Thankfully, 2020 spared us any polar vortexes. But it does still reach below-freezing temperatures in many parts of the country this time of year. If you’re lucky enough to live in an area where shoveling snowy driveways and scraping ice from your windshield are required, you should also pay attention to what’s inside your car.
That’s because certain items left in a freezing cold car can not only get ruined, but also become dangerous. Below is a look at the things you should never leave in your car during the cool winter months.
If a stop at the pharmacy is on your list of errands for the day, be sure to bring your medications indoors with you. Many have a recommended storage temperature of 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit in order to work properly. In fact, allowing drugs to get too cold could not only render them ineffective, but cause them to become harmful. For example, compromised antibiotics can cause stomach or kidney damage. It’s important to prevent liquid medications, in particular, from freezing.
2. Musical instruments
You might want to think twice about leaving your guitar or violin in the car between lessons. Cold temperatures can cause your musical instruments to contract, causing a range of issues. Best case, they could go out of tune more frequently. However, instruments made of wood are also susceptible to shrinking and cracking, which is very expensive to fix. In some cases, the cracking can be too severe to repair.
3. Canned soda and beer
You might want to save lugging in that case of seltzer or Bud Lights for later, but you should be careful not to let carbonated canned drinks get too cold sitting in your car. As they freeze, pockets of carbon dioxide can build up pressure and cause the cans to explode. And no one likes a mess ― or worse, bodily harm.
4. Canned food
Like liquids, food inside of cans can also expand when frozen. This may cause the can to swell and the seams to come apart, allowing the potential for bacteria to get in.
You can salvage the food, though, if you forgot a few groceries in the car overnight and know that the swelling is due to freezing only. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends placing the can in your fridge to thaw before opening. If it looks off or smells weird, throw it out. You should also toss any swollen cans that have been sitting around for a while ― don’t take any chances.
According to the USDA, it’s not a good idea to let shelled eggs freeze. When the liquid inside the egg becomes frozen, it expands and can crack the shell. Once the shell is cracked, it’s not safe to eat.
But even if your eggs don’t crack after freezing, they probably won’t be as tasty. You can try hard boiling them, but any other cooking method will result in a thick and syrupy yolk that won’t blend with the rest of the egg.
6. A near-empty gas tank
After a long day of driving around town, the fuel light comes on with no gas station in sight. The last thing you want to do is drive another couple of miles to fill up, so you save that problem for tomorrow. Hey, we’ve all done it. But if it’s particularly cold outside, you may want to rethink leaving your car sitting with just a bit of gas in the tank.
It’s a myth that small amounts of gasoline will freeze in your tank; gasoline freezes at -40 to -200 degrees Fahrenheit, so unless you’re driving through the Arctic tundra, you should be fine. Even so, you could run into a few other issues. Cold gas becomes thick and heavy, forcing your fuel pump to work harder and potentially shortening its lifespan. Plus, it is possible for any water or vapor in your fuel system to freeze and block your fuel line. Diesel fuel does have a higher freeze point, so be sure to use antifreeze additives if you’re parking in freezing temps. And don’t plan to drive too far on a low tank when it’s cold out ― the increased viscosity of the fuel could trick your gas gauge into showing a higher level than what’s really in there.
7. Your cell phone or tablet
You probably know better than to keep your iPhone or tablet sitting out in the blazing sun. (If you didn’t, Apple warns that exposing your device to extreme heat can permanently damage the battery life.)
However, you may not realize that exposing your device to low temps can also impact its performance. Using your phone outside of the recommended temperature range of 32 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (0º to 35º C) could temporarily shorten the battery life and even cause it to turn off. But don’t worry if you do forget it inside your freezing car ― battery life will return to normal once it comes back up to ambient temperature. In the meantime, you may have to pause your doomscrolling.