what happens if a car gets struck by lightning

The correct answer to what happens if a car gets struck by lightning ranges from “nothing much” to “Wow!

What a mess my car has become. Lightning is electricity, and it’s important to note that electrical energy reacts differently to different mediums.

When lightning strikes a car some of the electrical energy may be conducted through the car’s frame to the ground. Other parts of the energy surge may travel through the electrical systems. Electricity will seek out the easiest path to the ground.

Even when you’re in your car, it’s best to stay away from anything made of metal if you are in the vicinity of lightning.

Understanding Lightning and the “Skin Effect”

Although lightning is tremendously powerful, most of its energy travels on the outer surfaces of a copper wire or a hollow-wall metal pipe.

Therefore, when lightning hits metal objects, like cars, the electricity passes through the outermost layer rather than the actual substance.

This is called the “Skin Effect,” and the vehicle’s steel construction shields occupants from much of the electromagnetic interference generated by the lightning.

Although most cars are still made of metal, today’s vehicles tend to be constructed so that even in the unlikely event one is struck by lightning, and occupants are likely to be safe.

Fact: Passengers in cars struck by lightning usually suffer ringing ears after a strong thunderclap and a shock-induced adrenaline rush.

What to Expect After Lightning Strikes a Car

car struck by lightning

So if a car gets struck by lightning, what happens? If you’re unlucky enough to have a car struck by lightning, here are some of the things you might expect:

Fire Damages

The car’s internal mechanisms are often damaged by the strike and can catch fire, just as damage to the outside of the vehicle is possible.

Not only can a car be set on fire by the bolt itself, but also by objects that were struck by the bolt and then fell on the car’s interior.

Damaged Exterior

Lightning can cause damage to a vehicle’s exterior. Though the lightning may be weak, it can cause damage to the paint, metal, or plastic of the car.

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Engine Shut Down

Because there are many ways a strong electric current can alter the work of an engine, it’s prudent to shut off your engine during a storm. If not, the lightning itself is will likely shut it down.

Damaged Electrical Systems

In addition to causing damage to your tires and car body, a more powerful lightning strike can also affect the electrical systems of your car, so stay away from any electronics during a storm.

Airbags Deployed

When the electrical systems suffer damage during a lightning strike, the results can be varied.

The deployment of airbags is one possible outcome. Airbag deployment can result in injuries and even death due to shrapnel and blunt trauma.

Therefore, in hypothetical situations such as a lightning strike resulting in severe harm, it is essential to stay calm and away from metal surfaces.

Note: When lightning strikes the road around your car, stone and asphalt chunks can cause structural damage to your vehicle.

What to Do When Lightning Strikes Your Car

things to do after strike

Tip #1. Turn on the hazard lights, pull over to the side of the road, and turn off the engine.

Tip #2. Close all the windows and doors of your car since you’re probably in stormy weather.

Tip #3. Do not touch any metal surfaces such as car door handles or gearshifts for at least 30 minutes after the car has been struck by lightning. Until then, your hands should be kept in your lap.

Tip #4. Do not touch any of the car’s electronic components until you are sure the vehicle is in a safe state.

Tip #5. It’s best to wait until the storm has stopped. No matter how fierce the storm, it will eventually end.

Note: Apart from the possibility of a lightning strike, driving during a thunderstorm is generally not a good idea.

After The Strike

strike lightning

After a lightning strike, inspect your car visually for damage without touching anything that might have been affected by the strike.

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Once you have been inside your car for a while after being struck by lightning, it should be safe to get out of the vehicle.

Do not exit your car until you know that the electrical current has dissipated. If your vehicle remains unscathed after being struck by lightning, you might want to stay inside until the storm passes.

Fact: Other indicators that your car has been struck by lightning include damaged or failing antennas and flat tires.

Debunking Misconception

The misconception that tires protect a car when it is struck by lightning stems from the fact that people once believed that the rubber tires served as grounding, protecting the car’s occupants.

It’s the car’s frame and a windshield that shields passengers from harm, not the tires.

The real science of car lightning is that the metal cage around the car redirects the electrical energy from lightning into the ground.

However, since metal is a conductor of electricity, that might not make sense at first.

The Convertible Car

When considering what happens if a car gets struck by lightning, it’s essential to consider the convertibles.

Not all vehicles are made of metal. Convertibles and those made out of fiberglass won’t fare as well in a lightning storm as a metal car will.

Unless your convertible car has a top, you might as well be in the rain with your socks and shoes off—you won’t be protected.

And other factors, such as whether your car is wet or dry, might mean you’ll experience a different rate of lightning strike.

The Lightning Insurance Question

insurance on lightning

Policyholders with comprehensive auto coverage may be protected from the cost of their deductibles if a bolt of lightning strikes their vehicle.

The insurance coverage can help protect you against events such as theft, vandalism, and severe weather, including lightning strikes, tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, and hail.

You must pay your deductible if you want to file a claim with your auto insurance provider after a lightning strike.

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The insurer will then pay for the rest of the claim up to the vehicle’s current value or its policy maximum, whichever is lower.

Fact: Comprehensive car insurance covers damage caused by hazards beyond a collision that is out of your control.

Lightning and Car Windows

Generally, a vehicle must be in an open area with minor obstructions, such as buildings and trees, to be struck by lightning.

Vehicle windows are made of glass which doesn’t conduct electricity. Touching your window glass will not put you at risk.

However, it’s also advisable to roll your windows up to avoid other effects of solid windows and thunderstorms, such as debris hitting you from outside.

Note: Lightning can strike from as far as 10 kilometers from thunderstorms, even in an arid location.

Be Proactive

Here’s what to do to avoid lightning strikes hitting your car:

  1. Be aware of the weather forecast and think ahead so that you’re in an area that is safe during a thunderstorm.
  2. A building is the safest place during a thunderstorm, while an automobile is considered relatively safe from lightning.
  3. You may need to cover your ears to avoid ear damage from thunderclaps.
  4. When in doubt after lightning strikes your vehicle, call 911.

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Final Thought

Folks say you have a better chance of winning the lottery than getting struck by lightning, but they’re wrong.

The odds are between 1 and 500,000.

While it is a good idea to avoid open fields or drive in the rain during a lightning storm, you can undertake other activities or park your car in a dry location that will not likely result in injury.

There’s no blanket answer to what happens if a car gets struck by lightning.

The amount or intensity of energy a lightning strike contains and its tendency to dart about unpredictably are just some reasons why each strike has unique consequences.

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