Today: Is Margaret's convertible safe in a thunderstorm?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 01, 2008

Dear Tom and Ray:

I LOVE my 2000 VW Cabrio. It feels solid on the road, and the functioning roll bar completes the safe feeling (no, I haven't had to use it). But I'm wondering about how safe it is when there's lightning all around. I've heard that a car is safe in a thunderstorm not because of the rubber tires, but because it's completely encased. So, does that make a convertible with a cloth top vulnerable? Am I risking my children's lives? Do I need to get something with just a sunroof for safety and peace of mind? Do I need to succumb to my husband's insistence that I get an (ack!) minivan? -- Margaret

TOM: Tell your husband to go jump in a lake, Margaret. Just not during a lightning storm.

RAY: You don't need a minivan. Your Cabrio is fine in a thunderstorm. From the little we understand about lightning, when it hits a car, it stays on the exterior, metal surface, and goes to the ground through the tires.

TOM: We've heard of all four tires exploding. And we've heard of electrical systems being fried after a bad lightning strike. But we've never heard of injuries to people inside the car.

RAY: Airplanes presumably get hit by lightning far more often than cars do, and people inside them are safe for the same reason. The electricity stays on the outside of the fuselage, even though the guy in 9B might wish that enough of it had leaked in to blow up the seat in front of him and give him some more leg room on the way to Newark.

TOM: But what about your canvas top? Well, it has metal supports throughout it, doesn't it? Plus, you have the metal roll bar. And that roll bar is attached to the metal frame of the car. So I don't think you have anything to worry about, Margaret.

RAY: But just to be safe, always put the top down in a rainstorm so the roll bar stays completely exposed.

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