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Coronavirus car care tips

How to clean and maintain your car yourself during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Man cleaning panel in auto

While everyone is thinking about handwashing and cleanliness, it’s easy to forget car cleaning and maintenance play into your safety too. To keep your car germ-free and in top shape, think through the essential parts of your car to clean and which types of maintenance you can do yourself.

How do I maintain my car myself?

Maintaining your vehicle prolongs the life of its costly parts and ensures it’s ready whenever you need it. If you’re working from home or traveling less, a few do-it-yourself tips can keep your car in top condition, along with recommended routine maintenance.

Don’t let your car sit idle.

First off, modern engines need more than short journeys around town to initiate a clean-out process, especially for those with catalytic converters or diesel particulate filters. For adequate engine cleaning, you can drive your car at least 10 to 15 minutes once a week.

Check your manual to make sure you’re following any other manufacturer recommendations as well. You might be able to apply additives to your fuel to help keep the fuel system clean — but follow your manufacturer’s or mechanic’s instructions when doing so.

Regular driving keeps your battery and tires up to par too. Parking your car for extended periods of time could deflate your tires or drain the battery. In addition, you could see your car battery drain faster if you have security devices drawing battery juice. In this case, hook your car up to a smart charger to prevent a low battery. Otherwise, take your car for a regular drive.

Perform routine or mechanical maintenance.

To follow social distancing guidelines, you can extend your routine maintenance intervals if you’ve maintained your car well otherwise. However, if your car can’t wait, you can take care of these normal car duties yourself:

  • Change your oil. You can find local shops that let you drive through for an oil change without getting out of your vehicle.
  • Change your tires. If you have a flat and need a tire change, dealerships, tire stores and mechanic shops are open to replace or sell tires. However, a few essential tools and your car manual might help you replace your own tire if you feel comfortable about doing so.
  • Check engine light. For true mechanical issues, you can schedule a one-on-one check-up with your local car shop. Call ahead and ask about its coronavirus procedures.
  • Car breakdown. If your car breaks down, you should be able to access roadside assistance services.

What’s the right way to clean my car during the coronavirus?

Cars use many different materials on its exterior and interior, so how long any viral elements hang around will vary. In addition, health experts can’t say with surety how long this novel coronavirus lives on surfaces.

Some studies suggest it may live on objects up to three days, depending on the surface. Other types of material like steel could see the virus reach half-life at 13 hours. Another example is polypropylene, a material used in car plastic components, that has shown a 16-hour average half-life.

Your best bet is to regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces in your car after use.

Steps to clean your car

When cleaning your car with a new type of cleaner, you can try it on an out-of-sight area to see how the interior reacts to the fluid. Try these steps to get your car as clean as possible:

  1. Find the correct type of cleaner. Some suggested cleaners include mild soap detergent or some alcohol like ethanol, Isopropanol or Isopropyl alcohol over 70% strength. Potentially, a white vinegar solution or diluted dish soap could be safe for use on your car’s plastic and vinyl components. For safety’s sake, check your owner’s manual for instructions on cleaning the interior and which products are safe to use.
  2. Empty out the interior. Take out any loose items, debris and coins. Put them somewhere safe where they can’t contaminate surfaces like your kitchen counters.
  3. Vacuum. Use a vacuum or stiff brush to work from the top down. Make sure you hit all those crevices in seat cushions and stitched seams. Don’t forget to lift out your mats and shake them off before vacuuming. Also, lift out child seats and clean them according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  4. Disinfect. Use your cleaning solution of choice and wipe the car’s interior surfaces. On plastics, you can agitate the surface firmly to remove baked-in dirt. Keep cleaning your cloth to avoid spreading the muck around. If the car manufacturer says it’s safe, let the soap sit for a few seconds to kill any germs before wiping with a second damp cloth.

For leather and cloth seats, you can find products specifically formulated for keeping those in good condition. Otherwise, you may find a watered-down fabric detergent can work wonders on old, dirty seats.

Parts of your car to clean

Don’t forget to pay close attention to these high contact parts of your car:

  • Interior and exterior door handles: Don’t forget the boot on your car’s trunk.
  • Steering wheel: Studies have shown the steering wheel could be four times dirtier than a public toilet seat.
  • Gear stick: Also known as the shifter or handbrake
  • Buttons, including on the radio, climate control, hazard lights and keyless ignition
  • Keys and fobs
  • Switchgear: Indicator, cruise control and wiper stalks
  • Air vents
  • Sun visors
  • Rearview mirror
  • Seat adjusters
  • Arm rests
  • Cup holders
  • Touchscreens: Make sure you know which solution and cloth to use and the amount of pressure.
  • Window controls
  • Glove box handle
  • Mirror adjusters
  • Windows
  • Seatbelts: Make sure you wipe the belt itself as well as the buckles.

When you’re done, you might want to leave the doors open to let the interior dry naturally. This can dry some of the moisture created by cleaning.

Should I replace my car’s air filter?

Yes. Passenger compartments have cabin air filters to sift out airborne debris. These are sometimes called dust and pollen filters. Some filters are basic felt-like paper, while others have activated charcoal. Most of the time, you can change basic air filters yourself by referring to your car manual.

These need replacing at set intervals. So if you haven’t swapped the air filters in a while, you should do so. If you’re taking your car to a shop, consider asking the mechanic to check your air conditioning system to prevent any odors and mold, fungi or bacteria growth.

How can I avoid germs at the gas pump?

An easy way to prevent spreading germs is to keep your hands clean at gas stations. When you pick up the pump handle, you’re using an object that’s passed through countless hands. You can also wear gloves while you fill up. However, failing to dispose of your gloves and clean your hands afterward could transfer contaminants straight to anything you touch.

Bottom line

We live in concerning times for our health and wellbeing. But following the advice from the World Health Organization and using safe hygiene practices can help you during the coronavirus. Those safety practices should include disinfecting your car and keeping it in good condition for driving again.

More resources

To learn more about coronavirus and how to prevent its spread, head to our coronavirus information hub. Also, check out the highly trusted resources below.

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