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The Messiest Car Ever

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My kids have a standing order to clean out my wife’s car. After about a month, the pile of food wrappers and drink cups from long-distance road trips reaches critical mass, and they clear it all away. Her car never gets totally out of control. But proof of what happens if the pile keeps growing is provided here, in the messiest car I have ever seen.

I came across this car at random in my daily travels, and looked inside in awe. Here was a clear award winner!

Is this a new standard for the messy car? We're looking for challengers. (Jim Motavalli photo)Have you seen one worse than this? Do you actually drive one that’s worse than this? Send the photographic evidence—with a pathetic litany of excuses—to me at Car Talk Plaza, jim@cartalk.com.

The high ratings for the reality show Hoarders on A&E is proof that people have a grim fascination for this kind of behavior. Go room by room in hoarders' homes here.

If you have kids, you get a pass for crushed Cheerios, lost chicken fingers and spilled juice boxes. Parents know it comes with the territory. But even messy cars run on gasoline, and pit stops are a perfect time to empty out the fast-food packaging.

I personally have a zero-tolerance policy for eating/drinking in the car, so the sight of this five-year old Chevy was sobering indeed. I would say a tipping point has been reached. McDonald’s products appear to dominate, but I also recognize Dunkin’ Donuts and coffee cups from Greek diners. The pile, which includes a hooked rug, has grown beyond all confines and is now being held back only by the shifter, which must be darned hard to move. The driver still has the bare minimum necessary to drive, but that’s about it. Here’s the back seat, which hasn’t seen any passengers recently:

Loading this landfill takes a quick rearward toss. (Jim Motavalli photo)Now, I do know that there are messier cars out there, because I have the undated evidence of a Vauxhall Astra in Dusseldorf, Germany that’s actually worse. It’s so bad that the owner, who was carting around old furniture, clothes and magazines, got stopped by the German police for creating a safety hazard. From the photo, I’m not even sure how she actually drove that Vauxhall. Apparently, her face had to be pressed against the windshield to squeeze in.  Here's a photo gallery of messy cars, but I know there are much worse examples out there.

Ray Magliozzi says they've seen it all at the Good News Garage in the fair city of Cambridge, but one particular customer's Jeep Wagoneer stands out--and not just because of clutter. 

"It was crammed from floor to ceiling with stuff--shoes, pizza boxes, Chinese food containers," Magliozzi says. "But it wasn't just that--the smell was overwhelming. It was hard to get within 10 feet of that car without being overwhelmed. We fixed whatever was wrong with the car, but nobody wanted to back it out into the street--it was still in the bay. Five of my guys ran and hid in the one-stall bathroom. So the owner shows up, and I tell him, "The keys are in the ignition.' When he responds, 'Can you back it out? I have a stiff neck,' I can hear the five guys laughing in the bathroom. So I try to back it out holding my breath, but as I'm backing it out the car stalls on me! The Jeep is turning over, waa-waa, and I'm dying. Finally, I have to breathe, and it's so bad I'm choking, it almost knocks me out. When I finally get it outside, the guys are rolling on the floor. 'You're all fired!' I told them. But the owner must have been used to the smell, because he climbed in and drove off happy as a clam."

Magliozzi adds, "People do become pack rats, and it's funny and sad at the same time. We've certainly seen a lot of it. And I have to conclude from long experience that women's cars are the worst--sometimes there are eight to 10 pairs of shoes in there, as well as everything else imaginable."

Curtis Cornwall, who cleans cars professionally in the Washington, D.C. area, says the worst thing he’s ever seen is…maggots. “We were cleaning this lady’s Range Rover, and right down in between the seats were all these maggots,” he told the Washington Post. “Oh, man, it was gruesome. But you know what I found under all those maggots? An 18-karat rock. That ring must have cost at least $15,000, $20,000. The owner was like, ‘Oh, yeah, I lost that about four or five years ago.’ We didn’t tell her about the maggots.” Cornwall says that his customers don’t really want to hear how messy their cars were. He adds, “Messy car almost always equals messy house, messy life.” In my experience, the car usually does mirror the house.

Actress Lauren Graham, the owner of a distinctly messy hybrid,  found out that some people take the car/house equation very seriously indeed.  As Graham explains to Ellen Degeneres, she tried to rent a house with a bunch of friends--and the vendor wanted to see her car first. She didn't get the rental:



I have a friend whose car interior had been consumed by back issues of the New York Times, but at least that’s what they call in the garbage business “clean fill.”

Oprah has tips for this. So does blogger Monica Resinger, who opines, "If you stop for fast food and eat in the car, be sure to throw the garbage away in the restaurant’s garbage can before leaving the parking lot. This not only saves you garbage space but also leaves you one less thing to do when you get home." Kind of obvious, but yeah. Going a bit easy on the fast food is another tip. The Canadian Safety Council, which apparently doesn’t have anything better to do, published an article entitled, “The Perils of Messy Cars.” Loose objects, it seems, can become “dangerous flying projectiles if you brake quickly…This is a hazard that can cause very serious injury.” Well, duh. Oddly, instead of recommending that owners of messy cars actually clean them up, it suggests “installing a barrier to prevent objects from flying forward.” I guess that makes sense, if you really can’t hit the road without last year’s McDonald’s soda cups.

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