Cold Weather

Is It Safe to Leave Electronic Devices in Your Car During Winter?

David Corbin writes:

I spend a lot of time driving and I leave my devices and electronics in my car. Is it bad to leave your devices out in a vehicle in cold weather?

Cold WeatherThis all depends on just how cold it is in your area. While it’s never advisable to leave your electronic devices just sitting your car waiting for anyone with a screwdriver and a desire to take what’s yours to pass by, actual damage to your devices doesn’t necessarily happen during milder months. If you live in the southern US or any other region that has intense summers, then the excessive heat that builds up in your car can surely damage electronic components within — especially if your device is in view of the sun where temperatures in a sealed vehicle can exceed 140 degrees Fahrenheit. This excessive heat can overheat your electronics, even if they aren’t actually on.

If you’ve ever left your mobile phone on the passenger seat for long enough during a bright, sunny day, then you’ve probably experienced the uncomfortable results of direct sunlight first hand. You phone might even shut down due to overheating because internal components are hotter than the ones with which you’re in direct contact.

In colder months, the opposite can happen. Electronic components such as batteries and cables respond to extremely cold temperatures in different ways. Your phone’s display has layers of material that can freeze and cause dimming in conditions around 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

Popular Mechanics did a test on mobile devices in 2009 which involved subjecting them to temperatures that could possibly occur in colder climates during the winter months. A car left outside overnight becomes a freezer, and anyone from cooler regions can tell you that a deep freeze can cause havoc with your vehicle, and it’s built to withstand extreme temperature variances.

In this test, phones began experiencing LCD dimming at 10 degrees Fahrenheit. As the temperature went down from there, the battery and LCD began failing. At a common northern winter temperature of -20 Fahrenheit, some models even shut off entirely. Any colder than that and virtually every phone they tested shut down entirely.

The good news is that the vast majority of this damage was temporary. Electronics can be very resilient in this way, and any permanent damage is likely to be caused by other factors (excessive moisture, impact, etc.) than by temperature alone.

Is it safe? There is always a risk involved with leaving your gadgets in a car, regardless of the external temperatures. Let’s just say mobile phones are made to withstand more than their listed operating temperatures. That doesn’t mean you should risk it.