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Avoiding Coronavirus Risk During Car Maintenance

If a repair is urgent, use these safety guidelines

Female hands with blue glove wiping car steering wheel with disinfectant wipe. Horizontal outdoors close-up with copy space

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En español | Unless your car needs repairs immediately, skip the shop — at least in the short term.

That's the advice of Pat Carroll, M.D., chief medical officer of the San Francisco–based telemedicine platform Hims and Hers.

"This pandemic is a significant and serious health concern,” he said. “As people are postponing their own routine health care, you should most definitely postpone routine car care."

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Of course, some vehicle maintenance can't wait. To determine if yours can, call your repair shop and ask, says James Garnand, owner of Hi-Tech Car Care in Phoenix and president of the Network of Neighborhood Auto Repair Professionals. “The service technician can also explain how you might be able to make a simple repair yourself,” he says. “We appreciate your interest and would like to help you."

How to keep the virus at bay

But you can protect yourself if you need service because of a coolant leak, faulty battery or other serious malfunction. Don't rely entirely on the quick-service centers, even those that work under your car from pits, suggests Brian Haggerty, owner of Cross Island Collision in Floral Park, New York. Ask before you go. “If you don't have to get out of your car, then that's great,” he says. “I think they do want to drive the cars in themselves. They don't let you do that due to liability."

Need roadside assistance?

Many towing companies are taking extra precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Expect tow truck operators to wear gloves and masks; they'll expect you to do the same. But prepare for the worst before you get behind the wheel.

• Keep antiseptic wipes, gloves and a mask in your car.

• Assume you won't get a ride home from the tow truck driver.

• Ask the towing company to help you arrange for transportation home if you don't have it.

• Wash your hands and face as soon as you can afterward.

"Caution is the operative word,” says Patrick Carroll, M.D., chief medical officer of the San Francisco–based telemedicine platform Hims and Hers. “It's probably a time in our lives when it's good to be a little bit obsessive-compulsive and just assume that [the virus] is deposited in a lot of the hard surfaces."

Even if you find a shop that allows you to drive in and out, Haggerty recommends wearing gloves and a mask. And make sure the technician does the same. Roll the window down only slightly to pay, and disinfect your credit card before you put it away.

No matter what shop you frequent, Haggerty, Garnand and other experts suggest the following precautions.

Follow CDC guidelines and expect others to do so. “Wear a mask and gloves, and choose a facility that will [mandate employees] do the same,” Haggerty says. “Call and ask if the facility is doing that. We only greet customers when we have gloves and masks on. And we do six feet of social distancing."

Don't touch unsanitized items. Keys and paperwork are dropped onto counters and sanitized before Haggerty's customers touch them.

Make sure the repair shop sanitizes your car. "Do not be afraid of asking, ‘How did you make sure my vehicle is safe?’ “ Garnand says. Even better, ask technicians to disinfect the car while you watch.

Wipe down your car, too. Don't rely on others, Haggerty recommends. Disinfect your vehicle even if the technician did so.

Clean hidden spots. Wipe down dashboards, gear shifts, seat belts and any other exposed surface, advises Ragina C. Ali, public and government affairs manager at Wilmington, Delaware–based AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Although cleaning is vital, take care not to use alcohol or bleach on leather or vinyl, she warns, as it could crack and discolor your seats and steering wheel. Check your owner's manual for products that thoroughly but safely clean car surfaces. The Environmental Protection Agency also has a list of criteria for effective cleaning products.

Stay alert at the pump

Customers with vehicles in service bays aren't the only ones who could be exposed to the coronavirus; rather, those who perform routine actions, such as pumping their own gas, increase their risk of infection.

"Assume that all the surfaces have droplets,” Carroll says. “You should wear protective gloves. If you can, [use a disinfectant] to wipe down the pump surface and handle.” Also, take care not to let your hair or clothes come in contact with the gas pump, he says.

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"Those are portals of entry for the virus,” Carroll explains. “As soon as you get home, thoroughly wash your hands, your hair and anything that might have come in contact with the pump."

He also recommends washing your face and around your ears. Yet that's not enough. Most of us reach for our wallets and credit cards after pumping gas. Even if you wear rubber gloves when handling those items, they still could transmit the virus to you. So wipe down gloves with antiseptic and wash them or throw them away.

"You have to be fastidious about limiting your exposure to other individuals except when it's absolutely necessary,” Carroll stresses. “Those over 50 are at increased risk, and there's even more risk for those over age 65. You really should be minimizing your contact with people outside of your immediate household."

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