Dirty car interiors a health risk, says surveyBacteria that causes vomiting found in cars

08 June 2010

car interiors spread disease - 1

Drive-thru food may be convenient, but make sure you clear your car of all remnants afterwards 

Motorists who eat snacks behind the wheel could be inadvertently harvesting harmful bacteria and putting their health at risk, says One Poll research for retailer Halfords.

Scientists testing swabs taken from a typical family car discovered bacteria associated with food poisoning (bacillus cereus), skin infection and vomiting (staphylococcus) around the core contact areas of the test car including its steering wheel, gear stick, radio controls and door handles.

In the same survey, 70% of drivers admitted eating or drinking in the car and almost half said they left food remnants and drink containers in their vehicles overnight, unwittingly allowing bacteria to breed. More concerning is that 50% of the survey sample also admitted to cleaning the inside of their car less than once a month.

car interiors spread disease - 2

Cleaning the inside of your car is just as important as the outside

Breeding grounds for bad bacteria

Bacillus cereus is one such harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning, severe nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. It is found in soil and dust and can be brought into the vehicle by animals or on the shoes of passengers. Leaving food around allows it to multiply rapidly, especially in heat, spreading infection on the likes of car seats where crumbs collect or around car heating devices.

Staphylococcal infections are contagious and can be transmitted from person to person. The bacteria was detected on the door, steering wheel and under the seats of the car tested.

Dr Anthony Hilton, member of the Society for Applied Microbiology and reader in microbiology at Aston University warned: 'Although many strains of bacteria are harmless, some can cause unpleasant illnesses. Those who eat in their cars should treat them as an extension of their home and maintain the same levels of hygiene as they would in their dining room.'

Londoners have the dirtiest car cabins

The cleanest vehicles were found in Scotland where almost one in five drivers cleaned their cars at least once a week. In London and the South East just one in seven drivers cleaned their vehicles at least once a week.

Which? Car on Twitter

Follow Which? Car on Twitter

The Which? Car team is on Twitter, to offer you help and advice as and when you need it.

We're monitoring our Twitter account every day, so if you have an account, please send us you thoughts and questions to @whichcar.

Don't worry if you haven't got a Twitter account - you can still stay in the loop by regularly checking www.twitter.com/whichcar.