What To Do If You Suspect CO Is Getting Into Your Vehicle

co emission coming from car tailpipe

Purcellville, Virginia – We’ve all seen the headlines. They go something like this: “Family of Four Narrowly Escapes Death After Carbon Monoxide Scare” or “Neighbor Finds Couple Unconscious After Apparent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning”. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a deadly gas created by the incomplete combustion of carbon in fossil fuels. When CO fumes build up in an enclosed space they create an environment that is hazardous.

A faulty furnace can cause CO vapors to accumulate in a house. A portable propane heater, a camp stove, or a gasoline-powered generator used indoors or in a garage will also allow dangerous levels of CO to build up. So, we are warned to avoid the use of fuel-burning heaters and stoves and generators in enclosed spaces with little ventilation. And we are encouraged to install CO monitors in our homes to detect the presence of CO before it rises to a dangerous level.

But did you know that carbon monoxide could build up inside your vehicle too? Because the engine in your car, truck, or SUV burns fuel in the combustion process, it also gives off exhaust gases. Some of the exhaust gases are inert or harmless, such as nitrogen or water vapor. But some, including CO, are harmful.

The emission system (particularly the catalytic converter) is designed to reduce the amount of CO that is released into the atmosphere, but under certain circumstances, exhaust that is supposed to exit the tailpipe and dissipate safely into the atmosphere ends up entering the passenger compartment instead.

And that’s not a good thing!

How does Carbon Monoxide get inside a vehicle?

Usually, CO in the passenger compartment is associated with older vehicles that may have problems such as damaged or deteriorated exhaust systems or rust holes in the body. But newer vehicles are not exempt. Driving with an open trunk lid or liftgate can allow exhaust gases to get inside. If someone is allowed to ride in the bed of a pickup truck under a topper, they too could be at risk of CO poisoning. And an exhaust system can be defective on a late model vehicle just as it can on an old one. Of course, operating a motor vehicle inside a garage or any enclosed structure (even a carwash) will trap exhaust gases and allow them to get inside the vehicle.

If the emission system on your vehicle is not working properly, concentrations of CO in the exhaust could rise considerably. The catalytic converter helps to reduce CO levels, but if an exhaust leak is present ahead of the catalytic converter, the higher concentration of CO could find its way into the passenger compartment.

In the last couple of years complaints have arisen from drivers who claim that they have suffered the effects of CO poisoning while driving their late-model vehicles. For instance, hundreds of complaints have been lodged against Ford Motor Company for more than a decade over their Explorer model which is purported to have a defect that allows exhaust gases (including CO) to enter the passenger compartment.

Why is Carbon Monoxide bad?

Often termed the “Silent Killer” because it is colorless and odorless, CO is a toxic gas. When you breathe in, oxygen from the air binds with your red blood cells to be distributed throughout your body. When you breathe out, carbon dioxide (a waste byproduct of your body) is released and your red blood cells are ready for more oxygen. It is a natural process. That process is affected when you breathe CO. Like oxygen, the CO binds to your red blood cells too. But the hemoglobin in your blood is far more attracted to the CO than to the oxygen. So, your blood gets saturated with CO and loses its ability to transport the oxygen needed for life.

What happens when you breathe CO instead of oxygen? Well, the effects range depending on your length and level of exposure. Here is a list of symptoms related to CO exposure:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Flu-like Symptoms
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Chest Pain
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Vomiting and Abdominal Pain
  • Changes in Vision
  • Drowsiness
  • Seizure
  • Loss of Consciousness
  • Death

As you can see, breathing CO can be serious. Exposure to high levels for a short time, or moderate levels for a long time each have their effects. And while some symptoms may diminish, some are far-reaching. It has even been shown that exposure over long periods of time is linked to increased risk of heart disease.

What do you do if you suspect CO is getting into your vehicle?

So, how do you avoid problems with CO getting into your car? Well, make sure to have the exhaust system inspected regularly. If your check engine light comes on, have a technician diagnose the cause as soon as possible to make sure the emission system is working properly. Avoid driving with the trunk or liftgate open. Have rust holes repaired (especially those under the vehicle). Do not allow passengers to ride in the bed of a truck under a canopy or topper. And avoid running your engine in a garage or other enclosed space. Likewise, if your car is buried in the snow or the tailpipe is obstructed.

Finally, you can protect yourself and your passengers by installing a 12v carbon monoxide monitor to detect any exhaust vapors that do get inside the vehicle.

Fortunately, CO in the passenger compartment is uncommon. However, if you do experience any of the symptoms or side effects of CO exposure or you suspect CO might be getting inside, make sure to have your vehicle evaluated by a professional at a trusted repair shop.

Hogan & Sons Tire and Auto | Author: Mike Ales | Copyright September 2018

This article is intended only as a general guidance document and relying on its material is at your sole risk. By using this general guidance document, you agree to defend, indemnify and hold harmless Hogan & Sons Tire and Auto and its affiliates from and against any and all claims, damages, costs and expenses, including attorneys’ fees, arising from or related to your use of this guidance document. To the extent fully permissible under applicable law, Hogan & Sons Tire and Auto makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, as to the information, content, or materials included in this document. This reservation of rights is intended to be only as broad and inclusive as is permitted by the laws of your State of residence.

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