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Future tech and today's gear to stop viruses and keep cars clean

The coronavirus is a reminder that cars are germ-filled places. Here are some precautions you can take now, and some new tech that could help soon.

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For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

It didn't take the latest coronavirus outbreak to make people aware of germs lurking in cars: Recent headlines have trumpeted, perhaps hyperbolically, that Uber and Lyft cars are dirtier than a toilet seat. And there's nothing special about rideshares. Taxis and buses also bring lots of people into an enclosed space with shared air and surfaces. And let's not even talk about germs in rental cars. But new tech is arriving to render interior microbes inert.

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HEPA filtration

HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air, an ungainly phrase for a filter that removes over 99.9% of particles in the air that are as small as 0.3 microns, which covers many airborne contaminants. JVC recently introduced the KS-GA100 Air Purifier at CES. It looks like an Amazon Echo, but it's a HEPA air purifier that sits in your console cup holder and runs off the car's 12-volt outlet, filtering out particles and negatively ionizing the air for a clean scent. It processes approximately eight cubic meters of air per hour which, on a 2020 Toyota RAV4, for example, would turn over the cabin air about twice an hour, assuming you don't have the windows down.

JVC KS-GA100 air purifier

This cylindrical tower device sits in a cupholder and filters nearly eight cubic yards of air per hour, enough to process the air in your car about every 30 minutes.

JVC/Screenshot by Brian Cooley/Roadshow

There are a lot of car air purifier products on the market, but when you can't visually judge the effect of something, it may inspire confidence to buy from an established name in car electronics.

When the Toyota Camry Hybrid debuted in 2007, it was one of the first cars with Plasmacluster technology from Sharp integrated into its HVAC system. Tesla also now offers cabin air filtration with Bioweapon Defense Mode in the Model S and Model X. It says you can literally survive a military-grade biological attack sitting in one of those cars.

Note that HEPA air filtration is not a guarantee against COVID-19 transmission, as human coronaviruses tend to be smaller than the 0.3-micron size HEPA promises to trap 99.9% of. Nonetheless, the CDC does recommend HEPA (and N95 face masks) as a minimum defense in clinical settings handling coronavirus. 

Ultraviolet light

While HEPA filters and N95 face masks seem to struggle with human viruses, hospitals use a form of ultraviolet light called UV-C to sterilize rooms against iruses, including so-called superbugs that are multidrug resistant. Makers of ambulance fittings also offer UV-C emitters to kill microbes in those unpredictable environments. Jaguar Land Rover is developing in-car tech that uses UV-C rays in its cars' ventilation systems to kill germs before they blow in your face. 

Yanfeng UV air purifier

Yanfeng's "wellness pod" can clean the air in your car with ultraviolet light and perfume it with a choice of four scents.

Yanfeng

Car interior maker Yanfeng is developing a so-called "wellness pod" with UV-C technology inside. It would be factory-mounted on a car's ceiling and sterilize cabin air while also offering a selection of scents that range from "woody" to "citrus."

You should be aware that UV-C can cause cancer and cataracts when directed toward human tissue. All of the systems above use it inside a closed device and don't beam it out at things like seating surfaces, steering wheels or door handles. 

UV light and skin cancer

New research from Columbia University Medical School has identified a range of UV-C light that can kill microbes without the skin cancer and cataract risk.

CBS/Screenshot by Brian Cooley/Roadshow

But recent research at Columbia University Medical Center found that a form of UV-C can kill microbes without harming human tissue if the light is of narrow bandwidth and at the far end of the UV light spectrum. Maybe its signature blue-white tint becomes the future of auto interior lighting one day.

What you can do today

While this antigerm car tech is percolating, what can you do today? There are sprays specifically formulated for disinfecting car interiors. Many claim to inactivate the influenza virus, coronavirus and norovirus -- the big three you'd be concerned about in closed, shared environments. The current COVID-19 outbreak is caused by a coronavirus, though these products do not make specific claims about that strain. Other products are scent covers, not germ killers. All of these products emphasize using them in a way that gets into your car's vents where so much can accumulate and thrive in what is often a warm, dark space.

Amazon

The SafeSpace Disinfectant and Deodorizing Germ Fogger claims to kill coronaviruses and noroviruses. Does the cruise industry know about this?

Amazon

Armor All's Freshfx is available in a fogger format that gets into a car's nooks and crannies. But it's meant to clean out scents, not kill viruses.

And if you want someone else to deal with all this, look around your area for a detailing service with car disinfecting services that go after grime, and not just shine.

First published Feb. 27.