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When Lightning Strikes!

Talk about your bad day: Lisa was on her way to work in Old Forge, New York, one day, when her '07 Toyota FJ Cruiser got struck -- by lightning. No kidding.

Amazingly, her car continued to run. Mostly. The headlights flickered from time to time, and the radio still doesn't work. Her question? Is there anything else about which she should be concerned? Ray thought that she'd probably be okay, and that the transient surge of power probably didn't cause additional problems. (Though he did recommend wearing a helmet from now on.)

Another boooo-gus Magliozzi electrical theory?

Tell us what you think! Corroborate or refute Ray's theory!

You can hear Tom and Ray's call with Lisa right here.

Last year there was a lightning strike next (10-15 ft) to my 2000 Blazer. Since then, the entry alarm goes off occasionally in the rain and the power door lock solenoids open and close rapidly. I disable the alarm by manually locking the doors and the problem has not reoccurred. At this point in the truck’s, I’m not going to worry about it.

Ed B.

Several years ago I was in a friend’s BMW when the car was struck by lightening. When we got to where we were going to have dinner, the car would not shut off. We finally got it to shut off, and had no problem getting home after, but within a month the computer had to be replaced in the car, as bizarre symptoms kept happening and the car became less reliable.

As an engineer, I’d be afraid of pending malfunctions. Too many devices in the vehicles are controlled by delicate electronic components that normally can be destroyed by a simple static from a fingers. Lisa is lucky that the vehicle is in running. I would at the very extreme least would replace all air bag related components to be safe.

She should call her insurance company. This should be covered.

Top Gear UK did a segment on lightning striking a car!

The real question was unanswered: Is her hair still curly? We straight-haired women need to know!

Years ago I was riding with my mother in her new 80’s model Dodge Omni and a bolt of lightning struck the hood of the car. Fortunately there was no other traffic near because we were literally blinded by the light. My mother did have the presence of mind to hit the brakes and after sitting in stunned silence for a period of time we were able to see again. I don’t remember feeling much of an electrical shock, perhaps because my heart was already racing and the adrenalin was running from the shear “shock” of it all. The car did start back up and she never had any problems with it, I imagine this is do to the fact that the Omni was such a simple car. There were no electric locks, windows or other comptuerized gizmos back then (not that the Omni would have had any even if there was). This call brought back some memories for me. I’m not saying good memories, just memories.

Transient Energy Forms, as described in this episode, can certainly cause havoc with our new electronics infested cars! Their mention reminded me that, years ago, I managed a new electronic telephone system that had more that its fair share of odd-ball problems. When the various problems had been tracked to their causes the technicians usually gave a casual shrug of their shoulders and told me that the outage had been caused by a Transitory Perturbation! At first I would think “What the H*** is a Transitory Perturbation?” but eventually we accepted the phrase and used that explanation for all manner of unexplainable events!

I’ll guess that phrase could be used for many vehicle-related oddities!

Many moons ago I was riding in my Dad’s '61Ford Galaxie in the middle of a t-storm. I don’t think we took a direct hit, but it hit the road next to us. The thunder clap seemed more like an explosion! The car spit & sputtered for a while but no long term damage. Of course that was before computers in cars…this one still had a tube type radio!

I would like to hear the two MIT grads discuss why Lisa felt a tingling and got curly hair in the first place when her car was struck by lightning. Wouldn’t the interior of the car serve as a Faraday cage, and the electric field inside the car should be zero?

Back a few years I was motoring East on I-90 in Indiana in my “large car” (Peterbilt). Lightning struck a jersey barrier to my left. It had no effect on the truck, but next morning when I tried. to call my dispatcher, my cell phone would not connect. Discovered all 100 or so contacts had been erased. Other than that, no problem, just had to re-enter as many contacts that I could remember.
Love the show. I get it nationwide on my XM radio.

There was a guy on a PBS show a while back that had gotten struck by lightning while in his pickup truck. The potenttial of lightning, the voltage peak, can be millions of volts. It can do strange things. It would probably curl my hair too…and maybe even soil my britches!

Lee Trevino had a great line on what to do when on a golf course in a lightning storm.

“Pull out your 1-Iron and hold it straight up in the air. Not even God can hit a 1-Iron.”