food and drink left in car

7 Items You Should Never Leave In Your Car

When Jacqueline L. left an unopened bottle of wine in her car overnight a couple years ago, it never occurred to her that it would be a problem. So when the Los Angeles resident returned to her car the next afternoon, she was shocked at what she found: Extreme heat had forced out the cork, and wine had spilled out all over. “My back seat smelled like wine for a week,” she says.

Extreme temperatures can do more than pop corks—all sorts of items may be at risk when left in the heat or the cold. And it can happen fast: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the temperature inside your car can rise by as much as 20 degrees in just 10 minutes. After an hour, it can hit a whopping 140 degrees on a 95-degree day, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. That can be dangerous for children and pets, of course, but it can also cause problems with everything from food to flammable items.

Some items, like spoiled food, can be harmful to us. Others can result in a car that’s smelly and messy, which (besides the obvious annoyance) could affect its resale value, says Shelia Dunn, the communications director at the National Motorists Association. While you may need some car-cleaning hacks no matter how careful you are, it’s good to try to keep your car neat. “Every time you get out of the car, empty out the trash,” says Dunn, “especially after long trips.”

Here’s what to watch out for.

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Food & Drink

A bottle of wine sealed with a cork is just the beginning. Cans of soda, for example, can be problematic in either hot or cold cars. And, says Dunn, don’t neglect items like candy bars or ice cream, which can quickly melt in the heat and make a mess. But it’s not just your car’s upholstery that’s at risk. According to the FDA, bacteria that can cause food-borne illnesses double every 20 minutes, even at room temperature. So don’t leave groceries or leftovers in a warm car for more than two hours, or only an hour when it’s over 90 degrees.

Aerosol Cans

Look on the side of that can of hairspray, deodorant, spray paint and the like, and you’ll probably see a storage temperature recommendation. That’s because pressurized cans are particularly sensitive; outside of that temperature zone, the contents may expand, which could cause the can to crack or explode.


Tossing a tube of sunscreen in your bag is always a smart idea, but be wary of leaving the bottle in your vehicle; exposing sunscreen to high temperatures can shorten its shelf life, says the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Besides losing efficacy, your protective SPFs may end up a big smelly mess, if the heat blows the cap open.


Lighters may be tiny, but they can pack a punch when overheated. The flammable fuel inside these little plastic tubes can expand and breach the lighter casing when exposed to high heat, creating a fire hazard. Whether the heat in the car will cause combustion is a subject of debate, but why take chances? In general, “it’s important not to keep flammable liquids in your car, especially in summer,” Dunn says.

Plastic Bottles

In a much-shared video from Idaho Power, a clear plastic bottle of water magnifies the sun’s rays and starts to light a car seat on fire. But the greater risk may come from bisphenol A (BPA), a potentially harmful compound found in most clear plastics. The FDA maintains that BPA is safe at current levels of exposure in foods. However, studies have shown an increased release of BPA from plastics at higher temperature, so don’t take the chance of adding more of this chemical to your beverage.


Battery manufacturers recommend against leaving their products in high temperatures, which can lead not only to a loss of capacity, but also to leakage or rupture as well. And that can be bad news for your health and your car’s interior, as battery acid is dangerous when inhaled and highly corrosive, according to the CDC division that oversees toxic substances. The smart move is to keep things with any acidity away from your car’s console and interior.


You’d never dream of leaving home without your smartphone, so why risk leaving it in a hot car? Many phone manufacturers list optimal temperature windows and specifically warn against leaving your device in your car, where it might shut down or start to suffer damage.

And of course, NEVER leave children or animals alone in your car, even for a few minutes. (Here’s why.)

By Nicole Price Fasig

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    Leave a comment

  1. RICKY says,

    I also drive a 1998 V 70 estate, had it for 10 years, and doesn’t burn any oil or miss a beat, a fantastic machine!

  2. Rhodesia says,

    Thank you for reminding me to check my fluid levels. I have not checked them since the Covid pandemic shut down. Also thank you for the reminder of things not to leave in the car, especially in summer weather. I will also stop leaving plastic tubes/containers of sunscreen, lotion, and insect repellent in the car, which can also leech cancer causing chemicals into the product(s).

  3. Carl Wilburn says,

    how about leaving a new car battery in the back floor board of your truck for a few hours in 100+ degree temps (phoenix)?

  4. pubg says,

    Two full thumbs up for this magneficent article of yours. I’ve really enjoyed reading this article today and I think this might be one of the best article that I’ve read yet. Please, keep this work going on in the same quality.

  5. Ruth Kizior says,

    Your info was not only interesting and informative, but in some cases, updated my knowledge. Thanks for your concern for your members.

  6. J D says,

    Very interesting but you left out the number one thing that you should never leave in the car especially in the heat and that is CHILDREN.

  7. gjmlba says,

    Hmm thank you picked up a few good habits as well as someone else reminding spouse NOT to leave their cell in the vehicle for prolonged period of time.

    • Polina Vladimir Ekdeshman says,

      Not to live sell phone in the car for along time it’s can be shot down or start to suffer damage

    • Erik says,

      I would think that you’ll be alright keeping a flashlight in your car. I do the same and I think there’s a much lower risk when the batteries are kept inside if a device such as a flashlight and away from direct heat. The article is likely referring to keeping spare batteries on your seat or dashboard where they’re exposed

    • Christopher says,

      Pearl, batteries left in a flashlight in the car, can leak under certain conditions. It HAS happened to me in the past. I had a flashlight in my glove box that used (3) C cells, and I came upon a situation when I needed it (flat tire) and when I tried to turn the flashlight on, nothing happened. Upon opening the battery compartment, I realized that the batteries had swelled and leaked. Aside from ruining the flashlight, not much happened. This was in extremely cold weather. I imagine, in hot temperatures, the batteries could be affected in a certain manner as well.

      Hope this helps! 🙂

      • Bobbie Lassiter says,

        After a period of unused, I have found batteries in the flashlight can corrode and leak even inside the house.

        • PolinaVladimir Ekdeshman says,

          Battery manufacturers recommended against they product in high temperature it’s to keep things with any acidity’s away from the car console and interior.

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