Ask LH: Can I Leave My Gadgets In A Hot Car?

Dear Lifehacker, I almost always have my laptop, iPod and smartphone with me, but I don’t always want to lug them around. Is it OK to leave them in my car if it’s particularly hot outside? I know extreme temperatures aren’t good, but how hot is too hot, and how cold is too cold? Sincerely, Weather Worry

Photo by VectorLart (Shutterstock).

Dear Weather,

We’ve talked about temperature limits before, but more in the context of CPU temperature. Leaving gadgets in your car in the cold or heat is a completely different matter, since it affects the battery, screen and other parts. In general, you want to avoid extreme temperatures as much as possible, so I wouldn’t recommend leaving those items in your car. Here’s a bit more detail on what your laptop or smartphone can take.

How Hot Is Too Hot?

We all know heat is bad for your tech. Not only can it fry the processor of your laptop or gadget, it can lower your battery’s life and even make the hard drive expand. If you live in a humid area, you also have to worry about condensation building up on the inside.

Generally, once it hits 30C, you want to start shielding your laptop and smartphone from the heat. Remember that the inside of your car will get hotter than the outside, so even if it isn’t quite 30C outside, you should keep it in your bag or leave it at home. And, if you absolutely must have it with you, do your best to keep it in the shade and out of direct sunlight. Laptop stands can also help. Photo by Ed Yourdon.

How Cold Is Too Cold?

Cold is a slightly more interesting beast. In general, tech runs much better when it’s cool than when it’s hot, but when you start approaching extreme winter temperatures, the weather can be just as harmful as in the summer. If you leave your device in the cold for too long, its battery will die and its LCD screen will likely start having issues and possibly die completely. Furthermore, if you leave it in the cold and then bring it into a warm room quickly, you can cause condensation to build up inside the device, which has the potential for more long-term damage.

PC World found that different gadgets can withstand different temperatures of cold. To be conservative, we recommend taking precautions once the ambient temperature reaches freezing (0C). Lower than that, and you’ll slowly start to see different errors or issues until your gadget powers down altogether. When you can, keep your laptop in a case or bag and your smartphone in your pocket to help shield it from the winds of winter. Photo by WKeown.

Lastly, if for some reason you do expose your gadget to extreme temperatures, don’t try to use it right away. Instead, let it warm up or cool down to room temperature before you turn it on. This will help protect your gadget from more lasting damage from issues such as condensation.


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