For years, researchers have worked diligently to find out about emissions and air pollution in the air around us, but just recently they are shifting their focus to the air inside your vehicle. They are finding now that the air inside one’s car can be up to 15 times worse than breathing pollutants in the open air just a few meters away.

Most people only spend about 6% of their day inside their car, yet in that short time we can ingest up to half of our daily pollution exposure.

Vehicle Pollutants Are Bad and Traffic Makes It Worse

By sitting behind a car in traffic, especially diesel trucks, the exhaust flows into your air system and then recirculates throughout the car, even with the windows shut. Half of the pollutants you get in your car are from cars directly in front of you. And why is this? Because vehicles are not airtight, nor should they be.

What Exactly Does Vehicle Exhaust Contain?

While not ideal to think about, it is important to know exactly what you are breathing when you are sitting in traffic. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone (O3), carbon monoxide (CO), sulphur dioxide (SO2), fine particles (PM2.5), and ultrafine particles (UFPs) can all be found within a vehicle’s exhaust. This recipe spells disaster, especially with those who have limited lung function and/or respiratory problems.

Carbon monoxide (CO) can contribute to dizziness, fatigue, and confusion while nitrogen dioxide causes irritation to the lungs and can lower your body’s resistance to infections of the respiratory system. While none of these are good for you, it is important to know exactly what you are breathing.

What Can I Do About It?

  1. Find a good air purifier for your vehicle. These do exist and are a great investment to keep pollutants out of the vehicle.
     
  2. Drive a safe distance from other vehicles in front of you – especially diesel trucks, which emit a lot of exhaust.
     
  3. Try to find a commute with the least amount of traffic and traffic lights. The more time you sit idling at a traffic stop, the worse it is. Prevent this by planning a better route.
     
  4. Do not invest in air fresheners or deodorizers. While many of these systems claim to purify the air, it’s not true. These products are full of harmful pollutants and further pollute your car – don’t sacrifice air quality for a fabricated smell and a false sense of security.
     
  5. Keep things clean! Keeping your car clear of dust, dirt, and debris will keep the air quality much better. Schedule regular cleanings or do it yourself with a car vacuum system. We suggest paying attention to your vents and the little nooks and crannies, which often store up the worst dust and particles.
     

This may sound pretty bad, but it isn’t meant to scare people from driving their vehicles. We know you have places to go and cars are, for many, the only or most efficient way to get from Point A to Point B. Taking preventive measures can significantly decrease the amount of pollutants you inhale inside your car.