The Dangers of Leaving Guitar in Hot Car

As a guitarist, your instrument is an essential part of your life. It’s a tool for creativity, a means of expression, and a source of enjoyment. Like any cherished possession, you want to keep your guitar in the best possible condition. One of the most common yet overlooked hazards to your guitar’s health is leaving it in a hot car.We’ve all been there: you forgot your guitar in the car, but are lazy to go get it, will it be fine?

In this comprehensive article, I will delve into the potential consequences of leaving guitar in hot car, the science behind heat damage, and how you can prevent it. Lets dive in!


What Happens to a Guitar in Hot Car

Leaving a guitar in a hot car can lead to a range of issues due to the rapid increase in temperature inside the vehicle. On a hot day, temperatures inside a closed car can rise 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit above the outside temperature within 20 to 30 minutes.

This can cause the temperature inside the car to exceed 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which is far above the recommended storage temperature for guitars (between 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit). Exposure to such high temperatures can cause irreversible damage to a guitar’s wood, finish, and hardware.

The Impact of Heat on Wooden Components

Heat can cause the wood in a guitar to expand, leading to warping, swelling, or cracking. In extreme cases, the glue joints may weaken, causing the guitar’s top, back, or sides to separate from the body.

Acoustic guitars, which have hollow bodies and rely heavily on wood for their sound, are particularly susceptible to heat-related damage.

Electric guitars, with their solid bodies, may be more resistant but are not immune to these issues. I’m talking thousands of dollars of repairs here, and some vintage parts might not be fully replaceable. What about the finish?


Potential Damage to the Guitar’s Finish

High temperatures can also have adverse effects on a guitar’s finish. In some cases, the finish may soften, leading to blistering, bubbling, or even melting. Additionally, prolonged exposure to heat may cause the finish to become brittle and more prone to cracking, known as “crazing.”

If you plan on reselling your guitar, something like cracking or bubbling on the finish of the guitar can be a deal breaker for many. This type of damage to the finish can emerge very fast during high heat conditions, so be careful!

Effects on Metal Hardware and Electronics

Heat can cause metal components in a guitar, such as tuning machines, bridge, and pickups, to expand, which can lead to misalignment or even breakage. In electric guitars, high temperatures can also affect the electronics, including the pickups, knobs, and wiring.

You know the sound of cracking pot’s? Well that could be from continued heat exposure even at small periods. Furthermore, heat can cause the strings to lose their tension, leading to tuning instability and potential damage to the neck from uneven string tension.

Laminate vs Solid Wood Guitars

There is a significant difference in how solid wood and laminate guitars react to heat. Solid wood guitars are more sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity, making them more prone to damage in hot environments.

Laminate guitars, on the other hand, are made from multiple layers of wood pressed together with glue. This construction makes them more resistant to warping and cracking. However, they are still vulnerable to damage from high heat, particularly in terms of glue and finish.

The Climate and Your Guitar

In general, it’s important to be aware of your local climate when caring for your guitar. Knowing what to expect out of the weather can be a life saver! If you live in an area with hot summers or extreme temperature fluctuations, you should be especially cautious about leaving your guitar in hot car.

However, even in milder climates, it’s crucial to monitor the temperature and humidity to ensure your guitar remains in optimal condition as cold weather too can have very negative effects on guitars.

Acoustic vs Electric Guitars: Effects of Heat

While both acoustic and electric guitars are sensitive to heat, the extent of the damage can vary between the two types due to their structural differences.

Acoustic Guitars and Heat Damage

Acoustic guitars, with their hollow wooden bodies, are generally more susceptible to heat-related issues, such as warping, cracking, and weakening of glue joints. The delicate soundboard, which is responsible for projecting the guitar’s sound, can be particularly vulnerable to heat damage.

Acoustic guitar hardware such as the tuning pegs can be affected as well, but usually acoustic guitars have less meal hardware compared with electric guitars.

Electric Guitars and Heat Damage

Electric guitars, on the other hand, feature solid-body construction, making them somewhat more resistant to heat-related damage. However, they are not immune to the effects of high temperatures. Electric guitars can still experience warping and finish issues, albeit to a lesser extent than acoustic guitars.

The metal hardware and electronic components in electric guitars can be affected by high temperatures, leading to misalignment or breakage of metal parts, as well as the loss of sound quality or complete failure of the electronic components. This is where the electric guitar can suffer.


How to Keep a Guitar Cool in a Hot Car

Avoid Leaving Guitar Hot Car

The simplest way to prevent heat damage is to avoid leaving your guitar in a hot car altogether. If you must leave your guitar in the car for a short period, park in a shaded area and crack the windows to allow for air circulation. See our time guide below for each temperature range for estimates. However, it’s always best to take your guitar with you whenever possible to minimize the risk of heat exposure.

Invest in a Guitar Case

A high-quality, well-insulated guitar case can help protect your instrument from temperature fluctuations and humidity changes. Hardshell cases, in particular, offer better protection than soft gig bags.

If needed, you may need to use a humidifier or dehumidifier to maintain proper humidity levels for your guitar. Aim to keep the humidity between 45-55% to minimize the risk of damage.

When traveling with your guitar, consider using a thermal reflective blanket to cover the case, which can help regulate temperature and protect against direct sunlight. If possible, store your guitar in a climate-controlled environment when not in use, such as a dedicated music room or a temperature-controlled storage unit.

Using multiple methods of protection is the safest way to make sure your instrument is completely unaffected by heat.

Practice Good Guitar Care

It’s important to take the time to learn about proper guitar care and maintenance. Research how to adjust the truss rod, clean and oil the fretboard, and perform general maintenance tasks. Regular maintenance can help prevent heat damage and other issues, keeping your guitar in peak condition for years to come.

Inspect your guitar regularly for signs of heat damage or other issues. Pay close attention to the neck, joints, finish, and hardware. Catching problems early can save you time and money on repairs.

Establish a routine for caring for your guitar, such as wiping down the strings and body after each use, checking the humidity levels regularly, and performing a thorough inspection at least once a month. This will help you stay vigilant in protecting your guitar from heat damage and other potential problems. Check our in-depth guitar cleaning guide for additional information.


How Long Can a Guitar Stay in a Hot Car

The length of time a guitar can safely be left in a hot car varies depending on the specific temperature, the type of guitar (acoustic or electric), and the construction materials. To help provide a clearer understanding, I will consider different scenarios for both acoustic and electric guitars.

Acoustic Guitar in Hot Car

  1. Moderate temperatures (70-85°F / 21-29°C): In this temperature range, leaving an acoustic guitar in the car for short periods (15-30 minutes) should not cause significant damage. However, it’s crucial to keep in mind that temperatures inside a car can quickly rise, especially in direct sunlight. Always monitor the conditions and avoid leaving the guitar for extended periods.
  2. High temperatures (86-100°F / 30-38°C): As temperatures rise, the risk of damage to your acoustic guitar increases. In this range, it’s advisable to limit the time your guitar spends in the car to under 10 minutes. If possible, park in a shaded area or use a thermal reflective blanket to protect the instrument.
  3. Extreme temperatures (above 100°F / 38°C): In extreme temperatures, it’s best not to leave your guitar in the car at all. If absolutely necessary, limit exposure to a few minutes and take all possible precautions to minimize heat exposure.

Electric Guitar in Hot Car

  1. Moderate temperatures (70-85°F / 21-29°C): Electric guitars are generally more resistant to temperature fluctuations than acoustic guitars. In this temperature range, you can leave an electric guitar in the car for up to 30-60 minutes without significant risk of damage. However, it’s still essential to monitor the conditions and take necessary precautions, such as parking in the shade.
  2. High temperatures (86-100°F / 30-38°C): In this temperature range, limit the time your electric guitar spends in the car to under 20 minutes. Again, make sure to park in a shaded area and/or use a thermal reflective blanket to protect the instrument, and be mindful of the risks to electronic components.
  3. Extreme temperatures (above 100°F / 38°C): As with acoustic guitars, it’s best not to leave an electric guitar in the car in extreme temperatures. If absolutely necessary, limit exposure to a few minutes and take all possible precautions to minimize heat exposure.

Please note that these estimates are general guidelines and not absolute rules. It’s always best to err on the side of caution and avoid leaving your guitar in a hot car whenever possible. For you visual learners I included the video below for reviewing the best conditions for your guitar.

Examples of Heat Damage and Guitar

War on Drugs and Coachella Heat

In 2014, American rock band The War on Drugs faced a significant challenge during their performance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California. Due to the extreme heat, the band’s gear, including their guitars, suffered from tuning issues throughout the performance.

The high temperatures caused the guitar strings to expand, leading to difficulties in maintaining the instruments’ tuning. For those who don’t know summer temperatures in Coachella can reach averages of up to 107°F!

Frankensteins Close Call

Another example, though not directly related to heat damage, occurred in 2012 when renowned guitarist Eddie Van Halen’s custom-made “Frankenstein” guitar was briefly exposed to extreme temperatures during Superstorm Sandy.

The guitar was on display at the New-York Historical Society at the time, and while it was not damaged, the incident served as a reminder of the potential risks posed by extreme weather conditions to musical instruments!

The Verdict: Leaving Guitar in Hot Car

Leaving your guitar in a hot car can have disastrous consequences for the instrument’s structural integrity, appearance, and playability. By understanding how heat damage works, the differences between various types of guitars, and following best practices for guitar care, you can protect your beloved instrument and ensure its longevity. Always be mindful of your guitar’s environment, and take the necessary precautions to shield it from the dangers of heat and humidity. Your guitar is a valuable investment, and with proper care and attention, it can provide you with a lifetime of musical enjoyment. From us here at Musician Vault, happy strumming!

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