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Pets in hot cars can be a costly mix

When you last rented a VCR from your local VCR shop, you may have seen a twisted, melted videotape on display to show what can happen to a tape left in a car in the sun. I always wondered whether this was a legitimate problem.

According to the Anti-Cruelty Society, when the temperature outside is 80 degrees or higher, a parked car can quickly become dangerously hot for pets. Here are some facts to remember about pets in your car, the group says:

In less than 10 minutes, the temperature inside your car can reach 102 degrees or higher.

In less than 30 minutes, the temperature inside your car can reach 120 degrees or more.

At 110 degrees, a pet may have just minutes to live. In such conditions, a pet may suffer heatstroke leading to collapse, brain damage and possibly death. The Anti-Cruelty Society says that signs of heatstroke include difficulty in breathing, then sudden rapid breathing, abnormally red gums and tongue, a blank or anxious stare and disorientation or sudden collapse.

What should you do if you inadvertently endanger your pet by leaving it in an overheated car?

The Anti-Cruelty Society says that you should immediately immerse, cover or rub your pet with cool, but not cold, water to lower its body temperature. When the excessive panting subsides, take your pet to a veterinarian for an emergency examination. Even if it seems as if your pet has recovered, it's important to check for any internal damage.

While we are on the subject of dangers associated with cars, it might be worth mentioning children.

The San Francisco-based nonprofit organization Kids 'N Cars says it has documented at least 530 cases between 1990 and 2001 of children dying because they were left unattended in or around vehicles.

"Often the culprit is an otherwise attentive, loving parent who unwittingly puts their own convenience above their child's safety," according to the organization's co-founder, Terrill Struttmann of Washington, Mo.

Struttmann's 2-year-old son was killed and his wife seriously injured in 1998 when young children in a van inadvertently knocked the shift lever into drive and sent the van speeding into the park bench where the Struttmanns were seated.

But how do you combine awareness of such hazards involving children with the practical need to just get through the day? It's one thing to warn parents that it would be best never to leave a small child alone in a car, but what about that quick stop at the cleaners to pick up the laundry, or drop off film at the photo shop? Are we being too risk-aversive to never leave children in a car alone? Frankly, I don't know. There has to be a balance. You can't go through life in constant fear of misadventures.

Of course, that comment wouldn't go far with Mr. Struttmann, and who could blame him?

For your information, 11 of our 50 states outlaw leaving a child unattended in a car for whatever reason.

Hybrid hazard

How about this for an unintended consequence: Hybrid cars, which derive much of their power from high-powered batteries, may pose a threat to first responders in the event of an auto accident involving a hybrid car.

Regular cars have a relatively weak 12-volt battery (although its power may quadruple in the near future to accommodate all the electronics that we have come to expect out of our vehicles). A hybrid car, such as the hybrid Civic or the leader of the pack, the Toyota Prius, has much more electrical power _ up to as much as 500 volts.

What happens if the car is in an accident and the wires are shorted out? Touch the car and you get zapped. And apparently it could be deadly.

No one is talking about what it could do to the passengers before the emergency crews get there. I suppose it will depend on whether you are grounded. Just food for thought. It shouldn't deter you from buying one of these nifty new cars if that is your inclination.

Quiz

(Be the first to answer the following question and win a small prize.)

Question: When was the first U.S. auto fatality recorded? (Bonus question: Where did it occur?)

Answer to last week's quiz:

Question: What car offered portholes to improve driver visibility in its 1956 model?

Answer: The Ford Thunderbird.

_ Send questions, suggestions or quiz answers to infoamericaontheroad.com, and we will do our best to respond, either in a subsequent column or via e-mail. Happy motoring!

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