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Disgusting: Your car’s steering wheel

SF Gate logo SF Gate 1/25/2019 Chris McGinnis
a man driving a car: Reporter David Baker takes his hands off the steering wheel as the Tesla drives in autopilot in Palo Alto, Calif. on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. An update to Tesla's Autopilot system will aide drivers in changing lanes, parking and steering. © Provided by Hearst Newspapers Reporter David Baker takes his hands off the steering wheel as the Tesla drives in autopilot in Palo Alto, Calif. on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. An update to Tesla's Autopilot system will aide drivers in changing lanes, parking and steering.

We've posted stories before about germ-covered surfaces at airports and on airplanes, but a new report on automobiles points out that your car is probably a lot more disgusting than you ever imagined. That gas pump is even dirtier

According to a new report from Expedia Group's Carrentals.com, one-third of the 1,000 drivers it surveyed admitted to cleaning out the inside of their vehicle only once a year, and another 12 percent said they never do so.

a close up of a car: These are the germiest surfaces in the average car. © Provided by Hearst Newspapers

These are the germiest surfaces in the average car.

Those drivers have "likely never considered just how many germs are crawling over the surfaces of (their) car — or where those germs are coming from. There are roughly 700 different strains of bacteria living in the average vehicle, exposing the food you eat in your car and your immune system to some serious dangers," the report said.

a screenshot of a cell phone: Average level of bacteria on a car's interior surfaces. © Provided by Hearst Newspapers

Average level of bacteria on a car's interior surfaces.

Those who eat while in their cars – and 20 percent said they do so at least once a week – are inviting bacteria to grow on bits of spilled food or beverages. And germs easily spread from hands and fingers to the interior surfaces of a car as well.

So the study looked at the levels of bacteria on those surfaces, measured in "colony-forming units" per square centimeter (CFU), for comparisons with other kinds of places. A typical public toilet seat harbors 172 CFU, the report said, but the average car's steering wheel has four times as many, or 629 CFU. That also makes the steering wheel twice as dirty as public elevator buttons and six times germier than a typical cell phone screen.

Overall, the study said, the average car's interior surfaces have an average of 200 infectious bacteria per inch. Ranking below the steering wheel were the cup holder (506 CFU) and the seat belt (403). Cars are at their germiest after a long road trip, the study said.

Perhaps the biggest source of germs for drivers' hands is the gas station. "Compared to other public locations where the CFU count was in the hundreds, the average gas pumps measure in the millions," the report said. "While these numbers are extremely high, not all bacteria found at gas pumps are dangerous. However, some bacteria, like Staphylococcus (sometimes referred to as "staph"), are responsible for a multitude of complications like skin infections, food poisoning and toxic shock syndrome."

a close up of a car: The 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport flat-bottomed sport steering wheel feels good in the hands, though the steering doesn't pick up everything from the road. (Hyundai) © Provided by Hearst Newspapers The 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport flat-bottomed sport steering wheel feels good in the hands, though the steering doesn't pick up everything from the road. (Hyundai)

The average gas pump handle is almost 12,000 times germier than a public toilet seat, it said, and those buttons you push on the gas pump are even worse.

Since this study came to us from Carrentals.com, we're not surprised that it found ride-sharing vehicles are on average more than three times germier than rental cars, probably since the latter are usually given a cleaning after each use.

Besides keeping the inside of your car clean on a regular basis, the study said, it's a good idea to keep a supply of sanitizer wipes in the vehicle to clean often-touched surfaces frequently. And that includes your keys or fobs, which are the most-touched things of all.

a person standing in front of a car: Esther M. de Frutos, an Uber driver of one year, prepares to charge her Chevy Bolt EV electric car at a Walgreens on Monday, June 18, 2018 in San Francisco, Calif. © Provided by Hearst Newspapers Esther M. de Frutos, an Uber driver of one year, prepares to charge her Chevy Bolt EV electric car at a Walgreens on Monday, June 18, 2018 in San Francisco, Calif.

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Chris McGinnis is the founder of TravelSkills.com. The author is solely responsible for the content above, and it is used here by permission. You can reach Chris at chris@travelskills.com or on Twitter @cjmcginnis.

a view of a car: A control button is seen on the steering wheel of a Tesla Model 3  in Fremont, Calif., on Monday, February�12, 2018.

A control button is seen on the steering wheel of a Tesla Model 3 in Fremont, Calif., on Monday, February�12, 2018.
© Provided by Hearst Newspapers
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