Engineers from the Ford Research and Innovation Center have been working with the University of Michigan to find the grimiest bits inside your car and their results are, well, not all that surprising. Turns out, the most microbe-infested parts of our cars' interiors are the same spots we touch the most. The team took samples from 10 locations in employees' cars including steering wheels, radio buttons, shift knobs, and window switches.

"Our findings suggest car interiors are complex ecosystems that house trillions of diverse microorganisms interacting with each other, with humans, and with their environment," says Dr. Blaise Boles, assistant professor in the U-M Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology in a press release.

The two most likely spots to encounter some of these bugs is on your steering wheel around your car's cup holders. "The console area near the cup holders is a common location for spilled drinks, so it provides an ideal feeding ground for microbes," says Cindy Peters, Ford Motor Company technical expert.

The point of the study wasn't just to gross out drivers and encourage cleaner driving habits. After identifying the grossest areas, the team set to work on developing paint additives that might one day discourage the growth of microbes. Ford is currently testing interior coatings infused with Agion, an antimicrobial, silver-ion compound. If the long-term, real-world tests show Agion to be effective, you might one day experience the sweet smell of their success first hand.

"We can't control everything that contributes to stains and odors in our cars and trucks," Peters says in the press release. "But we're doing our part to maintain a pleasant cabin environment for our customers over the long haul." Get more of the dirt on the, well, dirt in the press release below.
Show full PR text
Ford and University of Michigan Researchers Team Up to Fight Microbes in New Cars and Trucks
  • Operating in a wide array of conditions, cars and trucks can become a breeding ground for a variety of microorganisms that cause odors and discoloration of vehicle surfaces
  • Americans spend approximately $2.3 billion annually on air fresheners
  • Researchers from Ford and the University of Michigan studied vehicle interiors to learn where microbes grow and evaluated antimicrobial additives for coatings
  • Adding silver-ion-based Agion® to paints may significantly inhibit microbe growth
We can't see them, but we are surrounded by tiny microorganisms that can have undesirable effects on the surfaces around us. In cars and trucks, these microscopic organisms including mold and mildew can quickly take hold and spread over a variety of surfaces leading to discoloration, and even unpleasant odors.

"Vehicle cabins are exposed to a wide variety of environmental conditions that can make them microbial breeding grounds," said Cindy Peters, Ford Motor Company technical expert. "Based on growing consumer desire for health and wellness solutions, we decided to take a look at the interiors in Ford vehicles with the goal of creating a cleaner, more aesthetically pleasing environment for our customers."

Market research firm Mintel reports Americans spend approximately $2.3 billion annually on air fresheners including aerosols, plug-ins, slow-release and hanger products found dangling from car mirrors.

Many consumers are sensitive to chemicals or simply don't like the artificial scents of many air fresheners, so a solution that proactively reduces the source of odors for the life of the vehicle might be appreciated.

Engineers from the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn have been collaborating with a team from the University of Michigan (U-M) led by microbial ecologist Dr. Blaise Boles to evaluate the concentration and growth of microbes in vehicles.

Peters and her colleagues collected samples from a variety of company and employee-owned vehicles. The samples were then cultured and analyzed at a U-M laboratory in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The team took swabs from 10 locations in the vehicle interior including the steering wheel, radio buttons, door handles, window switches and gear shift knobs. The U-M researchers found significant bacteria growth at most of the test locations with the highest concentrations on the steering wheel and the area around the cupholders.

"Our findings suggest car interiors are complex ecosystems that house trillions of diverse microorganisms interacting with each other, with humans, and with their environment," said Boles, assistant professor in the U-M Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology. "The long-term goal is to define the microbial ecology of the car interior and to optimize the design of car interiors to promote comfort and environmental sustainability."

"We weren't surprised to find microbial hot spots on the steering wheel, since that is where a driver's hands are most of the time," added Peters. "The console area near the cupholders is a common location for spilled drinks, so it provides an ideal feeding ground for microbes."

Americans also spend more than $1 billion annually on a variety of products including lotions, wipes and sprays to fight microbial growth. Having identified the source of the microbes in the vehicle cabin, Peters and technical leader Mark Nichols went to work with interior coatings supplier Red Spot Paint and additive supplier Sciessent LLC to develop and test coating formulations that could resist and potentially even reverse microbial growth.

The team focused their attention on three commonly used and EPA-approved antimicrobial additives including silver-ion, ammonium salt and polyolefin wax with a nano-silver coating. Panels painted with four different formulations were then evaluated back at the U-M lab to assess the growth rates of microorganisms.

Parts coated with paint infused with the silver-ion additive sold under the trade name Agion®, contained lower microbe growth than the control parts with the current production paint. Agion, based on elemental ions, works by starving, sterilizing and suffocating the microbes to prevent them from growing and reproducing.

Cars and trucks generally have a much longer life span than most antimicrobial-treated products, and they operate in a wider range of environmental conditions. Drivers expect features to continue working and surfaces to remain intact even after the vehicle has been on the road for many years. Peters and Nichols subjected the specially coated test panels to an accelerated aging process to evaluate their microbe-controlling properties after the equivalent of years of exposure to sun and heat.

Even after simulating many years of use, the microbe growth of the Agion-infused coating changed very little. The additive also had little impact on the gloss and color change of the surfaces over the test period. Parts with the antimicrobial-treated coating are now undergoing real-world testing in a number of Ford development vehicles, and the coating is being evaluated for potential use in future Ford vehicle programs.

"We can't control everything that contributes to stains and odors in our cars and trucks," said Peters. "But we're doing our part to maintain a pleasant cabin environment for our customers over the long haul."


I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.


    • 1 Second Ago
  • 18 Comments
      LBFTPSEC
      • 2 Years Ago
      Is all this antibacterial stuff that people use these days really benefitting their health? I mean, are we healthier because of these types of products, or is it ruining our immune systems? I personally don't use any of this BS, and find that I don't get sick any more than the people who do use it, so what's the point? I think the media and corporate companies pedling these products have done a great job of brainwashing us to think that common bacteria is a bad thing.
      banstaman
      • 2 Years Ago
      I cannot say I have gotten sick because of my car. While the study shows that the bacterial population is very high in such locations, it does not tell you how harmful they are, and I am willing to bet they are more benign than the cultures found on your toothbrush or bath towel. And to spend money on anti-microbial paint with silver would make the vehicle[s] more expensive, and could possibly lead to the breeding of super-bacteria. There's this thing called good hygiene which involves washing your hands and cleaning your car every so often, though I'm not sure if it was known that such a thing exists.
      Malou H
      • 2 Years Ago
      or we can try not to creep ourselves out and just drive it. Touchpoints = hot spots.
        fivespeeed
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Malou H
        Exactly. Also doorknobs, faucets, keyboards, refrigerator handles and mouths. At least we 'won't get fooled again'.
      fred
      • 2 Years Ago
      In high school, most of the spots/microbes were in the back seat.....lol.
      Bill
      • 2 Years Ago
      Two words.....gear shifter
      Ducman69
      • 2 Years Ago
      I sometimes like to drive without any pants or underwear on, leaving a streak on my driver's cloth seat, and like most of us of course I pick up a random transvestite prostitute from time to time in the back seat. So with regard to bacteria location, I'd say your mileage will vary.
      Bobby_Sards
      • 2 Years Ago
      Haha Ford had to hire University of Michigan to tell them the steering wheel has the most bacteria...holy crap the American car industry is making leaps in science!
        protovici
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Bobby_Sards
        Wow, your comment is incrediable stupid. Work with some of the brightest minds at little cost to test the most common bacteria problems in a car, develop materials to battle that problem, and find future employees to work at Ford to develop better safer materials. Also, develop stain resistant products, stronger materials that dont use alot of toxic chemicals. Seems you live under a rock or a basement dweller in Moms house. Lets not forget you must test before developing elements to mix. So much stupid a$$ comments on blogs lol
        Bobby_Sards
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Bobby_Sards
        fatsos should stop eating mcdonalds in their cars and sit down and eat lunch in peace
      • 2 Years Ago
      [blocked]
      DC Mike
      • 2 Years Ago
      The back seat.
      granpawt3
      • 2 Years Ago
      That answered that question. More of those hang on scent products give out after just a short time.
      ibsunny1
      • 2 Years Ago
      i clean my steering wheel with antibacterial wipes several times a week . . . always use them in the grocery store and thankfully, have been able to stay well . . .
      portlandarea585
      • 2 Years Ago
      I park cars for part time work(college student), Ive seen it all,you would not believe athe mess(es) Ive seen in cars, tarsh every where, old hamburger bags, french fries all over place, empty soda pop cars, beer cars, I do wonder whwt the house looks like where they live.
    • Load More Comments