How To Break Auto Glass In A Hot Car Emergency
At Anthony Volk Glass, we traditionally focus on FIXING broken windshields and auto glass–but this month, we’re straying from that for a very good reason. In this blog post, we’d like to address a very important topic that resurfaces each year: deadly locked car emergencies. Every summer, local news channels are flooded with tragic stories of children or animals being locked inside of hot cars—and, in many cases, these innocent victims don’t survive.
Upon realizing their loved one is stuck in a dangerously hot car, the car-owner (or even bystanders) will no doubt think of breaking the auto glass or windshield to bring the child or animal to safety. However, there is most definitely a right and wrong way to do this.
Please note: Pennsylvania does not currently have a “Good Samaritan” law that allows any person to break into a vehicle to save an animal, although a bill has been proposed. Your first course of action should always be to call 9-1-1 and attempt to find the vehicle owner.
About Auto Glass and Windshield Design
Auto glass is required to be exceptionally strong, and a car’s front windshield is the strongest of all. Your windshield is capable of resisting the force of even a direct front end collision, plus holding up against flying objects like rocks or road debris. Strict automotive industry safety standards require that car windows be reliably strong and protective. Vehicle windshields are made of super-strength laminated glass, and a car’s back and side windows are made of slightly less shatterproof tempered glass.
To break auto glass, even on the “weaker” side or back windows, you need the proper tools. With the right tool and strategy, physics is on your side and you can successfully break the glass to save someone from a hot car death.
Saving Someone from a Hot Parked Car
How to Break a Car Window to Save A Life: Strategy
The laws of physics dictate that you’ll require intensely targeted force to break a car window. Blunt force won’t shatter the car window. Specifically, you need a sharp, pointed object—such as a spark plug. A plug is a natural choice in this situation since they are readily available under the hood of a car (except for diesel models).
To break the car’s side window or back windshield:
- Remove a spark plug from under the hood of the car in question–or from a nearby vehicle, perhaps your own. Another bystander may offer to help you pull the plug–if you tell them a spark plug is needed.
- With spark plug in hand, smash it into the ground (cement parking lot) or into the side of a masonry building. If you have a hammer or metal bar to smash into the spark plug, this can help. Smashing the spark plug should chip off some of its porcelain outer covering. Your broken spark plug should now have sharp pieces of white porcelain laying around it. Pick up one or two pieces. (You may get a cut on your hand in the process, so–if time and anxiety level allow–be careful picking up the shattered porcelain piece(s).
- Tell the trapped person, if they are conscious (or communicate to the animal if you can) to lean out of the way. (For an animal, you might do a mock throw of the porcelain first–so s/he will naturally react by backing away from the car window.)
- Now, take your small piece of sharp porcelain and throw it at the center of the side car window as hard as you can. Even though you are not generating much force with your throw, the sharp porcelain point focuses the force. It should cause a tiny fracture in the tempered auto glass, which will instantly spread out. The window will look like a spider web of cracks, and there may be an actual hole in the center. (By safely shattering, we mean that tempered automotive glass is designed to shatter without producing sharp shards of glass. Tempered car window glass produces crumbled bits that are not sharp and should stick together–so you can pull out the shattered window from the center weak point or hole. This prevents injury you and the car’s passenger.)
- Help the trapped person or pet out of the car and into shade. Or at least open the car doors to get fresh, cooler air to the victim. Offer water, but don’t force it. Offer a cool, wet cloth or towel.
- Wait with the victim for authorities, unless you feel unsafe doing so.
Other Emergency Options to Break a Car Window or Rear Windshield
If you don’t have access to a spark plug, you can use any type of sharp porcelain shard, such as a broken:
- Ceramic ashtray
- Coffee mug
- Smoking pipe
- Porcelain “china” keychain charm
- Decorative item hanging from the rearview mirror
- Dish from a nearby restaurant
- Item from a bystander, or a nearby convenience store or other retailer
Ideally, hit the car window at its weakest point (near the center), but other spots may work just as well.
What to Do When You See A Hot Car Emergency
- Don’t fail to call authorities! You must do this–whether or not you are able to (or feel a need to) take action on your own to free the trapped individual from the parked car.
- Take a photo with your phone if possible, before your rescue attempt. The photo should show the trapped individual, and also get a shot of the license plate for authorities. If the car owner emerges, you may still want to give this info to responding authorities. (If you shatter the window, take an “after” photo as well.)
- Don’t confront the car owner if s/he shows up, whether or not you have shattered the car window, especially if you are alone. You could find yourself under attack, similar to a road rage incident. Let authorities handle apprehension or admonishment.
- Let the car owner/driver drive off if they try–especially if you are on your own–and just give your photos and info to the authorities. Perhaps collect witness phone numbers as well, because bystanders with valuable information may walk off quickly.
Default Action for Saving Someone Trapped in a Hot Car — Call 911
When you notice a child, elderly person or pet locked in a hot car, even if the windows are partially down–this is typically an emergency situation. People and animals can die of hyperthermia (overheating, sustained high body temperature) in a locked parked car, in a very short time. You are perfectly justified in calling 911 to save a life, and acting on your own is risky.
We don’t wish to advocate that people should immediately break windshields or car windows (especially if it’s not their vehicle)…it is always best to call the authorities. HOWEVER, if it is a complete emergency, we want our local community to be advised of the proper way to go about breaking a rear windshield or car side window.
Stay safe out there, whether on the road or in the parking lot. Please call us at (610) 436-9727 with any questions! Thank you!