- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2006

Forget “American Idol,” “Dancing with the Stars” or “America’s Got Talent.” Finally, here’s an online contest I (and I suspect a number of readers) have a shot at winning.

Milliken Co., a textile company in Spartanburg, S.C., that makes stain- and odor-resistant fabrics for cars, has begun a nationwide Internet search for America’s Messiest Car.

The grand prize is a 2007 Chrysler Pacifica. Specifically, the prize is the Touring version with sludgeproof YES Essentials cloth seating made by Milliken.

I’m a neat freak, but that didn’t rub off on my teenage daughter. I blame her messy genes on grandma and auntie. I bought a 2000 Acura TL new and babied it. I wasn’t fanatical. Instead of hand-washing it weekly like my obsessive-compulsive Detroit-area neighbors do with their vehicles, I ran it through the $3 car wash. I didn’t hose down the interior, but I’d do a quick vacuum of the carpet now and then.

I purchased the car, which is equipped with front side-impact air bags and a navigation system, knowing my young daughter would be driving in a few years. I figured the safety features, the car’s size and the navigation system were ideal for a first-time driver.

Before long, “my baby,” as my now college-age daughter calls my car, became her bus to school and everywhere else for all of her friends. She worked hard at keeping me away from it, keeping it locked and jumping up to move it instead of having me do so.

I found out why one day when I got a frantic call from her. She’d arrived at a nearby school for a swim meet without her swimsuit. Could I go get it from “her” car?

The state of “my” car left me fuming. Every brown-bagged lunch, dinner and snack we’d ever packed was in the trunk. Clothes, books, school supplies and CDs were strewn everywhere. Who knows what was ground into the carpet? The leather upholstery actually had cuts in it, and the seatback pocket was torn completely off. It had become a trash can on four wheels. Apparently, my household is not alone, according to the messy car contest sponsor.

“Keeping a clean vehicle can be difficult, considering that 82 percent of drivers transport sandy, muddy or dirty gear in their vehicles,” said Mike Guggenheimer, manager for Yes Essentials products. The culprits, Mr. Guggenheimer said:

• Fifty-seven percent of drivers keep pets in their cars.

• 68 percent have sports equipment.

• 72 percent transport camping or outdoor gear.

According to a Milliken cleanliness study, Americans are overscheduled, overworked and overcommitted trying to meet the daily demands of a career, family and friends. However, drivers still want to keep their car free of dirt and debris without committing to a daily car interior-cleaning regimen.

Milliken research also showed that 70 percent of drivers surveyed rated getting a vehicle clean with as little effort as possible as one of the most important factors in maintaining a vehicle.

Milliken is searching for America’s messiest car to promote its new fabric, which it claims can withstand and repel the worst stains — coffee, ketchup, lipstick — and has an antimicrobial agent to inhibit the growth of bacteria.

So consider entering. Messy car owners can go to www.MyLifeMyCarMyMess.com to enter the contest, and one grand-prize winner will be chosen from all online entries received.

Entrants can post up to five photos of their sloppy car, and even the family members responsible for the mess, plus a short essay explaining how a chaotic life has led to the turmoil in his or her vehicle.

Visitors to the site can also view submitted entries, and can rate the cars on a scale of Squeaky Clean to Dumpster on Wheels.

Online entries will be accepted through Oct. 16, after which an independent judging panel will choose winners. Additional prizes include a car upgrade for the second-place winner — with Yes Essentials seat covers, floor and trunk mats — and sets of Yes Essentials floor mats to help 10 third-place winners spruce up their messy rides.

Messiest car facts

• 70 percent of drivers surveyed rate keeping their car smelling clean and fresh “extremely” or “very important”

• 30 percent of drivers surveyed rated carpeting as one of the top three cleaning problem areas

• 30 percent of parents with young families think food stains are among the hardest to remove from car interiors

• 83 percent list motor oil as the stain that can’t be beat.

Sources: Milliken Cleanliness Study (March 2003); Lifestyle Analysis from JCI Performance Interiors Project (2003); Milliken Qualitative Floor Mat Study (April 2004); Mintel “Marketing to Moms” report (July 2005).

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