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Rideshare drivers: How to make the most of your vehicle's interior

These details could mean better tips and ratings

When it comes to the ratings Uber and Lyft passengers give to drivers, nothing effects their opinions about the quality of a ride more than how clean and well-kept the interior of the car is.

Yes, other factors are equally important, such as whether or not the driver took the best route or how safely he drove. But the quality and cleanliness of the interior, where the passenger actually sits and experiences the ride, is no less important than those other factors.

If you’re a driver, it’s easy to overlook the importance of your car’s interior for a couple of reasons. That’s because you don’t sit where the passenger sits, so you don’t see it through their eyes. Another possible reason is that you have gotten used to the mess. Dirt and wear accumulate so gradually that we simply become accustomed to it, but for someone who is seeing it for the very first time, it may be quite shocking.

So, let’s look at some obvious and not so obvious ways you can improve the experience for your passengers by putting a little time and effort into your car’s interior.

General cleanliness — the key to better ratings and more tips

This should be an easy one one, but I can’t tell you how many Ubers I’ve gotten into where the driver was obviously oblivious to this important ratings factor.

I’ve seen Uber cars with all kinds of dirt and trash on the seats and floors. Gum stuck on the seats, candy wrappers on the floor — things that you would think any driver with half a brain would clean up before allowing passengers to get in. But it’s amazing how often drivers either don’t notice or don’t care.

If a passenger sees old, chewed gum stuck on one of your seats, they will surely knock off a few stars when they rate you. And it will increase the likelihood that they will rate you, as angry passengers are more motivated to leave a rating than content ones.

The best drivers pay attention to every detail, even the smallest ones. But some details are less obvious, like making sure the cupholders are clean or that the steering wheel doesn’t look worn and ratty.

Things you don’t have to do

A lot of advice columns tell drivers they need to thoroughly wash their cars every day. We’re not going to tell you that because it’s not necessarily so. Passengers do have a tolerance for a certain bit of exterior uncleanliness.

My rule of thumb is, if the car appears no dirtier than you would expect it to appear after a single day of work, then it’s fine. Passengers are pretty good about understanding that you can’t take your car to the car wash after every trip, so they don’t expect it to be perfectly pristine.

If it’s a rainy day, passengers will understand if your floormats are wet or your windows are dirty. They don’t expect you to get the car washed immediately after the rain ends, but they will be less tolerant come the next day. If it’s autumn and there are a lot of dead leaves on the ground, a few leaves on your floormats is acceptable. Passengers are not going to be so understanding if there are two days’ worth of leaves on your floor.

There may be times when your car looks like it hasn’t been cleaned in a week after just a day of work. In those cases you should get it thoroughly cleaned, but normally, full-time drivers can go four to five days in between major cleanings, as long as they pick up any trash and do a light cleaning of the interior and exterior of the car.

I use a micro fiber car duster, which are available for both the exterior and interior of cars. They do an excellent job of removing surface dust and dirt and making your car look almost newly washed. During periods of good weather, these can easily get you more than a week between major cleanings.

These dusters don’t just push the dust around. They actually lift them off your car and trap them in the duster itself, and they last an amazingly long period of time. I’m still wondering where all the dust has gone in mine because it’s still working great after more than a year.

Beyond cleaning

Beyond basic cleaning, there are a lot of other things you can do to improve your car interior for your passenger’s comfort.

Seats: If you have ugly seats or seats permanent stains and spots, you could cover them with waterproof universal seat covers. I only recommend these, however, if your seats look really bad and you can’t afford a more expensive solution. Because these seat covers are pretty ugly and will not delight your passengers. However, you have to be the judge. If your seats are even worse without them, then they might be a good solution for you.

Replace cloth seats with leather: If you have cloth seats — a definite downer for passengers — you could greatly improve your ratings and tips with leather seats. There are companies that can install them for you, but it’s relatively expensive, starting at around $1,500.

It might make sense, though, in two scenarios. One, if you were thinking about getting a new car with leather seats, this could be the cheaper option, as long as your current vehicle has a lot of life left in it.

The other scenario in which it might make sense is if you’re in a situation where you have to get a new car. In a case like this, you could potentially save a lot of money by purchasing a car with cloth seats and having leather installed afterwards. For cars that are sold with either a cloth or leather option, the is usually part of a higher trim option. These options can cost $4,000 to $5,000 more. If that’s the case, it would be much cheaper to buy the cloth option and then pay $1,500 for an aftermarket leather upgrade.

Floors: Of course floormats are very important. You may opt for the hard rubber all-weather mats that will give you nearly 100 percent protection. However, you have competing needs. You want to protect your car, but you also want to give your passengers the best possible experience.

The hard rubber all-weather mats are ugly and will make your car feel more like a bus than a luxury vehicle. While they will completely protect the carpet underneath from any water or dirt, the mats themselves get dirty pretty easily and it usually takes a good soaking at the car wash to get them clean again. Plus, over time, the edges tend to start curling and warping, which makes them look terrible.

In my opinion, the carpeted mats are your best bet. They give you the best balance between your two competing interests of protecting your car while pleasing your passengers. They don’t claim to be 100 percent effective in protecting your flooring, but I’ve found they do a fine job. Even on rainy days, I’ve never had any problem with wet spots on my underlying flooring. The mats themselves can get pretty wet, but they absorb enough of the water that it rarely, if ever, reaches the base flooring.

The carpeted mats are also very easy to clean. All you have to do is shake them out and perhaps hit them with a brush a couple of times and they’ll look good as new to your passengers. And if you vacuum them every time you go to the carwash, they’ll keep looking for a good long time too.

They’re cheap as well – less a tenth of some of the all-weather hard rubber mats. I buy a new set twice a year and they keep the back seat looking brand spanking new all the time. It’s amazing how far new carpeted floor mats go in making a great overall impression on your passengers.

Steering wheel: If your steering wheel is showing signs of age, you can easily find a good gel carbon fiber cover for them. And it may even improve the feel under your hands.

This is one of those things you might not realize passengers notice or care about. They probably aren’t consciously aware of it either. But when they get in a car and notice anything that looks worn and old, it leaves a bad impression on them. The more you can cover up worn parts with something that makes them look new, the better off you’ll be when it comes to ratings and tips.

Sickness bags: Yes, sickness bags. While they will not do anything directly to improve the appearance of your car’s interior, they may just save you from having some of that interior ruined by a late night drunk.

Portable vacuum: A good, portable wet/dry vacuum is invaluable. You can pick one up for under $20. The ability to vacuum out your car whenever you need to — without having to wait until your next car wash — will do wonders for your riders’ satisfaction.

Car organizer: A disorganized mess in the front seat will be far more noticeable to your passengers than it will be to you. You’ve grown used to it and they’re seeing it for the first time. What’s normal to you will be an eyesore to them, so organize everything you have with you as you drive each day with a neat car organizer.

Get some perspective

When it comes to making the most out of your car’s interior, it’s all about the details. Pay attention to every single minute detail that you or your passengers can see. If it’s visible from the back seat, you have to make sure it’s clean and tidy.

Also, sit in the back seat once every couple of days and take a look at your car from the passenger’s point of view. I do this all the time, and I’m always amazed at how I see dirty spots or other messes that, from the driver’s seat, I didn’t even know were there.

If you pay attention to the interior details of your vehicle, it really will go a long way in improving your ratings and your tips.

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