Keeping sensitive electronics cool in a car
May 25, 2015 11:01 AM   Subscribe

I'm selling almost everything I own so I can fit everything that's left into my car and travel for a while. The inside of my car can get volcanically hot at times, and I'm worried about storing my MacBook and iPad there. What can I do to keep them as cool as possible? Buy a cooler they'll fit in? Do I need to worry about condensation in that case? Any ideas would be very welcome -- thanks!
posted by jeffcovey to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Wrap the machines in a towel, lay a flexible ice pack, the kind used by athletes, beneath them. Moisture drains away and / or absorbed by the towel.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:07 AM on May 25, 2015

If you're leaving them behind in the car, the MacBook and iPad are part of a larger problem: your carful-o-stuff will look attractive to thieves. They'll be okay heatwise whenever you're in the car, but for other times it's probably best if you keep a small briefcase that contains your most irreplaceable/valuable stuff. Take it with you whenever you'll be out of the car, especially if it's long enough for your car to reach volcano status. And while it might be tempting to lock this bag in the trunk, that not only leaves your electronics vulnerable to being rear-ended while you're driving, but you also tip off observant thieves if you relocate the bag after parking. If you're going on a hike or some other circumstance when you must leave them behind, then I like Cool Papa Bell's suggestion.

PS - Perhaps I'm paranoid, but getting ripped off during cross-country moves has happened too often to friends.
posted by carmicha at 11:10 AM on May 25, 2015 [11 favorites]

This might sound extreme but if you plan to live in your car for a while you could have it reupholstered with lighter fabric if you have dark or leather seats right now. I have grey seats and a white car and it has made a big difference in how hot the interior gets (though LBR it still gets hot as hell very quickly). You may also want to use reflective sunshades in your windshield and in the back to help bounce sunlight off your car even more.
posted by Hermione Granger at 11:11 AM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Given they are both flat, I would protect them from heat and theft by putting them in a messenger bag and taking them with you when you leave the car.
posted by cecic at 11:17 AM on May 25, 2015 [10 favorites]

All I can say is definitely do not put any device in the glove box for an extended period of time. I once cooked a classic iPod in mine.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:19 AM on May 25, 2015

If you'll have the ability to freeze or even just refrigerate a sufficient amount of cold packs overnight before warm days, a cooler will work (I recommend an actual foam or plastic cooler over a lunchbag type). Wrap/nest the devices in a towel or clothing, and make a perforated cardboard barrier to put on top of the cold packs so you don't have cold-cold stuff touching directly. Try to nest clothes or towels over the top of your items as well, so there's not so much free-roaming air to need cooling.)

If you're going to be entirely car-bound, I would invest in a 12v cooler if you can find one with internal dimensions big enough for the laptop. Let it get cool while you're driving (and make sure you've got stuff, either cold packs or sodas or water bottles or whatever, to take up space and act as cold reservoirs) and don't open it more than necessary to keep the cold in. Again, use soft items to take up space inside and pad the device.

When I've done this, I've put the cooler in a back seat footwell with items around it and a reflective sun shade over the top, or at least a white towel, to keep the sun from directly hitting the cooler and the air in the footwell getting any hotter than necessary.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:36 AM on May 25, 2015

This is all overkill. Leave the devices turned off, and store them in the trunk to keep the sun off them. They should be fine. Environment testing is a significant part of my day job, and I've run laptops through worse conditions than your car can possibly achieve and they've been fine. Just let them cool down a bit before turning them on.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:14 PM on May 25, 2015 [8 favorites]

Another "just don't leave them in the car" vote. Maybe in the trunk at night when it's cool, but of this is a concern anyways then yes stuff ALWAYS gets ripped off from cars. And yes, the heat can get hotter than even their rated storage temps.
posted by emptythought at 2:44 PM on May 25, 2015

Macs run pretty hot when they're on, so they can probably stand to be as hot as the inside of a car.

But I would never leave a laptop in a car. Never, never, never, never, never.
posted by musofire at 3:09 PM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have found that the passenger foot wells and below the front seats have been reliably tens of degrees cooler than the rest of the car. That's where the electronics live when I am doing a road trip.
posted by rockindata at 3:46 PM on May 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Personally, I'd put them underneath one of the front seats, partly because it is likely to be a little bit cooler, and partly because thieves are unlikely to check there.
posted by Questolicious at 6:44 PM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Storage temperature on a MBP is 113F. If you got a solar powered vent fan (or two) you might be able to stay in that range, depending on where you are going to be.

You might also want to be sure to always use a reflectorized windshield reflector and consider having your other windows professionally tinted to the maximum allowed by law (it varies by state, so go with the most restrictive standard wherever you have the car registered or might want to register it in the future).

Personally? I wouldn't worry much about this. I routinely store a laptop in my car and wouldn't really give it a second thought, as long as it wasn't sitting out actually in the direct sun. Camera equipment with moving parts, where the lubricants or flexible materials could be affected, that I'd be a bit concerned about. But not computers or tablets so much.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:30 PM on May 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm surprised no one has mentioned a sunscreen for the windshield. They make a huge difference, even when you've left your car in a scorching parking lot with no shade all afternoon (as we do while at work). If the cheap one-size-fits-all kind don't work, there are places online where you can order customized sunscreens for your particular make and model--our windshield is kind of an unusual shape and size, and having good coverage is worth the $30 or so it cost.
posted by tully_monster at 7:32 PM on May 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

What can I do to keep them as cool as possible?

Nthing: get windshield sun shades; stick it in the floor board; and if you do leave it in the car, make sure it is not visible.

Do I need to worry about condensation in that case?

If you have any concerns about moisture, store them in Ziploc bags. Small electronics sometimes fit in a quart sized bag. Slim laptops often fit in a gallon bag. You can get bags that are 2 gallon or 2.5 gallon is that is not large enough.
posted by Michele in California at 10:20 AM on May 26, 2015

thieves are unlikely to check there[citation needed]

In my sadly semi-frequent experience, if they actually enter the vehicle, under the seats is the second or third place a thief will look, at least in CA. Ditto for cops.

Nthing don't leave your expensive laptop in the car.
posted by aspersioncast at 6:44 AM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm so sorry for my delay in getting back to everyone who responded; I've been busy preparing to travel, and then traveling. Thanks so much for all the wonderful ideas! I had already placed a reflective sunshade across the storage area of my hatchback, and that does seem to be working well. I haven't come up with a good way of organizing the car yet, I'm just keeping things in bankers boxes, and with assorted pillows and blankets and my gym bag laying around, I'm hoping that it looks like just a bunch of junk to potential thieves. I'm parking in well-trafficked, well-lit places, and hoping it doesn't look like it's worth the risk to anyone.

I probably should look into tinting the windows, for my own driving comfort as well as keeping the car cool when it's parked.

The solar-powered vent fan is a great idea! I wish it weren't quite so pricey, and I'm concerned that it could make the car a lot easier to break into.

Thanks again, happy travels, everyone!
posted by jeffcovey at 11:17 AM on June 21, 2015

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