A mate of mine is a professional car detailer. He’s been in the job since Monaros had four-wheel drum brakes and he says a fundamental change happened with the advent of people movers, circa 1983. That was when Mitsubishi got serious about them with the Nimbus. Toyota introduced its jellybean Tarago in 1990 and the rest is history.

That change? He had to start checking cars for ants’ nests.

05 messy cars bThe problem, he said, was that the kids in the third row of seats would drop the food they had been given (to keep them quiet) on the floor and no one ever got around to cleaning it up, it was just too hard. Those muffin crumbs, bits of toast with jam, spilled soft drink soaking into the carpet and tried-and-rejected lollies attracted ants, and after a while the ants figured the pickings were so good they’d set up a nest in there. The spare wheel well was popular with ants but so were far more challenging locations for car detailers – inside the headlining and doors, inside the seat backs, up under the dash and in the pillars housing the retractable seat belts. He’d point this out to his clients and they were universally horrified, but even then they never did anything about it.

If you’re feeling a tad embarrassed right now, if this is getting a little personal for you, well you’re not alone. A car finance company in England surveyed 2000 car owners over there about the cleanliness of their cars and found that while plenty were clean on the outside lots were so disgusting inside that their owners would find excuses not to take passengers.

Many admitted to using a vacuum cleaner in the car only once every six to twelve months, and the older and less valuable the car the worse it got. Owners of Mercedes-Benzes, BMWs, Audis, Land Rovers and Mazda behaved the best, owners of Volvos, Hondas, Hyundais and Kias were not so good. In fact, not very good at all.

Junk food wrappers, disposable coffee cups, pet hair (even pet poo and vomit), mouldy fruit, wrappers and well used but unwashed sports clothing were all common occurrences, and cup holders and map pockets were popular repositories for all this waste. Asked to name their most shameful waste various car owners admitted to spitting their chewing gum into its wrapping and leaving it in an ever-filling glovebox, nail varnish peelings, pizza boxes with left-over crusts and some three-week-old porridge in a plastic bowl.

05 messy cars cMy own favourite story comes from when I ran a fleet of media test vehicles for a major car brand in Sydney. Some guy left half a container of chicken salad under the driver’s seat just before returning the car, and the car then sat in a yard, fully closed, for seven days during a hot Sydney summer. On the eighth day when I went to check on it the smell nearly knocked me over. We changed the seats, the carpets and the headlining but there was still a residual smell. So we sold the car. Cheap. Given the look of the buyer it probably smells even worse now.

Posted March 2020.


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