7 Mistakes You're Making Every Time You Get in Your Car

You know how to stay safe during your trip to the grocery store, but what about when you get in your car?

Even though we're all doing far less these days amid the coronavirus pandemic, everyone is at least taking the occasional journey out of the house to pick up groceries, medication, or supplies. And that means, in many cases, getting in and out of your car. While you probably never thought twice about opening your car door, adjusting your mirrors, and buckling your seatbelt previously, these days, you have to be aware of everything you touch. And chances are high, you're making some mistakes in the age of the coronavirus.

"COVID-19 has created significant changes in our daily lives. Even simple things, like driving to the store, need to be done differently now than you did just a few months ago," says Seema Sarin, MD, director of lifestyle medicine at EHE Health. But how can you mitigate your risk when getting behind the wheel? We consulted medical experts to help you avoid making these dangerous mistakes every time you get into your car. And for more mistakes to be aware of, check out 7 Coronavirus Mistakes You're Making That Would Horrify Your Doctor.

You're removing your face mask.

Mature woman removing her protective mask once in the car

Wearing face masks on outings has become routine since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended them to help prevent infecting others. Unfortunately though, many who are new to using them aren't aware of how they're putting themselves at risk in the process.

"When you get in your car, you are brining germs in and out of it from every place you've stepped into and from every surface you've touched," says emergency physician Geoffrey Mount Varner, MD, MPH. And that includes your face mask. "If you can help it, keep your mask on in the car," Varner says. "But if you must remove it before you get home, have a container to keep it in so that it does not touch your car's interior." If your mask does come into contact with any surfaces in your car, be sure to sanitize them immediately. And for more mask mandates to know about, check out 7 States Where You're Breaking the Law if You Don't Wear a Face Mask.

You're keeping your contaminated gloves on.

hands in blue gloves holding steering wheel
Shutterstock/VK Studio

Just because your hands are covered doesn't mean you can't track harmful germs back into your car. "If you choose to wear gloves, please discard them before getting back into your vehicle," says paramedic Mike Gnitecki. "I see people get back into their car with their gloves still on, which entirely defeats the purpose of using them in the first place." And as with any other personal protective equipment (PPE), remember to dispose of your gloves properly in trash bins, not on the floor of your vehicle or—even worse—as litter in the parking lot.

You're not using hand sanitizer.

Man using hand sanitizer while sitting in car

After you do remove your gloves, it's important that you take things one step further and disinfect your hands to be cautious. Even though regular thorough hand-washing has been a top recommendation by medical professionals throughout the pandemic, getting into your car can present a tricky situation when you're leaving a supermarket without easy access to running hot water and soap.

If you can't wash your hands at a sink immediately before entering your vehicle—which is likely the case—the next best thing is to make sure you have hand sanitizer waiting for you. "Not washing your hands with soap and water, wipes, alcohol sanitizer, or alcohol wipes prior to touching anything in your car has to be the number one mistake," says Enchanta Jenkins, MD, MHA.

Make it a habit to sanitize your hands even after quick trips out of your car, especially after gas fill-ups and picking up takeout food. And for more items you'll want to avoid touching, check out 7 Things You'll Never Want to Touch Again After the Coronavirus.

You're not sanitizing your steering wheel and other high-touch surfaces.

Person disinfecting and cleaning car interior with antiseptic liquid and wet disinfection wipes. Steering wheel is one of dirtiest parts in car and can contains viruses and bacteria.

Touching public doorknobs, handrails, keypads, and shopping carts during the pandemic has made us all more aware of how many high-contact surfaces we use on a daily basis. But when it comes to the areas we don't share with others, it can be easy to forget that potential cross-contamination can still be an issue. "Not wiping down your inside door handle, steering wheel, or other surfaces is a big mistake," says Jenkins.

And if you're sharing your vehicle with other drivers, a more thorough cleaning is also recommended. Family physician Monique May, MD, adds that another "big mistake is failing to wipe the rearview mirror with disinfectant wipes. It's highly likely that the mirror will be adjusted when a different driver takes the wheel, so be mindful to wipe it down."

And you're not sanitizing your keys.

Disinfecting car key with gloved hand over wheel

"People may be sanitizing their hands and wearing masks, but sometimes they use contaminated hands and grab their keys out of their pocket or bag," says Allen Conrad, BS, DC, CSCS. "Taking small extra precautions like sanitizing your keys—as well as your credit card or other often-touched items—after leaving the store can help prevent the transmission of the virus."

Want to avoid rustling through your bag when checking out altogether? Try using contactless forms of payment through your phone such as Apple Pay instead of swiping. Just make sure you're still wiping your phone down regularly! And if you want to know how to keep your phone clean, check out How Experts Say You Should Clean Your Phone to Stop Coronavirus Spread.

You're putting your shopping bags directly on your car seats.

Woman wearing mask putting shopping bags in car trunk

It's not just you and your family potentially bringing harmful pathogens into your car—sometimes, it's the items you're picking up that can create a problem. "Putting bags that were on the ground or other potentially contaminated surfaces on the car seat is a huge mistake," says May. She warns that any bags touching seats or other surfaces in the vehicle could contaminate the sterile space, creating potential exposure to the virus for anyone who sits down later. "Put grocery bags, boxes, and other supplies right in the trunk and use hand sanitizer after getting back in the car," May recommends.

You're keeping the windows closed.

Senior man having bad eye sight and making effort to see the road.

Researchers still have a lot to uncover when it comes to fully understanding COVID-19, but one of the most certain discoveries about the virus thus far has been the importance of good ventilation to prevent the virus from spreading through the air. With cars being one of the most common confined spaces we spend time in, it's important that you do what you can to keep the air moving.

"Keep the window open even just a bit," says Sarin. "Research indicates that even keeping the window open three inches could help to reduce the buildup of virus particles in the vehicle, which is pretty important if anyone aside from you uses the car." And for more helpful tips for staying safe in our slowly reopening world, check out 5 Mistakes You Can't Afford to Make at the Beach.

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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