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That ride-share car is full of germs, and maybe hasn't fixed a safety recall

The interior of an average ride-share vehicle is 35,000 times dirtier than a toilet seat.
Image: Uber
An Uber car drives through LaGuardia Airport in New York on March 15, 2017.Seth Wenig / AP file

More than one in six vehicles operated by Uber and Lyft drivers has unrepaired defects covered by outstanding safety recalls, according to a new study. And that's not the only disturbing news about your shared ride — a separate study shows that the interior of the vehicle is likely 35,000 times dirtier than a toilet seat.

For the "Driving with Germs" study, insurance aggregator Netquote took swabs to the main touchpoints in ride-sharing vehicles, taxis and rental cars — door handles, seat belts and window buttons. The ride-sharing services had an average of 6 million "colony-forming units" of bacteria per square inch on those surfaces, compared to 2 million for rental cars, and just 27,593 for the cabs Netquote tested.

To put those figures into perspective, there are 2 million CFUs on the average toothbrush holder, 32,000 on a coffeemaker, and just 171 per square inch on a toilet seat.

The dirtiest part of the cars Netquote tested was the window switches in ride-sharing vehicles — an average of 5 million CFUs. Seat belts had an average 1,810. Door handles, however, were — as odd as this might sound — as clean as a toilet seat, with just 171 colonies per square inch.

Part of the reason for the high amount of bacteria in ride-sharing vehicles is that these services rely on independent drivers who mostly provide their own vehicles. Typically, these are “the same car they use in their daily lives, driving their kids to school or friends around town,” Lyft said in a statement.

For its study on safety recalls, Consumer Reports examined almost 94,000 vehicles in New York City and Seattle, two cities where ride-sharing has become a popular option. It found that one out of six Uber and Lyft drivers were operating cars, trucks or crossovers with outstanding recalls.

Considering the fact that some of those defects could risk the lives of drivers and passengers, it is a serious problem “that the companies are not requiring the cars to be fixed,” Ryan Felton, investigative reporter for Consumer Reports, said.

The nonprofit publication did not provide details on what repairs were needed. Automakers issue safety callbacks for everything from improper tire inflation stickers to malfunctioning air bags and cracked steering systems that can cause a sudden loss of control. Experts like former National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator Joan Claybrook warn that even seemingly insignificant recalls can’t be ignored. Improperly inflated tires were linked to rollover problems with the Ford Explorer almost two decades ago that led to an estimated 271 deaths.

Uber told The Associated Press it does flag any vehicle in its fleet subject to a “do not drive warning” from the NHTSA. But these are issued only when a potential problem is so severe as to raise the serious risk of causing a crash.

The Consumer Reports study actually indicates you could be more at risk taking a cab or limo — nearly one-quarter of those operating in New York and Seattle are also subject to open recalls. Vehicle tracking service CarFox last year estimated that, among all the vehicles on the road, about 57 million haven’t had at least one outstanding recall repaired.

While there is no easy way to tell whether the vehicle you are driving in is legitimately free of recall-related defects, there is at least an easy fix for the germy shared rides — hand sanitizer.