Clearly, we’re going to have to get out of the house sometimes, and use our cars. Even if tighter restrictions are put i place, some economic activity must continue, and some of that will mean driving. Even the delivery companies and emergency service personnel will need to get about.
So, is you car a safe place in which to shelter from Covid-19? Up to a point, yes it is, but you still need to take some precautions. The issue with driving, as with anything right now, is to minimise person-to-person contact. If you’re on your own in the car, this is obviously a little easier, but if you have to have someone in with you, then you may need to take extra precautions.
Jana Parmová, chief physician at car maker Skoda has advised The Irish Times: “Ideally don’t go anywhere. If you have to go somewhere, go alone – don’t share the car with anyone. If you have to go with someone, make sure that the person does not have acute symptoms of respiratory illness. Use a facemask. Make sure you have the contact details of all the other passengers so that you can track them down if you find out you’re infected.”
Keeping your car’s interior clean is also key. You need to regularly wash down, preferably with a disinfectant wipe, the main contact surfaces, including the steering wheel, gear shifter, touchscreen, door handles, and the most commonly-used buttons.
“Disinfect all the surfaces you touch before and after the journey, especially if you’re sharing the car with someone or gave someone a lift,” Dr Parmová says
What should you use to disinfect? The same stuff you have in your house. A 70 per cent alcohol solution will do the job nicely, and Parmová says that: “Isopropyl alcohol won’t do the main surfaces in your car any harm. In fact, it’s what carmakers and their subcontractors use to disinfect parts.”
You can also use the same solution to wipe down seats and arm-rests, but just be careful to wipe, rather than soak, such surfaces. Scrubbing those surfaces is also not recommended, and indeed isn’t needed – the alcohol in the solution is what breaks down the physical structure of the virus, not the mechanical action of cleaning.
It’s a good idea to clean down the exterior door and boot handles too, although avoid using hydrogen peroxide bleach, as this will damage the paint and possibly the plastic and metal surfaces. And don’t use a cleaning product containing ammonia on touchscreens in the cabin, while you’re at it.
Your car might actually be able to help protect you a little, too – have a look in the first aid kit in the boot (a common feature on many new cars) and you may well find that there is a protective face mask in there.
It’s also a good idea, according to Dr Parnová, to minimise your contact when fuelling the car. Fill up the tank to the top when you stop, to try and reduce the number of visits you’ll have to make, and try to use contactless, or over-the-phone, payments where possible. When you get back in, try to wipe your hands down with a disinfectant wipe (assuming you can find any of those in the shops right now).
As for air conditioning, there are cleaning kits available to order, and you simply have to spray the cleaning product in through the car’s interior air vents. It’s not as good as proper, dealer clean, but it’s better than nothing. It’s known that viruses in general can propagate through air conditioning systems, and the filters fitted to such systems aren’t necessarily capable of catching things as small as viruses.
It’s not yet known how prevalent Covid-19 is in the air, but you’re unlikely to be sucking much of it into your car’s system from outside. Much more likely is the possibility of you, or others, spreading the virus within the car, and the air conditioning system circulating it around the cabin.
So, while HEPA filters might help (and they are expensive, and not normally fitted to most cars) the best advice is the same advice for all other aspects of this virus crisis – keep your hands clean, wipe down surfaces when you can, and keep your distance from others as much as possible. That goes for inside the car as well as outside.