Three Concerns with Vehicle Service During COVID-19
Looking closely at vehicle service, there are three areas we’re most concerned with:
- Technical safety
- Vehicle Cleanliness
- Inside the HVAC Case
First, the technician needs to safely approach the vehicle and perform some type of sanitizing (which includes the door handles, steering wheel, shifter handle, seat belt buckles, ignition keys, and ignition switch) prior to bringing the vehicle into the shop for service. This protects the technician from surface contamination that may be present on the vehicle and should be performed while wearing PPE (personal protective equipment) like gloves, goggles or a face shield, and a face mask or respirator.
Second, there is a concern with the general cleanliness of the vehicle’s interior. As people drive their cars they are talking and breathing, and sometimes droplets are expelled from their mouths onto the dashboard and other instrument panel and interior surfaces. Also, if an occupant is sick, they could possibly sneeze inside the vehicle, expelling contaminated droplets onto interior surfaces. This goes beyond those which are required to be touched to drive into the shop, and include things like radio control knobs, A/C dashboard controls, vent outlets, seat cushions and sun visors, as well as any personal items the customer may have left inside the vehicle.
Third, there is the HVAC case itself, particularly the condition of the interior duct work surfaces, cabin air filter, blower motor fins and squirrel cage, blend doors, and the fins and plates of the heater core(s) and evaporator(s). Especially if a vehicle’s HVAC system is operated in recirculation mode, there is the possibility of bioaerosols being carried along with the recirculating air, into the air intake ducts, and onto the cabin air filter.
Some may think this is a diminished concern, since cabin air filters are designed to “clean” the air and trap particles before passing into the HVAC system. However, there are many different types of classifications of filters, some of which may be more or less effective than others (not only at filtering dust and dirt from the air, but also at trapping bioaerosols, if they are even able to do this at all). But this would lead to a whole other discussion of filtration and filter media, and the potential reaerosolization of the bioaerosol within the HVAC ductwork and subsequent “blowing out of the vents”.
It is unknown how long the air inside a vehicle occupied by someone with confirmed COVID-19 remains potentially infectious. Facilities will need to consider these factors.