit more. It can melt part of the metal on your car body, damage the ignition switch and burn several fuses in the car's electrical system. On rare occasions, you fuel tank might explode and the vehicle will go up in flames. Many times, it keeps the engine safe regardless (which might sound weird). Lastly, there's the big one, lightning with a lot of current. This is one everybody prays not to ever experience. High current lightning blows up the engine and fuel tank and the car goes up in flames. It can also stop an automatic door from opening, making it difficult for you to exit the vehicle.

Now you know that your car being the safest place to hide from lightning depends on a number of factors - energy level of the lightning, if the car is fully made of metal, if the engine is running, if the windows are closed and you not touching anything. You should know how to stay safe in the rainy season.

>>> Read more about road usage and safe driving right here on Naijauto.com

Kennedy Ilediagu is an experienced wordsmith and a creative automotive writer for Naijauto.com. His forte ranges from vehicle maintenance and latest industry updates, to car review articles. He is also a brand management and content creation expert who has worked with Daily Posts (United Kingdom), ESUT Egg Day magazine, and many others for years. Digital copies written by him inform, educate and engage readers globally. When Kennedy is not writing, he is busy taking care of animals, traveling or watching football.

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