Why have I suddenly started getting electric shocks from my cars?
April 11, 2013 4:55 AM   Subscribe

Every now and then, there will be a few weeks when I get electric shocks as I'm getting out of my cars. Normally they're just a little surprising, but the last few weeks I've been getting steadily stronger shocks that actually hurt / tingle for a while afterwards. What's going on?

* this only happens to me, not my wife - either as a driver or a passenger
* it doesn't seem to happen in other people's cars (although I'm not a regular passenger in other cars)
* I can avoid the shock if I take hold of the car door before I put my foot on the ground.

The normal answers I can find online involve clothing rubbing on seat fabrics and causing a static buildup. But I'm a geek who always wears the same brand of trainers and denim jeans, and who considers owning 30 different colours of the same brand of 100% cotton polo shirt to be enough variation in fashion.

So, it can't be as simple as "your clothes are rubbing on the car seat" or I'd always get shocked.

What's happening, and is there anything else I can do to stop these shocks?

It's unlikely it matters, but the two cars are different sizes, ages and manufacturers (diesel 407 Pug and petrol Toyota Corolla) but I service both of them myself, so they may not have had some little widget replaced or dodad greased.
posted by sodium lights the horizon to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total)
Cool, dry weather enhances the build up of static electricity.
posted by saucysault at 5:06 AM on April 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Weather. When the outside humidity is low you tend to get more static charge on the OUTSIDE OF THE CAR which is why you only get shocked coming in or out. One way to kill it dead is with a static strap (which used to be really common, but I don't see them so often anymore.)
posted by three blind mice at 5:07 AM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yep, weather. I find that I get more static buildup than others, so I'll often be the only one getting shocked. My strategy is to close doors by the window rather than touching the metal.
posted by DoubleLune at 5:44 AM on April 11, 2013

Agreed with all of the above. If you wish not to get shocked, or get shocked less, you can try changing to clothing of a different material. Really though, I would just recommend holding onto a metal part of the car chassis from the time you even start to get out of the drivers seat until you exit the vehicle. Then all the static you generate will be continually discharged back into the car.
posted by Phredward at 6:14 AM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you forget to keep touching the metal as Phredward suggests, when you're out of the vehicle try touching the metal first with your knuckles, which are less sensitive than your fingertips.
posted by beagle at 6:42 AM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Knuckle works well or, since you're usually holding your car keys as you exit, you could touch the car with your key. Just find a place where the key won't nick the paint and cause rusting down the road, like the inside edge of the door.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:57 AM on April 11, 2013

Another method I have used is to not touch the door with my bare hand, but rather to close it with my hip or shoulder or gloved hand (which is kind of gross in salty filthy New England winter weather, but there you go).

As for why it happens to you and not to your wife, it probably has to do with either your clothes or your car-exiting technique.
posted by mskyle at 7:07 AM on April 11, 2013

It's the interaction between something you are wearing (usually pants) and the fabric of the car seats.
posted by gjc at 7:11 AM on April 11, 2013

This might also be an issue if you guys recently ran out of fabric softener or dryer sheets (or changed brands). Might explain why, if you haven't changed the clothes you're wearing, they could still be contributing.
posted by royalsong at 8:01 AM on April 11, 2013

Since this only happens to you, not your wife, it is probably you.

I have a form of Cystic Fibrosis. When I was getting the hell shocked out of me by my car, I asked around on some CF lists to see if this is a CF thing. It turns out it absolutely is. In fact, one test for CF measures bodily electrical...something-or-other.

Cystic Fibrosis involves the misprocessing of certain electrolytes and fats. So it sounds to me like you probably have developed an electrolyte imbalance or otherwise become chemically less grounded. Dietary changes or supplements could correct it, if you can figure out where things went wrong. They did a lot to fix my tendency to get the crap shocked out of me.
posted by Michele in California at 9:33 AM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I get this depending on what kind of shoes and socks I am wearing. Basically rubber soled shoes let you build up and store static electricity until it is all released in one big shock as soon as you touch something metal - usually a door knob on my way out of my apartment in my case. Something as small as wearing thick wool socks with my moccasin slippers in the winter will also allow this.

I assume that without the rubber soles or thick socks that the static is constantly discharged in my small unnoticeable amounts.
posted by srboisvert at 10:03 AM on April 11, 2013

Well, I have the same wardrobe proclivities as you (I pretty much wear a uniform) and I experience the same problem. It's worse in the winter.

If I touch the car door with my knuckles it hurts less, and I only get shocked once. That's the way I handle it.
posted by k8lin at 12:28 PM on April 11, 2013

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