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A 2016 British study released by BP found that next to scrubbing the toilet or cleaning out the gutters, there’s no chore people hate more than cleaning out their cars. (gzaleckas/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
A 2016 British study released by BP found that next to scrubbing the toilet or cleaning out the gutters, there’s no chore people hate more than cleaning out their cars. (gzaleckas/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Road Sage

Something's rotten in our cars - and it's probably us Add to ...

I’m glad that my future autonomous car will be multitalented. It will drive itself, it will talk to other cars and it will become my home away from home. I’m pleased by the prospect. I’m thrilled. I’ve just got one question: Will it still stink?

I’m happy that the automobile is poised to evolve but, correct me if I’m wrong, aren’t human beings going to remain the same smelly, messy creatures we’ve always been? After all, that’s been our modus operandi for millenniums. We’re given something nice, such as an inhabitable planet, and then set about stinking it up and leaving our garbage everywhere.

Perhaps Fiat Chrysler, Volkswagen or Tesla could set about designing a “self-cleaning” car? They’d have a lot of prospective customers. According to a British study released by BP in May, 2016, next to scrubbing the toilet or clearing out the gutters, there’s no chore people hate more than cleaning out their cars. The study found that only 16 per cent of British drivers tidy their car’s interiors three times a year. Some drivers admit to having cars so dirty they make excuses to avoid giving co-workers lifts.

It’s important to note that these untidy conditions exist at a time when drivers are expected to have both hands on the steering wheel. Some self-driving cars do not even have steering wheels. That will leave us with both hands free to create even more unimaginably messy car interiors.

It would have been nice if I could have used GPS technology to locate that apple I accidentally left beneath my seat five months ago. Then I wouldn’t have experienced the horror of retrieving its mouldy, calcified remains. If the self-cleaning car existed, then I would have been spared the trauma of finding a French fry in the back seat that was probably dropped there, circa 2015.

It’s important to note that, while there are those who are fastidious about their car’s interiors, they are often paired with someone who’s the opposite, the way every couple consists of one partner who loves chocolate and one who does not, or one who likes the car to be hot and the other who likes it cool. When this happens, the normal outcome is that the messy person wins in a war of attrition. Gradually, then suddenly, the car’s insides get dishevelled and smelly.

I’m one of those drivers who strive to keep a tidy automobile, yet fails. I’m keenly aware of this shortcoming and I’m often filled with the suspicion that, as a result of the mess, maybe my car stinks but no one is polite enough to say anything. I’m the sort of person who, if offered a piece of gum, automatically thinks, “My mouth must smell like a Porta Potty.”

The same goes for my car. It smells fine to me but what if I’m just inured to the reek? What if every time I give a friend a lift, they suffer nasally? When I see a passenger lower the window, I am tortured by the thought that they have done so simply because they can no longer endure the odour.

Yet let’s say the auto sector does invent a self-cleaning car: what would it smell like? Many North Americans would pick the “new car” smell but, in Asia, we’d have the opposite result. According to J.D. Power’s 2016 “China Initial Quality Study” – which examines the problems experienced by drivers within the first two to six months of ownership – the “most frequently reported problem is unpleasant interior smell/odour.”

Jeff Cai, general manager of auto product and quality at J.D. Power China, told Bloomberg News, “Smog and indoor pollution have made Chinese consumers paranoid about smells in new cars, and thus the problem is actually exaggerated. On the other hand, there’s a group of consumers in Europe and the United States who are so fond of it that they will buy new-car-smell spray to keep it as long as possible.”

Maybe we should stop looking at technology to save us. The fault, dear drivers, is not in our cars, but in ourselves.

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