Minimizing Germ Spread When Renting A Car

In our industry as private investigators, we rent a lot of cars. We use them for cases and for travel in and around the area. In the wake of Coronavirus becoming an ever-growing threat to the public’s health and safety, it’s time to give renting a car more than just a passing thought.

Birdie Shelton, 69, was the first to die from complications of Covid-19 in Indiana this past weekend. In a recount of the week leading up to her death, her partner noted that she had probably gotten sick from her job transporting cars for a rental company.

When you get into a rental car, you expect it to be clean, right? No food, no receipts, no weird smells, no lingering evidence of the person who rented it before you.  Let’s face it, rental cars are pretty nasty.  They come from the previous client to you in a state that’s “clean enough.” It might have food crumbs. It might not. There might be dirt under the floor mats. Maybe not. At least the outside is shiny, right? Unfortunately, being shiny on the outside doesn’t mean that the vehicle is necessarily germ-free. You don’t know who rented the car before you and the rental agency isn’t going to tell you. Renting a car or truck essentially puts you in the driver’s seat of a rolling vector of disease.

 As frightening as this sounds, you shouldn’t give up renting vehicles if it’s a necessity—like in the instance of a car breaking down or for necessary travel on a trip. Instead, consider these tips the next time you rent a vehicle:

  • Use hand sanitizer to wipe down the steering wheel, gear shift, doors, and radio knobs—anywhere that you are likely to be touching on a frequent basis. Many companies are making travel-sized hand sanitizers that you can take with you on the go.
  • Wipe down surfaces with your own disinfectant. There are plenty of EPA-approved wipes and cleaners to choose from. Just be sure to properly dispose of any trash and to let the surfaces dry to avoid breathing in any fumes.
  • Try to avoid touching your face. Let’s say it’s very early in the morning. You put your keys in the ignition and then you cover your mouth as you yawn. You just brought any germs that were on those keys up to your mouth.
  • Keep your phone on your person and not on the seat or the cupholder. Phones are naturally dirty. They pick up germs from you and whatever surface they happen to touch. Try not to put them screen-down on anything that’s not yours. Sometimes it happens though. Do your best to disinfect the phone when you have a chance.
  • Use Bluetooth or put your phone on speaker when you have to talk to someone to avoid putting germs in your face.
  • Wash your hands when you reach your destination. This can help get rid of any germs that you might have picked up on the way there, like if you stopped to pump gas at a gas station or get food from a drive-thru.

Save Money Where You Can

Ever think about that little extra charge for re-fuel on your rental bill? Rental agencies and dealerships could be making millions from consumers just like you who overfill the tank before they drive their cars back to the lot to avoid that upcharge. They also get money from people who are dinged for low fuel levels. Essentially, the companies don’t have to pay for gas and leave the expense up to you.

  You can put some of that money back in your pocket. At the time of rental, pay attention to the person who is taking the read on your gas meter. Make sure that they are leaning into or sitting in the driver’s seat to take the reading. When possible, read the fuel level after to confirm that you both have the same amount written. Remember that when you rent a car, you sign a contract that you agree to all of the charges. If there’s a discrepancy somewhere, you want to address it before you drive away. That’s just good sense.

Some rental places will even tell you to bring the car back “the way you got it.” Unless you keep meticulous tabs on mileage and gas usage, it’s usually pretty hard to estimate how much gas you are going to use on your trip and how many miles you’re going to drive.

Taking a picture helps you to know exactly how much gas you left with and how much you should return with. It also can help to deter any unnecessary charges upon return of the vehicle, should you not have a chance to take care of it before you leave the parking lot. The agencies are more likely to believe any disputes over cost when you show them a picture.  If possible, confirm what you photographed with the tech before you leave on your trip.

Above all, remember to think safe to stay safe.  Be wary of public transportation for a while. Do your best to keep unnecessary contact with others or germy areas, but don’t panic either. We’ll get through this.

There will also be long-term effects from citizens not wishing to return to public venues even after there may be some level of an "all clear." This includes movie theaters, restaurants, bowling alleys, lounges, amusement parks, hotels, resorts-- places where large groups of people are in close proximity--will suffer for a long time.

Updated 3-30-20 to reflect recent Covid-19 developments.

Published on: 
March 19, 2020
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