Rideshare Vehicles Carry More Germs Than Public Toilet Seats

  • Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience serving in automotive editorial leadership roles with Autobytel, Edmunds, J.D. Power, and Tribune Publishing. A married father of four, Chris is based in the Los Angeles suburbs and believes fuel cell electric vehicles will power the future.

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You’ve heard the adage that sharing is caring. That’s usually true, but not when it comes to germs. And a new study by insurance broker Netquote says that ride-share cars are loaded with the little guys.

Admittedly, the study is a small one. Netquote collected samples from a total of nine vehicles – three each of randomly selected ride-share vehicles, rental cars, and taxicabs – using TransPorter Sterile Transport Swabs provided by EMLab P&K.

For the ride-share vehicles and taxis, researchers swabbed the seatbelt, window buttons, and door handle. For the rental cars, the focus was on the seatbelt, steering wheel, and transmission shifter.

Analysis of the swabs produced a summary of the germs and bacteria present in each type of vehicle. The takeaway: vehicles that are cleaned on a regular basis are less likely to contain a cesspool of germs and bacteria (duh). But all three of these types of vehicles are filthier than a toilet seat, according to Netquote.

What Did the Study Measure?

Germs and bacteria
Awww, isn’t this little guy cute? He’s a bacterium, and he’s everywhere! (Gerd Altmann via Pixabay)

 

Researchers were looking for colony-forming units (CFM) of viable bacteria cells. The types of germs and bacteria measured included the following:

  • Bacillus – Linked to infection and food poisoning
  • Gram-positive Cocci – Can cause skin infections, pneumonia, blood poisoning
  • Gram-positive Rods – Not yucky. With a few exceptions, not harmful to humans
  • Gram-negative Rods – Yucky. Examples include E. coli, cholera, and gonorrhea
  • Yeast – A fungus that typically does not cause infection

The sample results measure the level of bacteria present in terms of CFM, illustrating which types of vehicles are the cleanest inside.

Taxicabs Are Cleanest

Taxi cabs in New York City
According to a new study, taxicabs are actually quite clean inside, even if they don’t look like it. Or smell like it. (Michael Hutchinson via Unsplash)

 

Highly regulated, taxicab companies must ensure that their vehicles are regularly inspected and maintained. Is cleaning the passenger compartment a part of that process? The Netquote study suggests that it is.

Researchers measured an average of 27,593 CFU of germs in the back seats of the three random taxis it swabbed. That sounds like a high number, but compared to the ride-share vehicles, a cab presents a fraction of the passenger exposure to germy-germs.

Gram-positive Cocci was the most prevalent (65% of all germs), followed by gram-negative rods (29%). No bacillus was found inside of the taxis. Of the three surfaces swabbed by researchers, the seat belts were, by far, the most disgusting.

Ride-Share Cars are Dirtiest

A black Chevrolet Suburban picks up a Lyft passenger
If you’ve used ride-share vehicles, you know the quality and cleanliness of the car that arrives is a crapshoot. No pun intended. (Lyft)

 

The three ride-share vehicles that researchers measured averaged 6,055,963 CFU of germs. Unregulated, ride-share vehicles are only as clean as their owner-operators care to make them. Don’t even get me started on the decade-old Prius that once took me and my family to Dulles on a hot, muggy summer day, the driver wearing sweat pants with a hole just inches from, well, you know.

In the ride-share vehicles, bacillus accounted for 34% of the germs, with gram-negative rods coming in at 33%. No gram-positive rods were found inside of the ride-share vehicles. The window buttons were the most infested of the three surfaces.

I don’t even want to think about what researchers might find in the back of a Kidmoto car…

Rental Cars Split the Difference

2019 GMC Acadia Rental Car
When I rent a car, the company typically sends me an email asking how they can serve me better. My answer is always: “Clean the windows and interior already!” This GMC Acadia I rented was almost new, and it was far from clean inside. (Christian Wardlaw)

 

Rental cars are usually gross inside. Sure, they “clean” them after each customer returns the vehicle, but even a new, low-mileage rental typically shows evidence of sneeze droplets on the steering wheel. Ugh.

This study confirms as much, with the three random rentals measuring an average of 2,000,510 CFU. The seatbelts were pretty clean, but the steering wheel and transmission shifter not so much.

Half of the germs researchers found were gram-negative rods, and half were gram-positive cocci. What a lovely cocktail of infection, eh? All it needs is some bacillus, which was not present in the sampled vehicles.

How Dirty is a Toilet Seat?

Toilet surrounded by red tile
Netquote says toilet seats are much cleaner than ride-share vehicles, rental cars, and taxi cabs. (Chris Kellar via Pixabay)

 

By now, you’re wondering how dirty a toilet seat is. According to NetQuote, they measure 171.61 CFU. Certainly, that can’t be for a public restroom.

In any case, you probably want to carry anti-bacterial wipes or hand-sanitizer when you’re hailing a cab or ride-share, or renting a car. And while you’re at it, if you’re a car owner yourself, you might want to consider cleaning the interior surfaces from time to time.

They’re probably loaded with germs.


About the Author

  • Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience serving in automotive editorial leadership roles with Autobytel, Edmunds, J.D. Power, and Tribune Publishing. A married father of four, Chris is based in the Los Angeles suburbs and believes fuel cell electric vehicles will power the future.

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