8 things you shouldn't leave in your car in cold weather during polar vortex

Editors' note: This story is an updated version of an article published on Jan. 3, 2018.

The polar vortex is swooping down from the North Pole once again this week, paralyzing a wide swath of the nation with frigid temperatures and howling winds.

In Chicago, it is forecast to feel like minus-45 degrees with the wind chill, and Minneapolis could reach minus-54 degrees.

As temperatures continue to drop, you might want to take a look at your car. While there are several ways to winter-proof your vehicle, here are some things you shouldn't leave inside for a considerable length of time:


Apple advises against storing the iPhone or iPad at temperatures below negative-4 degrees, and they shouldn't be operated at temperatures lower than 32 degrees. There are similar recommendations for Samsung phones and other electronics. Lithium-ion batteries popular in cellphones are the most vulnerable component to cold. They can stop working in extreme cold but should be OK once you get back indoors. However, repeated exposure to subzero temperatures can cause problems.

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Soda or beer

Water expands when it freezes. And for canned liquids under pressure, that can mean explosion. The freeze temperature for Coca-Cola is 30 degrees, and the temperature for beer that's 5 percent alcohol by volume is 27 degrees (higher-alcohol beers freeze at lower temperatures), as NJ.com reported.

Musical instruments

Things contract when they freeze, so this can cause some instruments to go out of tune. More seriously, "damage can be done when an instrument shrinks as a result of the cold air. If your instrument is made of real wood, the cold air can cause cracking, which is very expensive to repair. Sometimes they are broken beyond repair," according to The Real School of Music. If an instrument is left in a freezing car for a long period, try to make it warm up gradually.

A man pushes a stroller with groceries as flurries swirl around in Detroit, Jan. 28, 2019.
A man pushes a stroller with groceries as flurries swirl around in Detroit, Jan. 28, 2019.


Eggs shouldn't be allowed to freeze in their shells; if that happens, throw away any cracked eggs. Keep the un-cracked ones frozen, and move them to the refrigerator before use. "These can be hard cooked successfully, but other uses may be limited. That's because freezing causes the yolk to become thick and syrupy so it will not flow like an unfrozen yolk or blend very well with the egg white or other ingredients," according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Canned foods

Letting a can of beans freeze allows for the water to freeze and expand in a similar way to beer and soda. The USDA advises that this can result in a broken seal, causing spoilage. If canned food freezes, allow it to thaw in a refrigerator. "If the product doesn't look and/or smell normal, throw it out. DO NOT TASTE IT! If the seams have rusted or burst, throw the cans out immediately, wrapping the burst can in plastic and disposing the food where no one, including animals can get it," according to the USDA.


If you're visiting a pharmacy during the deep freeze, consider that some medications can be affected by low temperatures. "Drugs like insulin can lose their effectiveness if they freeze. The same goes for any so-called suspended medication that has to be shaken before use," according to a report in The New York Times.

Loved ones

This should be obvious. But it's worth noting that children and elderly people can be more susceptible to hypothermia at cold temperatures, with symptoms such as shivering, confusion and exhaustion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So even limited amounts of time in an unheated vehicle could be dangerous. The same goes for pets.

A low gas tank

Keeping a fuel tank more than half-full helps to prevent fuel lines from freezing. It's also a good idea to check fluids, such as antifreeze. The cold can affect tire pressure. "A temperature change of just 10 degrees can cause a 10 percent reduction, or constriction, of air in tires. So tire pressure can be affected from day to night temperature," according to a report in the Chicago Tribune.

Follow Robert Allen on Twitter: @rallenMI

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: 8 things you shouldn't leave in your car in cold weather during polar vortex