We look out for the quality of the air we breathe indoors and out and we aim to drive in the most fuel-conscious manner to keep emissions down. What about the air quality inside our vehicles during necessary hours on the road?
The Ecology Center, an Ann Arbor, Michigan, nonprofit, attests that extreme air temperatures inside cars on especially hot days can potentially increase the concentration of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and release chemicals and other ingredients from new-car dashboards, steering wheel columns and seats into the interior air. Some manufacturers are responding by greening their interiors: Toyota is using sugarcane to replace plastic; Ford has turned to soy foam instead of polyurethane foam; and Land Rover is tanning its leather with vegetables, not chromium sulfate.
Carbon monoxide seeping in from engine combustion can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea and fatigue and even trigger asthma. The potential exists “if there’s a leak in the system between the engine and the rear of the vehicle and there’s even a small hole in the body structure,” advises Tony Molla, a vice president with the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. “Have the exhaust system inspected by a certified technician to make sure everything is secure and not rusted or leaking.”
Also have the cabin air filter checked. Part of the ventilation system, it helps trap pollen, backteria, dust and exhaust gases in air conditioning, heating and ventilation systems and prevents leaves, bugs and other debris from entering the interior, according to the Car Care Council. Most vehicle manufacturers recommend changing it every 12,000 to 15,000 miles. (Find a range of educational information at CarCare.org)
It’s always beneficial to have fresh air entering the vehicle when driving. Open a window slightly or blow the air conditioning on low in the vent position when not in traffic. “Don’t run it on the recycle or max A/C mode for long periods to make sure you’re getting fresh outside air in and flushing out any contaminants in the cabin air,” adds Molla.
Using sun reflectors and visors helps keep interior temperatures down. Check local motor vehicle departments for state policies regarding tinted windows, which can reduce heat, glare and UV exposure. It always helps to park in the shade.