August 9, 2014 in Washington Voices

Summer car tough on stuff

Electronics, guns, CDs can’t take the heat
By The Spokesman-Review
 

The steering wheel is too hot to touch and the bag of gummy bears you left in the console has melted into a multicolored glob. The seat burns through your pants. Dead bugs are fried crisp on the hood of your car. And forget about using the windshield washer – the fluid evaporates as soon as it hits the windshield.

It’s really hot in Spokane these days.

If it’s 90 degrees outside, the temperature inside a car quickly reaches 110 or more, and it goes without saying that pets and people shouldn’t be left behind to roast in that heat.

Neither should a laptop computer or a cellphone.

“Our biggest heat concern is the lithium batteries,” said Jack Strong, owner of the Apple Mac dealer Strong Solutions on East Sprague Avenue. “If they get too hot they can have a runaway reaction and swell and puff up.” The swelling not only ruins the battery but may break the plastic or aluminum casing of the computer.

Strong added that liquid crystal displays are vulnerable to heat as well.

“The liquid will expand and damage the display,” Strong said. “Extreme freezing does the same thing.”

Computer tablets and electronic readers may be completely destroyed by a swelling battery.

“Sometimes we can replace the battery. Sometimes there’s no turning back,” Strong said.

Electronics that are made for use in cars – like GPS systems and built-in DVD and CD players – are more tolerant of high heat because they are designed for the fluctuating temperatures of a car environment.

CDs and DVDs are fairly heat resistant if they are in their cases, but if they aren’t they may warp.

“And if that CD is not flat when you put it in your player, you can ruin the player,” said Rich Mickey, store manager at Spokane Valley Car Toys on North Sullivan Road.

Leaving CDs and DVDs in players may actually save them because it keeps them flat, he added.

And that super loud booming sound system that makes the fenders rattle?

“It may be 150 degrees on that big amplifier when you play the system hard,” Mickey said. “That may be too hot.”

Car alarms, however, may be sensitive to the heat. Some alarms may misinterpret the heat warping hoods and doors as someone trying to break in to the car. Mickey said other alarms go on the fritz because the proximity sensor – the gadget that senses when a person is very close to the car – gets more sensitive.

“And then they start blinking and honking for no reason,” Mickey said.

There’s not much to do about that except turning the alarm off or look for a parking spot in the shade.

Some sports equipment is heat sensitive, too. Inflated soccer and basketballs may pop if they get too hot, and shoes made primarily from plastic and rubber may change shape and size.

And don’t forget about that asthma inhaler in that gym bag in the trunk.

Not only may the heat change the medicine, it may also change the little spray can so it expels more or less medication than expected.

“Asthma inhalers should be stored at room temperature,” wrote Connie M. Remsberg, assistant professor at Washington State University’s Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences in an email.

Remsberg added that different medications respond differently to high heat.

“Medications like insulin or nitroglycerin degrade rapidly even if stored appropriately; they will degrade much faster if left in a hot car for an afternoon,” wrote Remsberg. She added that most medications’ chemical structure will change when exposed to high temperatures.

“If the medication is stored in a hot car, you’ll have to keep in mind that it will expire sooner,” Remsberg wrote.

Soda cans and wine bottles may pop their tops in hot trunks, and the same goes for that forgotten can of pepper spray in the glove compartment. Pepper spray manufacturers recommend keeping the canister in a zip-top plastic bag for that reason – and never at temperatures above 120 degrees.

Rifles and handguns should be fine in the heat, said Mike Teegarden, an instructor at Sharp Shooting Indoor Range and Gun Shop on North Freya Street.

He added that it’s a myth that ammunition stored in a hot car will explode.

“It would have to get extremely hot for it to detonate,” Teegarden said.

However, heat and cold will make the ammunition expand and contract, a process that may ruin it and lead to dangerous misfires or duds.

“If you have guns in your car, the most important thing is to make sure they are locked up and out of sight,” Teegarden said.

That, of course, will also make the guns less of a temptation for car burglars.

The car itself is remarkably stable even in very hot temperatures.

Ed Cushman, owner of C & H Foreign Auto Repair on North Foothills Drive, said batteries may be one of the first things affected by the heat.

“They fail or they may short,” Cushman said. “The heat is much tougher on your battery than cold weather is.” And yes, a shorting battery may also set off a car alarm.

The pressure inside hot tires will go up, Cushman said, tires are designed to allow for that fluctuation and if they are in good condition they won’t pop.

“Maybe the tire indicator light goes off, but that should be it,” Cushman said.

His common-sense advice is to take extra good care of drive belts – by the time they begin squealing they are past due for replacement – and the car’s air condition and cooling systems.

“If the front of your car is covered in dead bugs, chances are they are plugging part your radiator,” Cushman said. “Make sure you wash the radiator at least through the grill on your car.”

Any kind of solvent or cleaner, especially if it’s in an aerosol can, should not be stored in the trunk Cushman said.

Cushman added that regular service and good car maintenance goes a long way in terms of keeping your car running in the heat.

And that funky old sneaker smell that comes from the air conditioning unit when you turn it on? That may be bacterial growth or mold.

“It can be cleaned out professionally,” Cushman said, “or you can get in the habit of turning off the AC a few minutes before you get home. Run some fresh air through the system and it won’t smell.”


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