How To Transport A Desktop PC In A Car (Do It Safely)

Knowing how to travel with a PC in a car is essential if you own a desktop computer. At some point, transporting it is inevitable. That’s where we aim to deliver the best resource to keep your PC safe and sound when getting it to or from your destination.

The size of your case also determines the difficulty of transporting your computer. If it’s something large like a full tower system, greater care must be taken, and it will be slightly more difficult to load it into your vehicle.

Please note: Keep all your internal components in an anti-static bag where possible when transporting any removed components.

Also, if any components become unsecured inside the PC case and are free to rattle and roll around, it is highly probable to cause damage to sensitive components.

This is also why I recommend keeping your original PC case’s box. I realize it’s impossible in some situations, which is okay, but try where possible. It most likely has support material inside the box, which helps cushion and protect the case.

How To Transport A Desktop PC In A Car

First, let’s look at the most vulnerable components.

1. Remove any mechanical hard drives

Hard drives installed into a desktop computer.
Hard Drives In Their Bays On The Right

For mechanical drives, I highly recommend removing them and transporting them in anti-static bags. This way, you can ensure that your data remains safe and you don’t replace unnecessary components.

A open hard disk drive.
Inside A Hard Disk Drive

Mechanical drives are sensitive. One wrong bump, and you can say goodbye to it. And I mean it. With the drive head’s flying height without the drive powered up, you are talking about a clearance of around 0.002 of an inch or 52 micrometers.

So don’t take any chances! Most cases are designed nowadays to make drives easy to remove and add back in.

So it’s hardly worth the trouble to take the risk, don’t you agree?

It’s also not a bad idea to keep everything important from your mechanical drives backed up before doing anything else.

2. Secure your CPU Cooler

Securing a CPU cooler.

Most CPU coolers are heavy. This is to help keep fan noise down by introducing plenty of cooling surface area, reducing the need for higher fan speeds under most conditions.

With this comes a risk when transporting your PC in a car.

If you can lay your PC case down in such a way during transport to ensure the mountings on the motherboard to the CPU cooler aren’t strained, you’re off to a good start.

The other thing to be aware of is the mounting screws or nuts. Make sure they don’t unscrew or become unsecured during travel.

This will cause the cooling to become redundant if not enough tension is kept between the CPU cooler’s block and the CPU surface itself.

This will result in your computer starting fine but becoming unstable as Windows starts or when you decide to run a software application.

To be 100% certain that your CPU doesn’t loosen to the point where it rolls around inside your case and causes massive damage, remove it.

Most third-party CPU coolers can be removed by removing four nuts and a power connector. It can also usually be done without removing your motherboard from the case.

You will have to reapply the thermal paste after cleaning the old thermal paste before refastening it back into its proper position.

Yes, it’s more work, but it will be worth it in the end. Also, it will give you an excuse to replace your thermal paste and ensure the cooler is doing its job properly.

3. Remove all heavy add-in cards

Remove Graphics Card

The graphics card will be a prime example of a heavy add-in card for most of us. They have substantial heat sinks and apply a lot of force to a PCI Express slot.

These slots are surface-mounted with solder connecting the contacts to the motherboard. These solder contacts can break or be ripped off completely, even by reasonably delicate jolts.

They can be easily removed by removing one or two screws, and sometimes there is a power connector(s) at the rear. Release the clip at the end of the slot to allow the card to be pulled out. Remember to keep pulling the cards straight or level. Don’t lift one side higher.

Never touch any of the copper contacts on the card’s edge connector.

This could result in the card getting wedged or damaging the internal contacts of the slots themselves.

4. Watch out for poorly secured components

Some computer parts are made cheaply. Even if you spent a small fortune on your hardware, watch out for missing screws, poorly designed clips, and half-secured items, especially when there is some weight involved with them.

Smaller heatsinks with a poorly designed through-hole clip can easily vibrate loose, and your heatsink rolls around, causing all kinds of damage. This damage can be hard to see unless you know what to look for.

Look out for any loose screws on all components. Not only do you stand a chance of something larger to fall off and roll around, but that screw itself can be fatal.

If a screw (which is most likely going to be conductive) rolls around and ends up getting wedged under your motherboard, depending on where that is, it could permanently damage your motherboard to a point of no repair.

Sping Mount Clips
Heatsink Mounting Clips

Inspect any mounting clips and be especially attentive to those that use springs to apply tension. If one shoots loose, it could mean no more cooling for that component, or a conductive spring could land and short out something on your board.

So check everything carefully before and after transport.

5. Make sure everything is unplugged

There are lots of connections to plugs and sockets on a computer. Even other miscellaneous items like WiFi aerials or dongles.

Please Note: Make sure you unplug everything before thinking of moving your computer anywhere. Forgetting to unplug a cable and walking off with your computer case never results in anything pretty to watch.

As I’ve just said, make sure you unplug everything. You will be surprised how easily you can overlook something protruding when loading your PC into your car. It’s easy to snag anything and break it when moving your PC inside your car or loading it in.

I’ve seen a ton of broken WiFi aerials from this common oversight. The other common items will be dongles that convert display outputs from graphics cards.

The latter can be expensive to fix, depending on the depth of the damage.

6. Try to keep your case lying on a spongy surface

In some cases, the car’s back seat might be an ideal carrier for your PC case. It is usually angled the correct way, and the seat belt can be used to add some security.

If you don’t have this luxury, either try returning the case to its original box, or you will have to find some spongy material to lay it on.

While this isn’t a must, it can save you from running the risk of some parts either coming loose that you have missed or something going faulty due to excessive vibration or impacts.

Things that you could use to help would be newspapers, old towels, bubble wrap, old packaging materials, old clothes, or anything else that you could use that is better than a hard surface in a car’s trunk or floor.

7. Never force a PC case into the car (revisit your packing strategy)

If you find things tight because your PC isn’t the only thing you are transporting, wait. You can always return for a second trip to pick up your PC when your car has room.

Please note: If you have to move all your belongings in one hit, consider loading in your computer components first. This way other items will act as packing material to keep your computer even safer.

Don’t do it if you are trying to squeeze your desktop PC into a small space between a door and other objects. It will always pay off to remove already loaded items, put your computer in first, and rethink your packing strategy.

When you try to force a PC case into any gap, you risk knocking something attached to the case or some internal hardware. This usually results in damage that cannot be easily repaired without buying new components or a case.

Be very careful if you have a water cooling system. The fins in the radiator are delicate and impossible to fix if damaged past a certain point.

Prioritize protection of the radiator(s). For added protection, use some cardboard from a cardboard box and cut out a piece to wrap around the radiator. You can secure the cardboard by either zip-tying or taping it carefully to wrap around it without touching the delicate fins.

8. Secure anything free to move around

This applies to any cables or any other hardware that can swing or move around when introducing any form of movement to your computer’s case.

For example, the end of a cable with a heavy plug can do a fair bit of damage under the right circumstances.

Use some zip ties or tape if you cannot get your hands on any ties. Secure any loose cable ends or anything else that can move, like brackets, plastic items that are lightly clipped, etc.

It’s common for cable ends to move around and end up between a cooling fan’s blades, stopping it from spinning. This can be catastrophic and can either end up causing your computer to become unstable or to be permanently damaged.

It can easily be overlooked, so please check over all your cooling fans before turning your computer back on when it has been set up after transport.

How to transport your monitor(s)

If you cannot fit your monitor safely into a vehicle, consider renting a monitor (or monitors). It’s not ideal in terms of cost, but it might be the right solution for your situation.

I found that laying the monitor on its back on the rear seat is the safest option for car transportation. You can usually find a position preventing the monitor from sliding around and keeping anything from touching the screen.

If you stand it upright behind a front seat, I highly recommend throwing towels or sheets folded multiple times over it to prevent front and back movement or surface damage.

Help, my computer won’t start up after transport!

If your PC becomes unstable or won’t boot after transportation, first check for any loose components inside. Secure them if anything is loose or has come unfixed.

One of the first things to check is, of course, your CPU cooler. Ensure it’s secure and retaining pressure against the top of your CPU to ensure proper CPU cooling.

Next, check all the power plugs, data connectors, and RAM modules. Make sure they are all plugged in properly. Please do not skip over this step or take it lightly, as it is a commonly overlooked and common issue.

Check that cables, or anything that can move, haven’t obstructed any cooling fans, and they can all spin freely.

Try cleaning the RAM contacts if your computer won’t boot or remains unstable.