Should You Leave Your Guitar in the Car?

Guitars have many advantages as an instrument from a practical point of view and one of them is their portability. 

However, traveling with a guitar could at some point involve leaving it inside a parked car. 

If the guitar is subjected to extreme temperatures then it can suffer damage. 

This can be temporary such as a change in string action or it can be permanent such as the neck warping or the joints coming loose. 

How likely is it for such damages to occur? 

It all depends on a number of factors, all of which I will touch upon here.

If you just want a short and keep going, here it is:

Guitars are extremely sensitive to both heat and cold. Leaving your instrument in the car is usually a bad idea, especially under extreme weather. Any temperature above 100º F or below 35º F  will be bad for its integrity. Although damage might not always be permanent, playability could be seriously affected.

If you want to dive deeper into this topic and know everything about leaving guitars in the car, please stick with me for a while.

Are you ready to get started?

Let’s go!

How hot would be too hot inside a car?

A car is essentially a greenhouse thanks to the windscreen and windows made out of glass. 

What this essentially means is that heat can be easily trapped by the interior of the car. 

All cars will get heated up with time. 

At an ambient temperature of 70°F or 21°C, it only takes half an hour for the temperature inside the car to hit triple digits when it is parked in sunlight

From there on, it can increase at a pretty rapid rate. 

Anything above 100°F or 40°C is bad news for guitars. 

At temperatures of 140°F or 60°C, the guitar will start to suffer permanent damage. 

However, this can also be the case at lower temperatures if the duration is more than an hour. 

To be on the safe side, never allow your guitar to be exposed to temperatures above 95°F or 35°C.

Can the heat of a car inside affect the glue in a guitar?

Generally, temperatures above 150°F or about 66°C are enough to soften the glue typically used in guitars. 

This can happen at lower temperatures if it is an older guitar or an inexpensive one. 

Can the inside of a car get this hot? 

It can if the ambient temperature is above 90°F or 32°C and the car is left in the sun for more than an hour.

Can cold weather damage a guitar inside a car?

There is a lower limit to the temperature that a guitar can withstand as well. 

This is usually about 35°F or 1.5°C. 

The temperature doesn’t drop inside a car at the same rate as it rises up in hot weather but it can still get too low if it is freezing cold and the guitar sits in an unheated car for more than two hours. 

Exposure to low temperatures heightens the risk of condensation happening, and as you might imagine, guitars are not fond of water.

Moisture can damage wood, joints, and rust metal components such as strings or tuners. What’s more, if any condensation gets into the electronics of the instrument (if it has any) bad things could happen.

How long could a guitar sit in the car?

If the temperature inside the car can be maintained between 35°F and 95°F or 1.5°C and 35°C, then the guitar can sit there indefinitely. 

However, if the car is left to the elements then the guitar should not be exposed to temperatures outside this range for more than a few minutes and even then you run the risk of damage.

Where in the car should you leave your guitar?

The trunk is probably the safest place to store the guitar inside a car. It does not suffer from the same greenhouse effect as the rest of the car but it too will get hot albeit at a slower rate.

Should you leave your guitar inside or outside its case?

The case will provide an additional layer of protection and will definitely be better if direct sunlight is managing to creep into the car. 

A guitar case in conjunction with a humidifier/dehumidifier will also help with humility. 

However, it is crucial to remember that guitar cases do not have any cooling element in them. It will also get hotter as the car starts heating up. 

So, leaving the guitar in the case is arguably better especially as it will prevent the finish of the guitar from fading and becoming dull but it is in no way a license to leave a guitar unattended in a car out in the heat.

Is this potential damage permanent?

That depends on the actual temperature reached and the amount for which the guitar was subjected to the high or low temperature. 

If the temperature wasn’t too extreme or if the guitar wasn’t left in the heat for more than a few minutes the most that would happen would be something temporary that can be fixed with a setup. 

The worst you will probably need to do is adjust the truss rod

On the other hand, if the guitar was left in the heat for too long or if high temperatures were reached even for a short duration, it can lead to permanent issues such as

  • Melting or softening of the glue can cause the joints to come off
  • Cracks
  • Warped neck
  • Disfigurement of the body of the guitar

Are acoustic guitars more sensitive when left in a car?

While guitars of all types will be negatively affected by extreme temperatures, acoustic guitars are arguably more vulnerable. The strings on an acoustic guitar are typically at a higher tension and almost all the joints are held together by glue.

Are there any extra precautions you should have if you leave your guitar in the car?

A situation can always arise where a guitar has to be left in a car. 

If there are no other options then the following steps can prevent damage to the guitar

  • Leave the AC on so that the temperature does not rise or fall abnormally
  • Park the car in a cool shaded area
  • Make sure that the time duration is minimal
  • Store the guitar in a case away from direct sunlight
  • Loosen the strings if it will be for more than half an hour

Theft

This is often an overlooked consequence of leaving a guitar in a parked car. 

Guitars are one of the easier items to pawn off and can be an attractive option for someone looking to make a quick buck. 

If you really must leave a guitar in a car then park in a safe area and place the guitar in such a way that it isn’t too obvious. 

If you can secure it to the car with some sort of a lock, it would be even better.

What to do if your guitar was damaged after you left it in the car?

Begin by re-tuning the guitar. 

Sometimes this is all it will take to get the guitar playing like before again. 

More often than not though, a more involved approach has to be taken. 

If the neck is bent or if there is fret buzz, try adjusting the truss rod and the bridge height if it is possible. 

If all these steps fail or if there is structural damage then getting the guitar promptly attended to by a professional luthier is the only way to salvage it.