I've been trying to solve one of Tucson's perennial transportation problems.

That's right: How to avoid a scalding-hot steering wheel.

With continued forecasts of highs in the +100s, this is a good time to share the results of my somewhat scientific project.

Armed with a borrowed infrared thermometer (thanks, Dad!) and using several very sunny parking spaces, I tested six ways to keep your hands from steaming.

Test 1: Pop-up windshield screen

High: 102 degrees

Dashboard temperature: 161 degrees

Steering wheel temperature: 172 degrees

Results: While the screen kept the heat off the dashboard effectively, sun poured in through the passenger window.

Test 2: Cracking the window

High: 105

Dashboard temperature: 198

Steering wheel temperature: 170

Results: Longtime Arizonans love to tell newcomers this tip, and it turns out to be one of the best solutions.

Test 3: Lunch box coolers

High: 102

Dashboard temperature: 204

Steering wheel temperature: 180

Results: I put two frozen gel packs in a plastic bag and draped them over the steering wheel, but they didn't keep their cool.

Test 4: Cardigan

High: 104

Dashboard temperature: 204.5

Steering wheel temperature: 175.5

Results: Pat McKnight recommended this method, which is a winner. Drape a cardigan over the wheel to keep the sun off, then use the sweater inside stores where the A/C is cranked up. She says an old T-shirt works, too.

Test 5: Neoprene steering wheel cover

High: 105

Dashboard temperature: 217

Steering wheel temp: 189

Results: While the dashboard got hot enough to boil water, the $10 cover made out of the same stuff as wetsuits was 28 degrees cooler.

Test 6: Oven mitts

High: 104

Dashboard temperature: 203

Steering wheel temperature: 179.5

Results: Clipping a couple of pot holders onto the steering wheel didn't keep the steering wheel from reaching the recommended internal temperature of a cooked turkey.

Our findings

The answer? Crack your windows for a cooler car and a less-scalding steering wheel. But, pro tip: watch for monsoons!

A version of this column originally ran in a June 2012 edition of the Arizona Daily Star.


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