Can Your Car’s Exterior Temperature Gauge Be Trusted?

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On a sweltering summer day, drivers often glance at their car’s dashboard to check two temperature readings: the engine coolant and the external temperature.

When it comes to coolant, a high temperature reading typically signals trouble such as engine overheating or a coolant leak.

But what about the outside temperature, especially if it reads 130 degrees Fahrenheit while the daytime high is only 95?

In reality, such readings don’t hold much weight.

According to The Weather Channel, if you’re seeking an accurate outdoor temperature reading, your car’s thermometer isn’t the place to look.

The reason is straightforward.

Cars don’t utilize traditional liquid mercury thermometers. Instead, they employ thermistors, which gauge temperature fluctuations using electrical currents.

These thermistors aren’t positioned on the vehicle’s exterior but rather behind the grille.

When the reading spikes to an unusually high figure, experts explain it’s often because the thermistor is detecting heat radiated from the road surface—not just the actual ambient temperature.

The culprit is often black asphalt baking under the sun, particularly when the vehicle moves at slower speeds or idles in traffic.

“If you’ve ever walked barefoot on a sunny beach or blacktop, you’ve felt that heat directly radiating from the scorching surface,” notes The Weather Channel.

Conversely, driving on lighter-colored pavement or in shaded areas naturally produces lower readings, and the thermistor proves more reliable during nighttime.

So, while an exceptionally high temperature display might prompt conversation on a blistering day (and certainly serves as a reminder of the dangers of leaving children or pets in parked cars), it doesn’t provide an accurate, official measurement.

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