Dangers inside your car: The air you breathe

The air you breathe

Dangers inside your car: The air you breathe

Do you spend a lot of time in your car?

How much time do you spend in your car each day? Each week? Each year? Would you rather travel in your own car versus public transportation? These are some of the questions we are going to ask you later in this series, but first let's ask, what are the dangers inside your car?

Today we are going to focus on air quality

The air you breathe

Many of us spend a lot of time in our cars commuting back and forth to work. Even if this is over short distances, much of the time is spent in traffic. Your cabin air filter helps to protect you from the pollutants and particulates in air you breathe.

Particle pollution | Particulate matter

Many in-cabin air filters are meant to filter out particle pollution aka PM (Particulate Matter). In the picture above you can see various sizes of PM such as PM 10 and PM 2.5 (fine particulate matter). The 10 and 2.5 represent micrometers, smaller than a human hair with the potential to get into your lungs and cause health problems.

PM typically affect people with existing heart and lung conditions as well as children and the elderly. But even those who are healthy can show temporary symptoms.

Exposure to particle pollution can cause a variety of health issues including: irritation of the eyes, nose and throat / coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath / reduced lung function / irregular heartbeat / asthma attacks / heart attacks / premature death in people with heart or lung disease.

The Office of Air and Radiation and the EPA put out an air quality index (AQI) for your safety

Examples of PM

Examples of PM: road and industrial dust, pollen, fine dust, mold micro spores,

Sources of PM

Examples of sources of PM: construction sites, unpaved roads, fields, smokestacks, fires, power plants, industrial sites, automobiles etc.

Cabin air filters

How often do you change your cabin air filter? Do you typically drive with your windows closed and the AC or Heat cranked with the air circulating in your car? Do you buy the cheapest cabin air filter on the market? Do you even know how to change your cabin air filter?

It is recommended that you change your cabin air filter every 12,000 miles (check your owner's manual). This, however, is a recommendation. If you drive people with existing heart and lung issues as well as children and the elderly, you should change it more frequently. Also, If you drive on dirt roads, in heavy traffic in smoggy cities, or in areas that produce a high abundance of PM; you should change it more frequently.

Some cabin filters not only filter out PM but also harmful gases and allergens, so seek out the best for your health. You may want to do the same with your AC filters and filters in your workplace.

Be sure to keep the inside of your car clean especially if you have pets or lots of interior traffic such as children or car pooling. Learn how to detail the inside of your car or get it done professionally.

Final thoughts

Breathing in filtered air typically is safer than breathing in fresh air, particularly if the filter is high grade and clean. Note that the AQI advises to move activities indoors during unhealthy conditions.


Click here to find your area's Air Quality Index:

Video on cabin air filters, where they are located and how to find one for your vehicle:

Steps to reduce exposure during high levels of PM 2.5

Protecting yourself in areas near wildfire smoke

A/C leaks in your car cabin can be toxic

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Comments (47)

  • I live in Florida, you have run the A/C about 8-9 months. Twice a year I change it.

      1 year ago
  • At what point would you become concerned about the air you are breathing in your car? @tribe

      1 year ago
  • Years before they started using cabin filters you roll the windows up and put the A/C on recirculate when driving thru LA or San Bernardino.

      1 year ago
    • OMG, Dave, and in LA lol. No one thinks about it now but when you are old and gray and have to walk around with an oxygen tank and on a fixed income, you'll be pressed for cash to treat these issues. I know so many people that have respiratory...

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        1 year ago
  • I don’t even have one. The last time Honda serviced my car, back when I had a maintenance plan, they replaced it and it made a rattling sound so I chucked it. Also, a rock went through my condenser a few years ago and I am not paying three quarters of my salary for a bit of aluminium. So my windows are literally always down. I smoke so whatever I’m inhaling is probably healthy compared to cigarettes.

      1 year ago
  • How often do you change your cabin air filter? @tribe

      1 year ago