Let your kid “drive” while you clean the car

Our car looks like crap, too. My kids are old enough that I don't really have an excuse, but for those with busy toddlers, here's Sara's tip:

Although I feel like I do a decent job keeping the house in order, since Miss J. has joined us the car is usually a disaster area.  I discovered that I can take advantage of J's love of 'driving' to do a leisurely job of scooping the trash and stuff out of the car.  Sit her in the front seat, open all the doors, and she gets to drive to her heart's content while I clean.

Hand wipes as dashboard cleaners
Keeping the minivan relatively organized


  1. Colleen (My Baby and More) says

    I keep a Swiffer duster under my seat and if I have a second at a red light, in traffic etc. I take it out and do a quick sweep.

    When the dashboard looks good (and if you don’t look behind you) it’s not so bad! lol!

    Good tip though – just make sure your e-brake is ALWAYS on!!!

  2. LisaS says

    Don’t forget that the ever present baby wipes do a great job on the dash, consoles, drink holders, bird crap, etc. Better than armour all ones because you can use them for messy ice cream faces, too.

  3. joe says

    I can think of a few reasons why this isn’t such a great idea:

    1. The kid will release the parking break
    2. The kid will turn the steering wheel hard enough to damage the tires (and/or power-steering system ?)
    3. The kid will snap off the turn-signal or light switches, etc.


  4. Andamom says

    Quick thoughts…But don’t leave your kid in the front seat! 1) Leave a plastic bag in the glove compartment to store trash, 2) For long trips line the back-seat with a sheet –underneath the carseat to protect from accidents, 3) put a cover over the back of your chair and passenger that contains pockets for storing stuff. —

  5. Eric says

    The possibility of an accidental airbag deployment has scared me enough to not let my child sit in the front seats at all…

  6. Allergicmom says

    I let my kids (1.5 and 3.5) in the front seat last month, and regretted it the next day. One of them turned on the dome light, which drained the battery overnight.

  7. LisaS says

    Fitted crib sheets fit back (bench style) seats remarkably well, and help keep the car seats from damaging the upholstery.

    I usually clean out the car while pumping gas. That way, there are convenient trash cans and the kids have no expectations that they’ll be allowed to budge from the car seat.

  8. Zoe says

    I used to do this…until my daughter got her fingers stuck in the cassette player. Luckily, we got them out with only a few scraped knuckles.

  9. ChristieNY says

    I tried this once and my toddler hit the horn, scaring himself as well as me half to death. He doesn’t even WANT to climb in the front seat anymore! LOL

    I use the baby-wipes and surface clean whenever the boys fall asleep in their carseats before I even turn the engine off (which wakes them).

    Good luck!

  10. Mick says

    I did this until my 2 year old broke the indicator and wiper arms – cost me $150 to get them repaired :-(

  11. scurvyann says

    hHAhAH – while I was tidying up the car and my 2 1/2 was busy “driving”, he turned on the interior lights (and i didn’t notice) and our battery diiiiiied. beware!!! also? he stuck SOMETHING (a coin?) into the cd player and now it will not function. but he sure does like to “drive”!

  12. Pamela says

    I tend to sit in the front passenger side next to mine when he “drives” — which he loves to do — because of the fear he’ll do something to release the parking brake. I don’t get cleaning done, but I can relax a little and read the mail, or something — we mostly do it in our driveway. I can also watch closely enough to turn off the dome light, if necessary, and keep coins from going into the CD player. Well, there was that ONE time, but the CD player still works…

  13. HoorayForSaturday says

    I always do a quick sweep of the van when filling the tank with gas also.
    It takes a few minutes to fill the tank, so why not do a little cleaning and toss things in a free trash can.
    The vehicle might get so clean you won’t faint from the total of the gas price.

  14. adrienne says

    The coin & cd player scenario played itself out in my friend’s car too (with her son, not mine!). Though the incident momentarily made me feel better about only having a tape deck in my car, I know the situation is an ongoing source of frustration.

  15. gg says

    I agree with most other comments that this can be dangerous. If your drive shift is on the steering column (usually is in SUVs and Mini Vans), your child can put the car in drive.

    Your kids watch you put the car in drive every day – and will copy you.

  16. Eric S. says

    The steering-column shift lever is even more of an issue if you have an older car. Those models don’t require you to push the brake before shifting gear, so a kid can easily yank on the lever and have the car in neutral (a much more dangerous gear than drive, in my opinion) in a heartbeat.

    And yes, this warning comes from my own childhood experience. :-)

  17. scurvyann says

    say, do any of you know how to get a coin out of a cd player? (without ripping the whole thing out, that is?)

    …chewed up gum on a stick?


  18. Derek says

    While I’d agree with the concern over your kids breaking something in the front seat (turn signal, cassette player, etc.) There are a few comments that I really question:

    “The kid will turn the steering wheel hard enough to damage the tires (and/or power-steering system ?)”

    Take the keys out of the ignition, turn the wheel until it locks. Done.

    “If your drive shift is on the steering column (usually is in SUVs and Mini Vans), your child can put the car in drive.”

    If you car can be shifted out of Park with no keys in the ignition and no foot on the brake, you need to take it to a mechanic immediately it should not be able to do this. Cars have safegards so that they can’t be shifted out of Park accidentally. If it can be, it is a huge safety risk to more than just your child.

    If you drive a manual shift car, I’d think twice about letting your kid play in the front seat without a lot of warning and super vision since they don’t have the safeguards an automatic does.

    Instead of being so over protective, use the opportunity to start engraining respect for danerous things like an automobile. Instead of worrying that Johnny is going to let off the parking brake, explain what it does and why he shouldn’t touch it. Explain to Sarah that the shift lever is what tells the car to move, and she can only “pretend” to drive the car, since if it was move she could hurt someone including herself. Kids are receptive folks. The ultimate Parent Hack here could be the start of raising a safe driver, which will be upon us sooner than we think.

  19. Mama Duck says

    Ok, with an automatic transmission, I wouldn’t worry about it getting into gear or neutral and the steering column should lock out anyway. I’m hoping that nobody would ever do this with the keys in the ignition. Do be careful with the doors open thing tho, especially with our SUV, it’s a long way down and they can tumble out easily. I put him in the front seat, supervised, with the door shut and me inside. It’s too far down to the concrete if he falls out, scary.

  20. hedra says

    Derek, I agree with your points in general, and your intent in specific – being safe in the front seat is our job to manage, but it isn’t a super-crisis in most cases.

    However, I wanted to point out that the education approach isn’t safeguard AT ALL. I did some research a while back on whether education programs for smaller kids (under 8-9 yrs) had much impact on safety (that is, fire safety, gun safety, water safety, etc.). Turns out that there’s some benefit of it, but nowhere near as much as we’d like to think. Instead, the studies indicate that no matter how well you educate them, the temptation is just as overpowering. Kids have minimal impulse control even when educated! They may appear to be under control when you’re there, but turn around… and some kids, like one of my twin daughters, even being there and explaining that this is hot and it will burn you if you touch isn’t enough to keep her from touching it and getting burned… argh. Getting burned might be a good enough education, but it’s hardly recommended, LOL! Oy. Fortunately, not a serious burn that time.

    Anyway, I teach and explain, but I DO NOT TRUST that they’re suddenly more immune to temptation just because they have some knowledge.


    Funny story along these lines… One of the twins, at about 20 months old, asked in her relatively truncated language if we were driving home. I said yes, not realizing that she was really asking if SHE could drive us home. Instead of climbing into her car seat, she climbed into the driver’s seat, grabbed the wheel, and then looked at me with great pride (‘I driving!’) and then a dawning dismay when I told her to get out of my seat and back into hers. She wailed the entire way home… she was SO ready to be the one doing the driving. And SO not ready to be told she’d have to wait 14+ more years…

  21. John Flinchbaugh says

    Our kids are *never* allowed in the front seats, because we don’t want them to ever get the idea that they’re allowed access to all those controls unsupervised.

  22. Brandi says

    I don’t put my son in the driver seat, for many of the same reasons stated above, but I always have toys in the car, and I will sit him in the back seat with his toys, while I clean. I only leave the door I’m currently at open, so there’s no falling out, and when I move to the front of my Jeep, he sits in the passenger seat. I also implement the gas station clean out..lol I keep old groceries bags in my car, to put the trash in, and this really helps to keep it somewhat neat, and less for me to clean later.