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How Much of a Turn-Off Is a Dirty-Ass Car?

Are you using your sweaty gym clothes as an air freshener? Because it’s having the opposite effect.

If the modern automobile had a status on Facebook, it would undoubtedly be “It’s complicated.” With their computer-controlled fuel injection systems, continuously variable transmissions and three-phase four-pole AC induction motors, the days when every Tom, Dick or Harry could wrench on their ride seem long gone. So let us help — especially with the seemingly mundane stuff that if not done properly, your dad and/or his favorite mechanic vowed would ruin your car forever. Because when it comes to cars — and this column — no question is too dumb.

I spend a lot of time in my car going to and from work, and my ride can get pretty trashed with water bottles, dirty gym clothes and a general, “don’t give a shit” vibe. Sometimes I wonder: Could my messy car be the reason I don’t have a girlfriend?
I can totally understand how you’d get there. We’ve been conditioned by pop culture, an overly concerned parent or two and Jordan B. Peterson into thinking that unless we’ve got our shit together — and keeping a pristine, high-quality model car being a prime example of one’s shit being together — we’re going to have trouble attracting a potential mate. 

But is that actually the case? Have you ever stopped and asked the opposite sex whether your dirtbox-on-wheels is really the dealbreaker you think it could be? 

I did, enlisting two women knee-deep in the L.A. dating scene. The short answer: Yeah, a dirty car isn’t going to go unnoticed. “It’s like a level of awareness,” explains Lisa, a director of corporate philanthropy. “It’s always interesting when a guy picks me up on a first date and his car is a mess. It’d be one thing if he was like, ‘I’m so sorry. I just went on a road trip with my guys and haven’t done this or that,’ but to not be aware your car is a pigsty? You’re like the guy who doesn’t know you smell bad.” 

Erin, a writer and content strategist, agrees: “A dirty car says you don’t have your life in order, and you can’t be bothered the spend $15 and 25 minutes on a Saturday morning to keep one of your investments in good condition.” 

“Look, I get it — sometimes a coffee cup sits in there one hour too many,” continues Lisa. “No one’s perfect, but if you open up someone’s trunk, and it’s mayhem and chaos, it’s like, ‘What’s happening? Why are you storing stuff in there, and why haven’t you looked at it?’”

So again, yeah, a dirty-ass car is a red flag that there might be messiness in other parts of your life, but is it a reason not to date someone? Neither Erin or Lisa would go that far. “I don’t think it would make me be like, ‘This person is completely gross in every area of their life,’ but it would almost put up a subconscious antenna that would make me notice patterns elsewhere. That said, there are so many more important things to consider. And so, I don’t think that I’d be like, ‘I’m not going to date you because you have a piece-of-shit car.’” 

“It’s definitely a changeable thing,” adds Lisa. “Men are sometimes a little rough around the edges and need some assistance.”

Conceding that a jacked-up car is gross, but not so gross as to prevent a second date, I ask both women if there’s a line that would make a dirty car a dealbreaker. “If he pulled a bag full of food containers from four days ago out of the back seat, I probably wouldn’t go out with him again — that’s messed up,” Lisa opines. 

“If it was a pattern of dirty car-ness where you were like, ‘Hey, your car is kind of a mess. Maybe you should clean it,’ and then it kept being dirty, that would probably do it for me, because it points to a lack of respect,” Erin explains. “But as for things actually in the car, my breaking point would be the combination of dirty clothes and food — like old socks and sweatpants strewn about the backseat mixed with Cheez-It wrappers. To me, that’s a deadly combination.”

There you have it. While a dirty vehicle may not be THE reason you’re weeping in the shower alone right now, it’s not helping, either. At most, you could take the 30 minutes required to wash your car (as you should be doing, anyways), remove anything inside that doesn’t otherwise belong and not give a potential date a reason to hope that you’ll abandon her on the side of the road as opposed to making her sit among your filth. At the very, very least, maybe take your dirty gym clothes inside and give them a wash, okay? 

Or, fuck it — don’t. 

Like my friend Cullman explains (no stranger to being dumped on account of his dust-caked, water-bottle-infested car, which he nicknamed “Disco Gold”), “I don’t think about my car, or care about my car. As long as it starts, and gets me from point A to point B, who cares what it looks like?” 

“If that kind of thing matters to you, hey, it’s your loss.”