By on March 19, 2020

As the resident germophobe here (and everywhere else, now and in the past), spotting bacteria and viruses is no difficult task for this writer. It’s easy — they’re everywhere. The outer layer of your average human surpasses the dirtiness of an adolescent mind.

And it’s with this mindset in tow that your author enters a pandemic. Just freakin’ great. Like most normal, well-adjusted people, I like going to bars and public places every once in a while, and try and stop me from picking the best-looking Roma tomatoes out of that grocery store bin that everyone stands over, pawing at them with their filthy hands. I also put a fair number of miles on my luxurious sedan — a once-innocent practice that now carries its own viral danger.

How can a driver stay safe?

Well, as Linda Lovelace once said, it’s hard. Take the other day, for example.

A week-long trip to a far-flung buddy’s place was cut short by circumstances, one of which was the rapidly changing virus situation there and back home. So, on Tuesday, I drove 960 miles in 15 hours to the relative safety of my well-stocked apartment, ready and prepared to self-isolate.

Observe:

Yes, the essentials are all there.

Between buddy’s place and home lay several stops that couldn’t be avoided: gas stations. One beneficial thing to come from this outbreak is the broad realization that everything a member of the public touches can be contaminated. Like Marxists in academia, viruses thrive everywhere, even at gas stations.

The plan was simple. If I couldn’t pay at the pump (something I normally avoid like the plague), I’d have cash on hand and pay the exact amount in the store, thus avoiding both the debit machine and the pocketing of infected change handed to me from someone who, just maybe, was wrist-deep in his or her nose 2 minutes before I pulled up. (Yes, I could tap the bank card if the machine allowed. It sometimes does not.)

While minimizing — or avoiding — time spent in the store and the interaction with the clerk is good, it’s still necessary to make contact with the pump nozzle. Unlike a toilet flush, dumping a couple dozen gallons of high-test into your tank can’t be accomplished with an elbow or foot. Danger lurks!

According to researchers at the US National Institutes of Health and Rocky Mountain Laboratories (writing in the New England Journal of Medicine), this particular virus can live for up to three days on a plastic or stainless steel surface. Tests are ongoing to determine what ambient temperatures sustain or kill the virus, but let’s assume, in the interest of caution, that in most normal temps this danger enjoys a lifespan approaching 3 days.

Don’t count on UV light, found in sunshine and capable of expediting the virus’ death, to disinfect the surface of the downward-facing trigger, either.

Even if you pay at the pump, you’ll still have to come into contact with the keypad and the pump handle. Using the corner of your wallet can overcome the first hurdle, but you’re on your own for the second, assuming it’s self-serve or nothing. You’ll need to clean that hand before getting back on the road.

How did your cheap and paranoid author navigate this minefield and return home to his selection of low-cost cans? It went like this: If I was paying inside the store, I’d only engage the filler cap, pump handle, and selector button with my right hand. Car keys, by the way, were in my left pocket, accessed by my left hand. Entering the store was accomplished by one finger on the right hand, assuming I couldn’t catch it with my food after a patron’s exit.

Try to keep six feet or more from those patrons.

From there, it was straight to the bathroom to wash my hands. The coronavirus hides its tools inside a lipid outer layer that slides off skin and other surfaces when soap is applied. Wash for 20 seconds, but soap up the tap handle first, as you’re going to have to turn it off when you’re done. Getting out of the bathroom, where doors usually open inward, is easily accomplished with the help of a paper towel (which you can drop into the wastebasket upon leaving) or a piece of your jacket. At that point, you pay via exact cash or tap card. At worst, you’ll have to debit it up and dirty a finger (I sacrifice the pinky) while punching in those keys.

From there, you’re out the door, using your foot, elbow, shoulder, or two fingers pressed into the top left corner of the door (where no one touches). With your clean and unsullied left hand, you grab the keys, unlock the car if necessary, open and close the door, and then awkwardly insert that sucker into the right side of your steering column. Even more luxurious cars (read: not the one seen below) will afford you the luxury of push-button start, so no worries there.

Once inside the car, there’s just one or two fingers to clean — the debit finger, or the two door fingers. This is where an alcohol gel is invaluable. As for the car’s interior, a Lysol wipe works great for sanitizing the brake handle, shift knob, steering wheel, turn signal, wiper stalk, and door handles. Easy stuff, but can you be sure you’ve killed all the (microscopic) bad guys?

Nope. Ever read the instructions on a can of Lysol? You’ll have to make that surface wet for 4 to 10 minutes in order to disinfect, not sanitize. Sanitizing is something you do in your kitchen to avoid salmonella, with the surface staying wet for about 30 seconds. One must disinfect in order to eliminate viruses.

Which means even the interior of your car isn’t fully safe, even after a lemon-scented wipedown. The only solution, the only way to be completely (well, 99.99 percent) sure of safety, is to avoid bringing the virus into the cabin. That means removing as much of it as possible from your hands before entering… and stepping on the gas when the distant form of a hitchhiker appears on the road. Yes, wash those mitts all the time, but treat them like a first date — never assume they’re 100 percent trustworthy. A little paranoia never harmed anyone, but coronavirus will.

Happy carefree driving.

[Images: Nithid Memanee/Shutterstock; Steph Willems]

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

Recommended

48 Comments on “Stranger Danger: When Driving Goes Viral...”


  • avatar
    Russycle

    Or you could live in Oregon, where you pull up to the pump, hand the attendant your card, and let them do all the work and keep your hands in the car. Then the person who has handled a hundred other credit cards hands you back your card and….we’re boned.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    As a germophobe, comfort yourself with this fact:

    “all the bacteria on Earth combined are about 1,166 times more massive than all the humans”

    https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2018/5/29/17386112/all-life-on-earth-chart-weight-plants-animals-pnas

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      And more personally:

      “The human body contains about 100 trillion cells, but only maybe one in 10 of those cells is actually — human. The rest are from bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms.”

      https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2012/06/13/154913334/finally-a-map-of-all-the-microbes-on-your-body

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    With cheap gas and social isolation I foresee a return of a long forgotten North American ritual, the Sunday drive. Put the family in the car, ‘roll down’ the windows and drive around to see the scenery.

    No interaction required with any other humans and the fresh air is good for you.

    Regarding fueling your vehicle. I have for years done what most who drove a diesel do, carry around gloves for fueling. I tap my credit card. If the tap function does not work, then I go to another pump or station. So ‘no touch’. Fuel the vehicle wearing the gloves then return them to the trunk/hatch.

    There are social media rumours that the virus does not like fabric gloves. Can anyone confirm? Even if that is not true they are washable so I have a number of cheap pairs that I know wear when shopping.

    Regarding washrooms, we had this discussion previously. In the 1970’s I remember visiting the Ford Museum and marveling over the foot controls to flush and turn on taps. Thought that was the best system I had ever seen. Motion sensors on taps don’t keep the water running long enough. Urinal/toilet handles are germ magnets. And all public washrooms should have disposable paper towels rather than those ‘hand dryers’. As Sheldon Cooper said about them “they are about as hygienic as having a monkey with Ebola blow on your hands”.

  • avatar
    Proud2BUnion

    Today was the first time I needed to fuel up in several weeks.
    I was sure to put a box of Nitrile gloves in my car prior to leaving my safety zone.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    The solution is simple, Pay attention to what you touch. Don’t touch your eyes, nose, mouth, and/or junk after pumping gas. Don’t stick your hands in your pocket. I’d be more freaked out about stepping into a typical gas station bathroom to wash my hands. Some are perpetually filthy.

    The whole “can live for up to 3 days” on a plastic or stainless steel surface idea may be true but doesn’t tell people the whole story. There needs to be a significant “viral load” for a successful transfer to take place.

    As you have pointed out, we are covered in bacteria. Our normal flora are like old guys with the garden hose yelling “get off my lawn”. They are possessive of their own turf and will go after “foreign” flora and aggressively compete for space. That adds some protection if there isn’t enough of an exposure to “overwhelm” your defenses.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      You are correct about the ‘viral load’, and IIRC that is being studied now. It will likely vary per individual, but hopefully we can receive some guidance on how to gauge it.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      Just keep in mind that hand sanitizer kills most of those good microbes. I find it amusing that so many people are so paranoid that they want will unknowingly kill one of their best defenses against the very thing they are trying to prevent.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        @MBella – that is why plain soap and water is the best choice. Health Care services push hand sanitizer because it takes less time to use and therefore has a greater compliance rate.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    Chalk one up for Nj , along with Oregon you only get full serve, and if I still had my vw TDI wagon a tankful would get me 600 miles of driving range, sadly the Saab 95, that replaced it is no where near that. But I agree either gloves or hand sanitize is the way to go.

  • avatar
    dont.fit.in.cars

    Another virus article. Enough already.

    Or one could not worry, go about the task of refueling, draining the bladder, buy some grub, and before engaging the booger hook apply shirt your hands with 60% alcohol squirt.

  • avatar
    vvk

    Just drive an electric car and all this BL4 nonsense goes away forever.

  • avatar
    dont.fit.in.cars

    Up side to a panda pandemic

    https://www.foxnews.com/auto/gasoline-99-cents-kentucky

  • avatar
    slavuta

    “As the resident germophobe here” – is is what nowadays called “snowflake”? :-)

    Personally I never shy away from germs and dust. Such tactics will definitely not build your immune system. But COVID is different for sure. And still, it doesn’t go into your body through skin. It needs to enter via nose or eye, etc. This is why you can wash your hands and not die from it merely sitting on it. Just use a piece of paper towel to handle the pump, disinfect your hands afterwards and don’t touch the face. You’ll be good

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    “Personally I never shy away from germs and dust.”

    Hep C or HIV, no big deal!

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      “Hepatitis C is transmitted or spread when the blood from a Hepatitis C-infected person enters the bloodstream of someone who is not infected.”

      And yes, shaking hands will not transmit HIV. Didn’t you just argued that CV is not a bio-weapon?

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        “Personally I never shy away from germs and dust.”

        That’s what you said. Hep C and HIV are germs, and I know very well how they are transmitted.

        “Didn’t you just argued that CV is not a bio-weapon?”

        I said that there was zero evidence that SARS-CoV-2 was genetically modified.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          “I said that there was zero evidence that SARS-CoV-2 was genetically modified.”

          by humans, at least. viruses modify themselves genetically all the time. And it’s not like blaming China for everything helps; the H1N1 virus that kicked off the 2009 pandemic likely made the jump to humans somewhere in North America.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            @JimZ – exactly.
            Apparently SARS-CoV-2 has a mutation rate twice as long as that of influenza. That hopefully means that once a vaccine is developed, it will be easier to contain.

          • 0 avatar
            slavuta

            What do you mean “study”. What is your problem with that?

        • 0 avatar
          slavuta

          “I said that there was zero evidence that SARS-CoV-2 was genetically modified.”

          there was 0 evidence of WMD in Iraq, and chemical attack in Syria. And yet…

        • 0 avatar
          slavuta

          Russian scientists now had their study completed and also found that this is not a bio-weapon.

  • avatar
    JMII

    My wife is a germophobe so we were well prepared. Hand sanitizer is the car all the time and after touching any common public item (IE: fuel nozzle, credit card keypad) she would clean her hands. She avoids doors and hand rails, always waiting for someone else to touch the nasty surface then she darts thru avoiding any contact. So for her nothing has changed. For me? I’ve just started mimicking her previous “crazy” behavior.

    The good news in all this? Air and water pollution are noticeable down. Turns out many office cubic drones (me included) CAN work from home. Shockingly we don’t need to be driving someplace just to sit down in front of a computer screen.

    As long as they don’t shut down the boat ramp I’ll be OK.

    • 0 avatar
      dont.fit.in.cars

      You know swapping body fluids with yer mate is way more germie than filling your tank.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        Yes, but if sex with my wife was going to send me to the ICU, that would have happened long ago.

        There *are* consequences to sex, though. Those consequences have a way of walking into our bedroom at 4:30 am and demanding breakfast and the iPad.

        • 0 avatar
          dont.fit.in.cars

          Passed by the kids playroom and they were chatting with their friends on their iPods. I could only chuckle recalling how in the 70’s had to plan time on a single hard wire phone to talk to your friends. To top it off it’s something they figured out how to do.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    I always keep at least some nitrile gloves in my vehicles, you never know when you might need to change a tire for example and not want to end up with dirty hands.

  • avatar
    qwerty shrdlu

    If you’re really worried about the change you get back, just leave it in your pockets when you do the wash. It’s not as if you’ve never done that before.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Some are really enjoying the fear factor .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    Hope this does not freak people out too much. In a conversation with a doctor, long before the Corona virus, we talked about bacterial infection. Specifically about burn victims who’s skin, a main barrier to infection, is damaged.
    In a discussion of cleaning he told me, “you can never completely eliminate all the bacteria. Only lower the count.”
    The goal is to have so few around on hands and medical equipment that the likely transfer is very low.
    To repeat what I wrote on another thread at TTAC; I now take several small plastic bags with thick paper towels soaked in alcohol. I wipe everything that I’m going to touch, gas pumps, credit card terminals, door handles, and so on. When I’m ready to leave I wipe the parts of the car with a fresh towel along with my hands. Since the alcohol takes several minutes to evaporate I’m thinking that this is about as effective as I can be. Unless they start putting up level 5 decon facilities everywhere.
    Also many touch screens do not function with gloves. Use the stylus and in case it is missing bring your own.
    And lastly, most gas stations in SoCal,even though they sell food and are supposed to have toilets, they are frequently ‘busy’ or ‘closed for cleaning’ or otherwise inaccessible. So I do not expect to be able to wash hands until I get home.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      @pwrwrench – bacterial or viral “load” is a factor. Another point about infections is the spread of bacteria to an area of the body where that bacteria is alien. Our bacteria is fine as long as it stays where it is normally located.
      The simplest way to understand this concept is by looking at the macroscopic world around us and “alien” organisms. A foreign fish or plant gets into a new watershed and overwhelms that system. A dandelion on our front lawn is the most obvious example.

      • 0 avatar
        pwrwrench

        Lou_BC, Yup, exactly. The dandelion might look bad, but it does not pose much of a health risk to humans.
        And Get Off MY Lawn, or I’ll spray you with this hose that’s full of spiders.

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      At the fuel station/convenience store nearest me, they now have signs on the doors saying that because of COVID-19, a maximum of 10 customers/staff are allowed in the store at any given time…

      But… the only reason I was *in* the store was to get the receipt which isn’t available at the pump (“Your receipt is available inside”). Apparently management is well aware that none of the printers work at the pumps, and they plan to keep it that way.

      [This level of thinking brought to you by the company deemed 67% responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.]

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        @toolguy: and the hydrogen advocates would have those same people take responsibility for the maintenance of equipment capable of pumping hydrogen into 10,000 psi fuel tanks.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • R Henry: My mother drives a comparable Honda HR-V. Surprisingly, the thing she complains about is the rear door...
  • pwrwrench: Like someone else mentioned, if I am going to a new place I use the AAA maps and make a “cheat...
  • R Henry: I will never forget how one day I discovered that the cruise control on my 2003 Maxima SE with manual...
  • R Henry: –with wrong wheel drive.
  • indi500fan: My prediction that Tata would be bodacious was obviously quite wrong.

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Matthew Guy
  • Timothy Cain
  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Chris Tonn
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber