Can You Leave Guitar in Cold Car? Risks and Solutions

Leaving your guitar in a cold car is a topic that many musicians worry about, and for a good reason. I will be honest, I’m guilty of leaving my guitar in a cold car, granted in a hard case. But, that made me wonder, what can happen to my guitar if I forgot it there.

I did the research and put together this comprehensive guide to help you navigate the challenges of cold weather guitar care. So let’s find out what happens when you leave guitar in a cold car.


Can You Leave a Guitar in a Cold Car

While sometimes people leave a guitar in a cold car, it is not recommended due to the various risks and potential consequences associated with exposing a guitar to cold temperatures. Guitars, especially those made of solid wood, are sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity, which can result in both cosmetic and structural damage to the instrument.

When a guitar is left in a cold car, the temperature drop can cause the wood to contract, leading to warping or even cracking. Additionally, the neck and fretboard can also be affected, causing issues such as fret sprout and affecting the overall playability of the instrument.

The finish of the guitar can also be compromised, with cold temperatures potentially causing the glue holding various components together to weaken or fail. Furthermore, the string tension can be impacted, leading to tuning instability and necessitating constant retuning.

Given the potential risks and consequences of leaving a guitar in a cold car, it is crucial for musicians to take appropriate steps to protect their instruments when faced with cold weather conditions. In the following sections, we will discuss the specific effects of cold temperatures on guitars, as well as preventive measures and what to do if you’ve already left your guitar in a cold car.

Why You Shouldn’t Leave Guitar in Cold Car

As I mentioned in the previous section, cold temperatures can have a variety of adverse effects on a guitar. We will discuss the reasons to not leave guitar in cold car in more detail here. This won’t be pretty!


Wood Contraction and Warping

When exposed to cold temperatures, the wood of a guitar can contract, causing it to warp. Warping can affect the body, neck, and even the internal bracing of the instrument, potentially leading to irreversible damage. Warped instruments often have issues with tone, intonation, and playability, which can be difficult and expensive to correct.

Neck and Fretboard Issues

The neck and fretboard of a guitar are also susceptible to cold temperatures. Cold weather can cause the frets to protrude from the fretboard, a condition known as fret sprout. This can lead to sharp fret ends, which can be uncomfortable or even injurious to the player. Furthermore, the neck may also warp, causing issues with the guitar’s action and playability.

Finish and Glue Damage

The finish of a guitar can also suffer in cold conditions. Lacquer and other finishes can become brittle and crack when subjected to rapid temperature changes. Additionally, the glue holding various components together, such as the bridge and neck joint, can weaken or fail in cold temperatures. This can result in components separating, causing both cosmetic and structural damage.

String Tension and Tuning Instability

Cold temperatures can also affect the string tension of a guitar, causing the strings to contract and lose tension. This can lead to tuning instability, with the guitar constantly going out of tune and requiring frequent retuning. In extreme cases, the change in string tension may even cause the neck to bow, further affecting the guitar’s playability.

Overall, the various effects of cold temperatures on guitars can lead to significant cosmetic and structural issues, as well as challenges in maintaining tuning stability and playability. Remember that this damage is additive in nature meaning the longer or more often you leave your guitar in cold car, the more damage it will sustain.

Effects of Rapid Temperature Change

In addition to the direct effects of cold temperatures on guitars, rapid temperature changes also pose a significant risk to the instrument. The following points explain how these fluctuations can negatively impact the guitar’s components and structure.

Temperature-Related Stress on Guitar Components

When a guitar is exposed to rapid temperature changes, such as when it is brought from a cold car into a warm room, different parts of the instrument can expand and contract at different rates. This can lead to temperature-related stress on various components, including the wood, metal parts, and finish. The stress created by these temperature fluctuations can exacerbate existing issues, such as warping, and contribute to the development of new problems, like cracks in the finish.

Potential for Cracks and Structural Damage

Rapid temperature changes also increase the potential for cracks and other forms of structural damage. As the guitar warms up, the wood and finish may expand too quickly, causing cracks to form. These cracks can compromise the guitar’s structural integrity and may be costly to repair. In extreme cases, cracks may even lead to the separation of components, such as the bridge or neck joint, which can be difficult to repair and may require professional intervention.

Preventing Damage to Your Guitar in Cold Weather

To minimize the risk of damage to your guitar during cold weather or when transitioning between different temperature environments, consider the following preventive measures:

Insulated Cases and Gig Bags

Using an insulated case or gig bag can provide a layer of protection against cold temperatures and rapid temperature changes. These cases are designed to maintain a more stable temperature inside, helping to reduce the impact of external temperature fluctuations on your guitar. It’s essential to invest in a good quality case or gig bag that offers adequate insulation and padding to shield your instrument from the cold.

Gradual Temperature Acclimatization

When bringing your guitar from a cold car into a warm room, it’s important to allow it to acclimate gradually to the new temperature. Avoid removing the guitar from its case immediately; instead, let it sit in the case for a couple of hours to allow the temperature to stabilize slowly. This will help minimize the stress on the guitar’s components and reduce the risk of cracks and structural damage caused by rapid temperature changes.

Humidification and Hydration Solutions

Humidification is crucial for maintaining the health of your guitar, particularly in cold weather when indoor heating can cause the air to become dry. Using a guitar humidifier can help maintain proper humidity levels within the instrument, preventing wood contraction and warping. Additionally, some hydration solutions, such as soundhole humidifiers or case humidifiers, can help maintain the appropriate moisture content in the wood and reduce the risk of damage associated with cold temperatures and rapid temperature changes.

Best Guitar Storage Temperature

To ensure the longevity and health of your guitar, it’s best to store it in an environment with a stable temperature ranging from 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit (18-24 degrees Celsius). Sudden temperature shifts can be detrimental to your guitar’s wood, finish, and glue, possibly causing warping or cracking. To avoid such issues, keep your guitar away from direct sunlight, heating systems, or air conditioning vents, which can lead to temperature inconsistencies. A digital thermometer can be a helpful tool to track the temperature in your guitar’s storage area.

Best Humidity for Guitar Storage

When it comes to humidity, maintaining a level of 40-50% relative humidity is key for preserving your guitar’s structural integrity. Appropriate humidity levels help to protect the wood and glue joints from potential damage. Insufficient humidity can result in the wood becoming dry and brittle, causing cracks or warping, while excessive humidity may lead to swelling and even mold growth. Depending on your region’s climate, using a humidifier or dehumidifier in your guitar storage space can help to regulate humidity levels.

What to Do if You’ve Left Your Guitar in a Cold Car

If you’ve unintentionally left your guitar in a cold car, it’s essential to follow the proper steps when bringing it back to room temperature to minimize the risk of damage.

How to Bring Back to Room Temperature

First, avoid exposing your guitar to rapid temperature changes. When you bring it inside, keep it in its case for a couple of hours, allowing the temperature to adjust gradually. This will help minimize the stress on the instrument and reduce the likelihood of structural damage.

Inspecting for damage and addressing any issues

Once your guitar has had time to acclimate to the room temperature, carefully inspect it for any signs of damage, such as cracks, warping, or finish issues. If you notice any problems, consult a professional luthier or guitar technician for guidance on repairs or adjustments that may be necessary.

Effect of Cold on Acoustic vs Electric Guitars

While both acoustic and electric guitars are susceptible to the negative effects of cold temperatures, there are some differences in the way they are affected due to their unique construction and materials.

When comparing the effects of cold temperatures on acoustic and electric guitars, the primary differences lie in the construction and materials of the instruments. While both types of guitars are susceptible to cold-related issues, the extent and nature of the damage can vary between them.

Acoustic Guitars and Cold Temperatures

Acoustic guitars, with their hollow wooden bodies and intricate bracing, are more vulnerable to cold-induced structural issues. Changes in shape, cracks, and seam separations may occur more readily in acoustic guitars due to the complex relationship between the top, back, and sides. In addition, the glue used in acoustic guitars may be more prone to weakening in cold temperatures, which can compromise the instrument’s structural integrity.

Electric Guitars and Cold Temperatures

Electric guitars, on the other hand, benefit from their solid-body construction, which makes them more resistant to cold-related damage. The absence of a hollow body and bracing means that electric guitars are less likely to experience the same degree of shape changes or structural issues as their acoustic counterparts. Moreover, electric guitars rely less on glue, reducing the risk of glue-related damage.

However, electric guitars have their unique set of cold-related concerns. The metal components and electronics can be affected by cold temperatures, potentially causing problems with pickups, pots, and other hardware. These issues are less common in acoustic guitars, which primarily rely on their physical construction for sound production.

In summary, while both acoustic and electric guitars are susceptible to the effects of cold temperatures, the nature and extent of the damage can differ due to the variations in their construction, materials, and components.

How Long Can a Guitar Stay in a Cold Car

How long can a guitar stay in a cold car depends on various factors such as the type of guitar, the temperature outside, and the specific materials used in the guitar’s construction. It’s essential to remember that prolonged exposure to cold temperatures can cause damage to both electric and acoustic guitars. Here, I’ll provide a few examples for both electric and acoustic guitars to help answer this question.

Example 1: Electric Guitar Left in Cold Car

  1. If the outside temperature is around 32°F (0°C) and your electric guitar is made of solid wood and has quality electronic components, it may be able to withstand up to 2-3 hours in a cold car without significant damage. However, it’s still best to minimize the exposure to cold temperatures whenever possible.
  2. In extreme cold temperatures, such as -10°F (-23°C), an electric guitar may only be able to withstand 30 minutes to an hour in a cold car before the risk of damage increases. In this case, it’s crucial to bring your guitar inside as soon as possible.

Example 2: Acoustic Guitar Left in Cold Car

  1. If the outside temperature is around 32°F (0°C) and your acoustic guitar is made of solid wood with quality construction, it might be able to withstand 1-2 hours in a cold car. However, acoustic guitars are generally more sensitive to temperature and humidity fluctuations, so it’s best to avoid leaving them in cold environments for extended periods.
  2. In extreme cold temperatures, such as -10°F (-23°C), an acoustic guitar may only be able to withstand 15-30 minutes in a cold car before the risk of damage, such as cracks or warping, significantly increases. In this case, it’s essential to keep your acoustic guitar in a controlled environment and avoid exposing it to such extreme temperatures.

Keep in mind that these examples are rough estimates, and the specific tolerances of your guitar may vary depending on its materials, construction, and overall quality. The safest approach is always to minimize your guitar’s exposure to cold temperatures and monitor it closely for any signs of damage.

What Temperature is Too Cold For a Guitar

What Temperature is Too Cold For a Guitar

Determining a specific temperature that is “too cold” for a guitar can be challenging, as different guitars may have varying tolerances depending on their materials, construction, and overall quality. However, I can provide a general guideline for both electric and acoustic guitars to help you understand when the temperature might be too cold for your instrument.

What is Too Cold for Electric Guitars

For electric guitars, temperatures below 32°F (0°C) are generally considered too cold. As I discussed above, prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures can cause damage to the finish, neck, and electronic components. It’s essential to avoid leaving your electric guitar in temperatures below freezing for extended periods.

What is Too Cold for Acoustic Guitars

As previously discussed, acoustic guitars are more sensitive to temperature and humidity fluctuations than electric guitars. Temperatures below 40°F (4°C) can be considered too cold for an acoustic guitar. Exposure to such low temperatures can lead to cracks, warping, and other damage to the guitar’s body, neck, and finish.

Remember that these temperature guidelines are general recommendations, and the specific tolerances of your guitar may vary. Always prioritize minimizing your guitar’s exposure to cold temperatures and carefully monitor it for any signs of damage.


The Verdict: Leave Guitar in Cold Car

In conclusion, cold temperatures can be detrimental to guitars. Proper storage, maintenance, and precautions can help protect your instrument from cold-related damage. As guitar owners, it’s our responsibility to care for our instruments in all weather conditions.

While it may be tempting to leave your guitar in a cold car, doing so puts your instrument at risk. Be aware of your local climate and weather conditions, since both cold weather and hot weather can have negative effects on your guitar. It is always best to bring your guitar indoors and store it properly to ensure it’s longevity. In short, go out of your way for your guitar because it’s worth it! Thank you for reading this article.

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