Sun screens block glare, not glares

July 18, 2002|By KEVIN COWHERD

IN THE SUMMER, America divides into two separate and distinct camps: those who use those dopey windshield sun screens in their cars, and those who don't.

Let's examine this as clinically as we can.

As a general rule of thumb, those who don't use windshield sun screens tend to be affable, easygoing and not given to histrionics.

When they first get into a car that's been sitting in the hot sun for hours, they don't make a big deal of the fact that the interior is so sweltering they're on the verge of blacking out.

And, except for a small yelp or two when they brush against a door handle or seat-belt buckle that now sears like a branding iron, they are stoical about any third-degree burns they receive, figuring that's why God made Bacitracin.

(There also exists the distinct possibility that people who don't use windshield sun screens aren't very bright, but that's another issue altogether.)

Your windshield-sun-screen user, on the other hand, tends to be fussy, overly analytical and a general pain in the neck to be around.

No stop in his car, however short, can end without him chirping, Felix Unger-like: "OK, gotta put up the sun screen!"

This is followed by a seemingly endless ritual that involves laboriously unfolding the screen and positioning it just so, so that it covers every tiny piece of windshield.

Sometimes these people will actually pull into a parking lot and study the position of the sun to make sure their car faces it - just so they can put up the stupid sun screen!

Annoying? Oh, you betcha.

Believe me, after five minutes in the presence of one of these people, you'll want to strangle him.

Yet despite all this - and, again, I have tried to characterize both sides as fairly as possible, based on recent clinical studies, available medical data, etc. - windshield sun screens continue to be big sellers.

At the Pep Boys Automotive Supercenter in Towson the other day, a display of windshield sun screens was perched right near the cash register; you could miss them only if you suffered from advanced glaucoma.

It was the same at Salvo Auto Parts in Timonium, where sales clerk Ted Paulson said they were selling briskly. Still, when I asked how well they actually worked, he was hardly glowing in his praise.

"What they do," said Paulson, "is basically keep the steering wheel from being too hot to touch. And that's about it."

When I spoke later on the phone to Steve Sohasky, Salvo operations manager, he admitted to owning a windshield sunscreen but said he uses it "maybe twice a year.

"They're a pain in the butt" to set up and take down, Sohasky said. "If you have a life, you're not going to use them every time you [park.]

"It's like The Club," he continued, referring to the popular anti-theft device that locks into a car's steering wheel. "People will use it, and after a month, they get tired of setting it up."

Sohasky brought up a great point when he talked about what a pain these sunscreens are to use.

I don't know if you've ever had the pleasure of waiting for someone to fold up their screen before pulling out of a parking space so you can get in. But there is an excellent chance that you will die of old age before that person finishes.

That's because, while some of these screens fold up accordion-style, some of them fold up like road maps, into tiny 4-inch squares. Basically, you need an engineering degree to figure out how it folds.

Think that guy in front of you at the ATM is taking forever? You'll be in a homicidal rage sitting there with your turn signal on waiting for half these people to fold up their sun screens.

At the Timonium Salvo, you could buy windshield sun screens with reflective material on the outside, as well as Ford and Chevy sun screens, Coca-Cola sun screens, and sun screens that featured Mickey Mouse, the Looney Tunes characters and Winnie the Pooh.

I didn't see any that said CALL POLICE, although I see those around town all the time, usually in the windshields of the same cars day after day after day.

I'm sure the owners simply forgot that the message was showing on their sun screens. Or, if they really were in trouble, it's time to update the message to CALL CORONER.

(On a related note, you know those sun screens that came out maybe 10 years ago that feature two huge eyes staring out at you? Sun screen devotees still think those are a hoot.)

Unfortunately, in keeping with the current credo of manufacturers that all consumers are dopes just waiting to sue the pants off them, the sun screens all carried this warning: "Never operate vehicle with sun screen in windshield."

Oh, I thought that was pretty sad. But when I talked to Sohasky, he told me something even sadder.

Forget about sun screens, he said. You know what the hot new product is in auto stores? Fake bullet holes.

"Beg pardon?" I said. There was a bit of a crackle in the phone, and I didn't think I'd heard him correctly, which immediately made me think of suing Verizon.

Fake bullet holes, Sohasky said again. Decals that you stick on your windshield to make it look like someone shot at you.

Wonderful.

And technology marches on.

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