I'm just wondering whether the DeLorean time machine has any restrictions on how far into the future or how far into the past it can travel.

Inspired when I was considering an earlier question of mine it struck me that the earliest we actually see the DeLorean travel to 1st of January 1885 - the time circuits may have defaulted to that date because that was the earliest date (i.e. 100 years from when it was made and 70 years from when it was in 1955) that the DeLorean could travel to. Yet, we see in the beginning of Back to the Future that Doc suggests the time machine could travel to witness the birth of Christ (the date he uses is 25 December 0000).

So, my question: is there any evidence to suggest there are any restrictions on how far into the future or past the DeLorean can travel to?

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    Too bad Doc Brown is intelligent enough to build a time machine but doesn't realise that the year 0000 doesn't exist... – Lightness Races in Orbit Jul 16 '15 at 9:31
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    It can only travel within it's own lifetime – Rob Jul 16 '15 at 10:56
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    @Rob: That's obviously not true, unless Doc Brown is really old and first built the DeLorean in the time of the wicky wicky wild wild west – Lightness Races in Orbit Jul 16 '15 at 14:01
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    Forgive me, it is a Quantum Leap reference, I had expected some other time travel enthusiasts to get it. – Rob Jul 16 '15 at 14:14
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    @Rob Don't worry, not everyone missed it. – Kevin Jul 16 '15 at 17:27

Well, the controls are 4-digit year. Because Y2K wasn't realized as a problem back then :)

So, presumably, even if the Flux Capacitor could take you anytime (as per @N_Soong's answer), you couldn't configure the controls outside of 0AD-9999AD year range.

enter image description here

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    @N_Soong - yeah, you and that slacker, Doc Brown, both. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jul 16 '15 at 2:29
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    Bearing in mind that we see the stop watches are in sync to the second when Doc sends Einstein to the future, I think it's fair to say that it chooses the same second from which you were coming from. – Often Right Jul 16 '15 at 4:45
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    Having a 4-digit year you won't be hit by Y2K! – mgarciaisaia Jul 16 '15 at 5:24
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    I do wonder if you'd be able to utilise a 4-digit display to represent BC as negative, giving a max input range of -999 to 9999. Of course, this really is splitting hairs. – BiscuitBaker Jul 16 '15 at 8:36
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit 1 year after 9999AD – WernerCD Jul 16 '15 at 13:17

In the Universal Studios theme park attraction, Back to the Future: The Ride (now closed), we see that the DeLorean is capable of travelling to the time of an Ice Age and the Cretaceous Period.

The Cretaceous Period was somewhere in the range of 144 to 66 million years ago, and there have been several Ice Ages that the DeLorean could have travelled to, from one just over 2.5 million years ago, to one over 2 billion years ago. Obviously, these are far outside the 0AD - 9999AD restrictions that @DVK puts forward in their answer.

To me, this shows us that even if there is an upper limit on the time travelling abilities of the DeLorean, we are unlikely to meet them in every day use, with even the most extreme examples of time travel into the distant past been handled just fine by the DeLorean.

However, I'm unsure of how canon this answer is. This question and answer would imply that Back to the Future: The Ride it is part of an alternate universe or a "What-If" type situation, but I don't think that the ride contradicts anything from the film trilogy at any point, and it seems safe to assume that the DeLorean would be capable of traveling to these times in the film trilogy.

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    Lol, you put 'time travelling' and 'every day use' in the same sentence. +1 – Dorus Jul 16 '15 at 9:37
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    @Dorus In a thread where no one has any factual qualms with traveling through time...in a DeLorean. – b1nary.atr0phy Jul 17 '15 at 19:38
  • The animated series also included an episode set in the Cretaceous Period. – dan04 Jul 19 '15 at 3:48

Probably not.

Consider all the times we see the DeLorean time travel. Whether it be 1 minute into the future, or 70 years into the past, the DeLorean continues to require the same amount of energy: 1.21 jigawatts (for the Doc). As there is a consistent amount of energy required for these vastly different timespans, there probably is not any constraints on how far into the future or past the DeLorean can travel. The only restrictions would be ensuring that the DeLorean was still in an environment where it had access to the energy it needed for the flux capacitator, and the capacity to speed to 88 miles per hour.

EDIT As pointed out by Grimm The Opiner, a jigawatt (or gigawatt - I like the former because of Doc) is not a unit of energy. Just to explain my answer in light of this the script describes it in the following way:

DOC: Lightning will strike the clocktower sending one point twenty-one gigawatts into the flux-capacitor


which, to the layperson like myself, sounds as though Doc is describing an amount of energy! If the amount of energy was consistent, which from the way it was presented is suggested to be the case, then my argument still stands. See @DVK's answer though; it raises a very good point!

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    Firstly, it's actually the unit gigawatts. Secondly, I don't think this reasoning really holds up. The curve of energy could be a function one that doesn't vary much for small time frames (where "small" would be a couple hundred years) but starts increasing dramatically as you get to larger time ranges, like say tens of thousands or millions. For comparison, think about how the difference between Newtonian mechanics and relativity is negligible at normal scales but drastic at speeds near c. Without experimental verification, even Doc couldn't say with too much certainty what it would require. – jpmc26 Jul 16 '15 at 6:21
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    @jpmc26 - nup in the BTTF universe it's definitely jigawatts. You make an interesting point about the energy requirements, but I think that my reasoning is in line with the information presented in canon; I just feel your argument is just a bit too extreme without much evidence supported by canon. – Often Right Jul 16 '15 at 6:24
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    @N_Soong it's gigawatts, but pronounced differently than most of us would pronounce it today. myfluxcapacitor.com/gigawatt-jigawatt – rob Jul 16 '15 at 6:57
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    Your argument falls down because jiggawatts isn't a unit of energy. Forget the 'jigga', a 'watt' is a unit of power - the rate at which energy is used (or more correctly, transformed). 1 watt of power is 1 joule per second. So, the 1.21 jiggawatts is the rate at which energy is supplied to the 'time drive' - not how much energy will actually be used. The amount of energy used (in joules) would be the power (1.21 jiggawatts) multiplied by the time in seconds the power is expended for. And as we're never shown the machine in transit through time we don't know how long the trip lasts. – Grimm The Opiner Jul 16 '15 at 8:05
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    @DrRDizzle Ah, so the time travelled and Marty's personal time are experienced cumulatively - in the case of going back they sum to zero. Of course, the unfortunate effect of that is that when the DeLorean goes forward in time Marty ages by twice the amount of time travelled. – Grimm The Opiner Jul 16 '15 at 15:13

If you consider the early 1990's cartoon TV series canon, this gives additional hints that there is no hard limit.

Season 1 Episode 3 "Forward to the Past":

To test a new invention called the Sonic Garbage Molecular Redistributor, without Marty, Doc and the boys head back to prehistoric times before 3,000,000 years so that they will not endanger anyone.

The series takes place after the events of the third movie. So strictly speaking, this would have to be either the steam train time machine or the DeLorean Mk2, which means they would be able to perform outside any hypothetical limits of the original DeLorean. There is however no indication in the series that there were any improvements made to the Flux Capacitor between the different models.

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    Went back 3 million years to avoid endangering anyone? ... I think those writers heard of the Butterfly Effect a little too late. – jpmc26 Jul 16 '15 at 22:49

It depends if there was relative or absolute mode with respect to those 4 digits otherwise one merely makes the jump in 9999 ( or -9998 ) years, resets rinse and repeat. The other consideration is that it is only a time travelliing machine not a T.A.R.D.I.S ( which seems to highly favour London ) and so there must be a travellable suface for it to accellerate ( or decelerate from ) 88mph. It cant be a primeval swamp or a post-nuke blast crater

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    Except... where we're going, we don't need roads! – phyrfox Jul 17 '15 at 14:27
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    @phyrfox Except, "The car will never fly again." ...Although the train did. lol – jpmc26 Jul 19 '15 at 17:06

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