While a nightliner would be nice, most of us bassists have to drive our own cars. As a result, there usually comes a time where we feel like we need to leave our bass in the car for one reason or another. So what should you be mindful of when driving with your bass, and can you leave your bass guitar in the car?
As a general rule, your bass should not be left in a car for long periods of time. Leaving a bass in a car will expose it to sudden changes in temperature and humidity which can lead to intonation issues, wooden cracks, and fret sprouts.
In other words, it’s best to store your bass elsewhere or to bring it with you. Realistically though, we both know that isn’t always going to be possible.
Thus, I have written this article to teach you all I know about storing the bass in a car. You will learn how long a bass can sit in a car and what temperatures it can handle. I will also show you what to do if you happen to leave your bass in your car for too long.
How long can a bass sit in a car?
Most bass guitars should not be left in a car for more than 15-20 minutes due to rapid humidity and temperature changes. This is especially important in excessively cold or warm weather. Leaving a bass also creates the possibility of it being stolen, especially when left visible.
The best way to approach this is to think of your bass as a pet. If you wouldn’t leave your pet in the car for a certain amount of time, you shouldn’t treat your bass the same way either.
A few minutes of exposure to a temperature change will not damage your bass. At worst, you might need to tune it again. However, when exposed to quick temperature or humidity changes it will not take long before the wood starts to adjust to the change and start expanding or retracting.
Related post: Living in a cold area? Read about how to best deal with cold hands as a bassist here.
The time it takes for this to happen depends on the wood material and coating of your bass. It also depends on the severity of the change in temperature and humidity. Hollow-body and acoustic basses are more prone to damage than full-body basses. If your bass has a nitro finish, it will start cracking faster than if it had a different type of finish.
This is the reason I don’t recommend leaving your bass in a car for more than 15-20 minutes.
In most cases, it will take longer before your bass is affected by the change in humidity. However, due to how difficult it is to predict how your bass will react it is best to stay on the safe side.
When left unattended, the bass should be stored in the trunk of the car. Here, the bass will not be exposed to direct sunlight and makes it less exposed to temperature and humidity changes. Leaving it in the passenger or back seat also makes it visible to potential thieves.
A best practice is to park in the shade if it’s hot outside. If the outside temperature is on the colder side, park your car in a garage if possible. If you are doing anything more than grabbing a quick coffee, you will be better off bringing your bass with you.
What temperatures can damage a bass guitar?
Basses should generally be stored close to room temperature (~68F/20 °C ). Temperatures above 81F/26°C, or below 61F/16°C will start causing damage to your bass. Sudden changes in temperature or humidity are more damaging to a bass than gradual changes.
The above numbers assume that the bass is normally stored at common room temperatures.
There are bassists all around the world, in all types of climates. As long as the climate isn’t excessively warm or cold, a bass guitar will generally be able to adjust to the temperature around it. However, rapid changes in temperature can cause damage to any bass, regardless of what type of climate it is used to.
If the bass is exposed to sudden and prolonged temperature changes any of the following things can happen:
- Swollen or shrinking frets, or frets with sharp ends
- Cracks in the finish or wodden parts of your bass
- Intonation issues and problems with staying in tune
- Melting glue and parts becoming loose
- Bending neck and higher action
The bass should also always be kept in a case. Hardback cases provide the best resistance to temperature changes. A bag provides notable resistance and is significantly better than nothing.
It is common to store and display basses out of bags, and I have done so myself for years without any issue. It is however a best practice to store it in a bag, and it’s especially important to do so if you bring it with you in the car.
What to do if you have left your bass in the car
If you have left your bass in the car, you should keep it in its case as you bring it inside so that it can better adjust to the temperature. Await playing it for at least a couple of hours. Then, tune it slowly and assess its condition. If its playability or finish has suffered, it should be taken into a repair shop.
If you left your bass in your car it might have cracks in the finish, loose glue, or disfigured frets as a result. Thus, you will be able to visually assess whether it has been damaged or not immediately.
Regardless of its current condition, it should not be exposed to sudden temperature changes again. Thus, keep the bass in its case or bag as you bring it inside.
Let it sit in the case for at least a couple of hours, and preferably longer before you take it out. The bass will in all likelihood need to be tuned again, which should be done carefully.
In case it has any damage that needs to be repaired, this can be done at most repair shops. Moisture and temperature damage is a common cause for basses needing repair, and unless your bass is completely destroyed, it can generally be brought back to shape.
I will never leave my bass in my car if I can avoid it.
Depending on the wheater, and where you park your car, a bass could remain undamaged overnight. In extreme temperatures, it could end up becoming unplayable in half an hour.
Exposing any type of electronics to excessive moisture changes is never a good idea, but it is also difficult to say how much they will be damaged. The potential damage to your bass also depends on wood type and quality. Thus, it is impossible to say exactly what will happen to any one bass guitar when left in a car for a certain amount of time.
Thus, I always advise staying on the cautious side whenever possible. Leaving your bass in the car is never a good idea, and it should be left there for as short of a time as possible when you cannot bring it with you.
When you invest money into a bass guitar, you want it to remain in as good of a condition as possible. If it is regularly stored in a room with unfit humidity levels, this can affect the longevity and playability of the instrument. Thus, if you live in an area with extreme or fluctuating temperatures, I recommend getting an air humidifier. I recommend this one from AquaOasis (click to see current prices on Amazon), as it is both silent and affordable.