Anatomy Of A Clean Car

Occasionally, I get into someone’s car and it’s so clean, I’m concerned there may be something wrong with them. One of the hardest tasks in life is to have an immaculate car for any great length of time.

The same with a woman’s purse.

But someone once dropped a pearl of wisdom on me that has stayed with me ever since: if you don’t eat in your car, it will look brand new until you sell it or it dies.

And that makes so much sense. No six year-old French fries stuck under the seats, no waxy cardboard cups with last week’s Coke stuck in the cup holder; no Doritos bags in the glove box. And none of the crumbs that won’t come out of the carpet.

Our cars are a mirror of where we are in life. As a teen, your car is your dressing room, a hangout for friends, a moveable feast of drive-thru boxes, makeup brushes, uniforms from work, and clothes from the gym. In a life where all the best things are ahead of you, having a clean car doesn’t make the list of importance. Your automobile is simply a vessel that moves you toward your dreams and that is all.

Then, there’s the Mommy Mobile, and this is the pinnacle of your car’s life as a debris field. If you make it through the span of your children’s lives from newborn to graduation with your sanity intact, you earn total forgiveness for the state of your car. It’s a deal the universe grants to parents: you will not be judged for your car’s cleanliness if you have kids.

I visited my daughter recently–a mother of two boys–and her Jeep SUV was the poster child for Mommy Mobiles. I’m certain if I looked hard enough there might have been another child they’d forgotten about somewhere on the floor of the backseat. I recognized the chaos. It was familiar. There simply are not enough hands and fingers and arms for one person to carry in toddlers, school papers, artwork, lunch boxes, coats, sporting equipment and Golfish cracker containers.

But sometime around middle age, the world’s expectations about the state of your car begin to change. We’re slowing down, and so we need less stuff in our cars to assist us through life: No more diapers, no more juice boxes and soccer balls.

This is the car your grandchildren will inherit when you die: it’s really clean, technologically outdated at the time of possession, but the mileage is low. And there’s even a new box of Kleenex in the backseat.

When, I wonder did it start bothering me not to have a clean car? Lord knows, I didn’t care about it for most of my life; I had more important things to do. But now, I cringe if I’m giving someone a ride and the place looks unkempt. “Sorry the car is such a mess,” I say.

I challenge any of you to show me the space between the driver seat and the middle console that is not a treasure trove of pennies, French fries, and missing debit cards. If a car manufacturer can come up with a plan to deal with that space, I’ll be the first to order a car from them.

And the carpets! They have little fiber fingers that grab onto things, like crumbs, and never, ever let go. It’s possible to have a speck of salt in your car from 1997 that fell off a chip on your way across Aligator Alley in Florida.

If only crumbs could talk.

You can buy fancy equipment to do your car justice in your driveway: little air blowers that remove tiny pieces of debris in little spaces, attachments that get into that space between seats and consoles. There’s rug shampoo and leather conditioner and wipes that make the dashboard shiny.

But I’m a “good enough” kind of girl. If you can find a clean place to sit that doesn’t have dirt from yesterday’s run to the garden store, I suppose that’s good enough.


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