By Kristin Varela on August 30, 2012
The dog days of summer are in full swing in the high altitudes of the Rocky Mountains (read: close to the sun with little ozone filtration). My kids are back to school and afterschool activities, so I'm often driving north on the highway with the earlier-setting sun scorching me relentlessly through the driver-side window.
This makes me more aware than ever about sun visors in test cars that I've been driving lately. Some are incredibly effective, like in the Ford Flex, and some simply fall flat, like in the Mini Cooper S coupe and the Lexus CT 200h (above).
What makes an effective sun visor, and why should you care? Of course there's the practical issue of combined comfort and visibility. Take the CT 200h. Its small sun visor neither slides out on its hinge nor has a pull-out extender. It covers only about a third of the driver-side window, and if the sun happens to be in the other two-thirds, you as the driver are left squinting your left eye to try to block out enough glare so you can still see the road ahead with your right eye. Even while wearing sunglasses, the glare can be enough to make you feel totally uncomfortable at best or, at worst, affect your driving safety. The Cooper S coupe that I drove recently has a sun visor that's even worse (below). It barely functions and seemed to mock me in its puniness.
If this problem isn't enough to persuade you to pay attention to the sun visor before you buy your next car, your vanity just might push you over the edge. The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a study and an accompanying photo of a 69-year-old truck driver who spent the better part of the past 28 years with the left side of his face exposed to the sun through the driver-side window of his truck. Ultraviolet rays from the sun penetrated through vehicle window glass, causing severe damage to the left side of his face.
While the study recommends "the use of sun protection and topical retinoids and periodic monitoring for skin cancer" for this patient and others, blocking additional sun couldn't possibly hurt.
The sun visor in the Flex (above) is the best one I've ever tested. For starters, it's huge, both in length and width. In addition to its colossal UV-ray-blocking size, it also slides out along its hinge to adjust to block the sun exactly where you need it.
While you continue to ponder all of your different vehicle options and try desperately to find the perfect mix of features (and hopefully sun visor coverage), I'm going to run out and pick up some higher SPF. I'm just not convinced anymore that my daily application of 45 will cut it.
Senior Family Editor Kristin Varela blends work and family life by driving her three tween-teen girls every which way in test cars. Email Kristin