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Smartphones can do so much for us on a road trip: navigate with GPS, play some tunes, and act as a mobile hotspot for the kids in the back seat, all at the same time. Obviously, you’ll want to have the phone plugged in so it can charge while it’s working. And then, before you know it, your phone is hot to the touch and you’re hit by the dreaded “iPhone needs to cool down before you can use it” message.
Why your phone overheats
iPhones will only operate normally up to about 95 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Apple. That’s a pretty typical limit for smartphones; Samsung also lists 95 degrees as the top of its phones’ range for normal operating temperature.
Phones get warmer in many conditions that may apply during a road trip, including:
Sitting in direct sunlight
Using “multiple apps for an extended period of time,” as Samsung puts it
Using GPS (or other processor-intensive apps)
Charging, specially wireless charging
When your phone overheats, it may limit its own functions to keep its temperature down. The screen may get dimmer, apps may run more slowly, and the phone may stop charging. If it gets hot enough, the phone may turn itself off.
How to prevent your phone from overheating
Now that you know what tends to cause overheating, you can simply do less of that stuff. For example, if your car has built-in GPS navigation, consider using that instead of the GPS on your phone. Or turn off GPS altogether when you know that all it will tell you is that your exit is still 300 miles away.
Besides reducing your app usage, make sure the phone is out of direct sunlight, if possible.
These steps might not be possible, or might not do enough to cool your phone down, which is why you might want to create a cooling station for long summer road trips.
Try these phone-cooling accessories
Create a cooling station for your phone
This hack was born out of desperation. I was driving through Ohio (or was it Kentucky?) and my phone kept shutting down from the heat. I had already pared down my usage as much as was practical. At the next gas station, I did the following:
Grabbed the largest Styrofoam cup that I could find at the coffee station
Filled it about 2/3 of the way with ice from the soda fountain
Picked out my snacks and such, and asked for a bag for my purchases (they gave me the cup of ice for free).
Back in the car, I set the cup of ice in the cupholder and put the plastic bag over the ice as a moisture barrier. I nestled my phone inside, half-buried in the ice. From time to time I would unplug the charging cable and flip it upside down, so that the bottom end could enjoy some cooling as well. This system solved the problem: My phone operated happily for the rest of the day’s trip.
You can, of course, plan ahead a little better, as I did on my next trip. Use a regular ice pack, wrap it in a towel to absorb any condensation, and simply lay your phone on top of it if it starts to heat up. Phones can also stop operating if they get too cold, but you’re not trying to actually freeze the device—just provide a little temperature regulation on a hot day.
There are also cooling fans available for phones, although I haven’t tested any of them personally. They’re popular among gamers, with the major caveat that most of them need to be plugged in while you play. That’s less of an issue for road trips (although it means plugging in two charging cables, one for the fan and one for the phone). So consider that if your phone just needs a cool breeze and not a little Arctic vacation.