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The spread of the novel coronavirus, and its associated COVID-19 disease, is made worse because it is highly contagious. Since vehicle interiors are essentially small contained spaces, it is important to take steps to reduce the risk of contracting the virus while driving or riding inside.

When it comes to vehicles, washing your hands thoroughly is one of the most effective ways to prevent transmission of the virus, which is spread from small droplets from the nose or mouth when an infected person coughs, sneezes or exhales.

But proper cleaning and disinfecting are also advised. That's because the virus can exist on a variety of surfaces, sometimes even days after contagious droplets we­­re planted there. The experts at Edmunds recommend these tips to increase your safety during the outbreak.

BE PREPARED

While it's important that the inside of your vehicle is clean, it's just as important that your hands are free of germs too. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing your hands for at least 20 seconds before or after eating, using the restroom, coughing or sneezing, caring for others, and leaving your house.

Cleaning your vehicle should also be on the list. It may also be a good idea to use disposable or designated gloves while cleaning to prevent the spread of the coronavirus inside.

Limiting your trips outside is the most effective method of ensuring you won't contract the coronavirus or spread it to others. Restrict your movement to essential tasks only. This will reduce the spread of germs into your vehicle and prevent you from carrying them to the outside world or back inside your home.

USE THE RIGHT TOOLS

The right disinfectants can kill the coronavirus so that it doesn't live on surfaces such as rubber, plastic, aluminum and leather. Most common household cleaners will work. The American Chemistry Council has a helpful list of specific EPA-approved products for use against the coronavirus. We recommend keeping a tube of disinfectant wipes in your vehicle for regular use.

Check to ensure that the cleaners you're using are safe for the surfaces in your car. Some disinfectants can dry out leather. A safer option would be to use a mild soap and water, then apply a leather conditioner to protect those surfaces. This option will not kill germs as well as harsher disinfectants, but it will greatly reduce them and help prevent spread.

FOCUS ON TOUCHPOINTS

The main areas that need to be cleaned are obvious. Anything inside the car that your fingers touch should be cleaned: the steering wheel, gear shifter, lane change and windshield wiper stalks, door handles, radio knobs, infotainment controllers, storage bins and seat belts. The CDC recommends cleaning touched surfaces daily.

One other area might not be so immediately evident: The top of the dashboard is a prime spot for harboring such microorganisms, according to Charles P. Gerba, a professor of microbiology and public health at the University of Arizona. Recirculating air swirls up against the windshield and sticks to the dash, where it can be distributed throughout the cabin, Gerba said. Cleaning that spot reduces risk.

CHILDREN AND THE ELDERLY

People who are regularly in contact with both children and the elderly should take extra precautions, even if those two groups are not sharing the same airspace at the same time. That's because children are often less careful about hygiene and cleanliness, while the elderly are more susceptible to any germs left behind.

People over the age of 60 and those with underlying conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and cancer have the highest risk of severe disease and death from COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization. But proper and regular cleaning inside the car can greatly reduce the risk of passing the virus on from children and others.

EDMUNDS SAYS: Maintaining cleanliness in your car is a small act that can go a long way toward the greater good. If you are going to take trips outside, do everything you can to slow or prevent the transmission of the coronavirus. Disinfecting your steering wheel over and over again might seem tedious and unnecessary, but it is likely to save lives.