We’re far enough into this pandemic that the protocols we follow to keep us safe have become as automatic as fastening our seatbelts. We not longer have to trudge back to the car to retrieve a forgotten mask, we practice social distancing as though surrounded by a six-meter force-field, and wash our hands so often that our fingerprints are probably illegible.
Because the virus spreads through the aerosols we eject every time we sneeze, cough, or speak, we limit our socializing to the outdoors where it’s easier to distance, and the airborne virus is diluted by the wind.
We know that public indoor spaces pose the highest risk, so we avoid them like, well, the plague, and try to limit our shopping to essentials only.
But there’s one interior space that you may not even have considered, and it’s one where many of us spend an inordinate amount of time: our vehicle. If the average room, with a thousand square feet of volume, is unsafe to share with those outside our own household, then consider that the typical passenger car interior is only a tenth of that, and we often cram four people into it.
Such a small area has the potential to become a veritable petri dish of harmful bacteria. But there are some measures you can take to ensure safe motoring for you and your family. The most obvious of these is to limit your passengers to those within your own social bubble.
Modern cars have become a technical marvel of isolation, with every effort made to insulate the cabin from road and wind noise. While those layers of insulation keep noise and cold out, they can also seal moisture in. Since we know that the virus travels on our breath and can therefore accumulate in the cabin, such a simple thing as cracking open a window or two can help dilute it significantly. It’s also important to ensure that the ventilation system is refreshing the cabin with clean air, and not on recirculating air mode.
But with the cold weather coming, it’s not always possible to keep the windows open, especially during a big Canadian snowstorm. So it’s a good idea to prepare our vehicles with a good thorough cleaning before winter seals us in.
Cleaning vehicle surfaces
Wash your hands before you start, and don some disposable gloves since the surfaces you touch will be dirty. While the sun and wind usually neutralize any trace of virus on the car’s exterior, a regular wipe down of outside handles is a good idea.
A 2019 study published by CarRentals.com revealed that 32 per cent of the 1,000 people they surveyed cleaned their vehicles only once a year, and 12 per cent don’t clean it at all. The study went on to note that the dirtiest point of contact is the steering wheel, with up to four times as many germs as a public bathroom. That’s incentive enough to wipe it down after every use.
It’s important to pay close attention to other common touch points within the vehicle, such as key fob, shifter, armrests and dash. Other places with a high concentration of fingerprints include seatbelts, cup holders, control buttons and touchscreens. While experts recommend that disinfectant wipes contain at least 60 per cent alcohol, harsh chemicals can damage some surfaces.
The CDC Canada website recommends cleaning all hard surfaces with detergent or soap and water prior to disinfecting.
For premium materials and fine leather, a mild soap followed by conditioner helps to break down the virus and reduce the risk of spreading without harming the surface. While the infotainment screen is one of the highest touch point areas in the vehicle, it’s safer to use a follow manufacturer’s guidelines, or use screen wipe or soft cloth rather than a chemical cleaner to avoid damage.
Have kids? Know how to sanitize your vehicle
Sanitize your vehicle with a quick wipe-down after every trip, especially if you’re travelling with children.
Children are little disease vectors unto themselves at the best of times, and can’t always be expected to observe safety protocols. It’s probably best to assume they haven’t remembered to wash their hands since we have no idea where those little fingers have been. Keeping a tube of hand-wipes in the car is a good safeguard to prevent bringing those germs home with you and perhaps infecting more vulnerable family members.
While no amount of sanitizing is guaranteed to prevent COVID-19, here are a few tips to help minimize the spread: Keep a supply of extra facemasks in the glove box and insist that all passengers wear one. Using voice recognition instead of the touchscreen helps reduce contact, especially if the vehicle is a rental and not your own.
Always use disposable gloves when handling the gas pump, and throw them away afterwards. Pay at the pump wherever possible. Wash hands immediately after removing gloves, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.