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You may think that being involved in a car crash is the greatest risk of driving a car – and you would be correct. However, there are certainly other risks, and one that receives very little attention is breathing in toxins while driving. Whether you’re stuck in traffic, inhaling exhaust from the surrounding cars, or in an urban area, breathing polluted city air, toxins in the atmosphere should be taken seriously. Carbon monoxide, in particular, is a deadly odorless, colorless, virtually non-detectable gas that can kill you silently and quickly. Learn how to avoid breathing in carbon monoxide and other dangerous toxins by following these simple protocols when both on and off the road:

Choose your route wisely

Small-town Americans generally don’t have to worry about getting stuck in traffic or driving through areas with much industrial pollution. Unfortunately, those small-town Americans are in the minority. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 80.7% of Americans live in urban areas. If you’re part of that vast majority, it will behoove you to choose a route that will help you avoid high-traffic areas and highly polluted industrial areas. Check Google Maps and select the “traffic” layer to show you the congested areas you should avoid before you hit the road.

Use air re-circulation

If you follow the advice above but can’t avoid metropolitan areas or traffic jams, there is still another failsafe to keep you breathing the cleanest air possible: air recirculation. Air recirculation causes your car’s air conditioning system to continually recycle air from within the vehicle rather than pulling in new air from outside. Your car does have to pull some air from outside, of course, so that you don’t run out of oxygen, but you can reduce the amount of polluted outdoor air you breathe by letting in as little as possible and continuing to reuse the cleaner air that’s already in the cabin.

While breathing the same air repeatedly isn’t your healthiest option, air recirculation is the smartest option when you’re in the city or other air-polluted areas. Once you are out of the city and the air pollution is lower, that’s the time to roll down the windows and get fresh air in the car.

Watch your exhaust

As mentioned earlier, carbon monoxide is one of the greatest breathing dangers to motorists. Making sure your car is discarding carbon monoxide properly so that it doesn’t pollute the cabin air is of primary importance.

Heed this advice to ensure cabin air safety.

  • Watch your health. Primary symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting and shortness of breath. (Source – Mayo Clinic) If you experience any of the above while driving, you may want to have your car serviced by a mechanic to make sure you don’t have exhaust creeping into your car.
  • Check your vehicle for exhaust leaks. If you don’t want to pay a mechanic for diagnostics, you can check for exhaust leaks yourself by examining the muffler and pipes, looking for rust and cracks and listening for unusual noises (loud buzzing, hissing or popping).
  • Check your vehicle for exhaust blockages. Look in the tailpipe to make sure it’s clear. A blockage in the tailpipe will cause carbon monoxide to back up into the cabin.
  • Make sure the back of the vehicle is properly sealed so that carbon monoxide doesn’t flow into the cabin, especially in vehicles with tailgates. Keep the tailgate closed while driving. If the tailgate is open, be sure to open windows or vents to keep the interior air from becoming stagnant.
  • Remember that winter is a dangerous season for carbon monoxide poisoning, especially in colder areas. This is true for several reasons. First, cars burn more fuel when starting up the engine in colder weather. Second, snow, ice, and salt on the roads can cause rusting and cracking in exhaust pipes. Third, snow can block the tailpipe, causing the cabin to fill with carbon monoxide. Be on your guard when traveling in the winter months.

The new car smell

For some it’s an exciting and exhilarating smell; you just bought a new car! Think again. According to, the “new car smell” is in fact a toxin. Car interiors have many different plastics, leather and synthetic materials which are all treated with chemicals. While these chemicals enable the car interior to withstand extreme cold and heat, it creates a toxic situation for you as a new car owner. In 1960 the average car interior contained 22 pounds of plastic; today that figure is nearly 250 pounds per vehicle. That’s 250 pounds of plastic that is treated with toxins! What can you do?

  • Check your vehicle’s tox-rating, if it has one. Honda Civic’s 2012 car scored  a0.46 and was rated the best overall vehicle, while Mitsubishi’s Outlander Sport 2011 car earned the worst-rated vehicle with a score of 3.17). Another study shows how vehicles rank for vinyl, flame retardants and lead chemicals here.
  • Roll those windows down when you’re driving! There is nothing like fresh air to keep you healthy.
  • Bake the chemicals out. While sometimes you just have to wait it out, you can hurry the process along by parking the car in the hot sun with the windows cracked. If it’s wintertime, you can turn the heat on for a few hours and allow the system to ventilate. Once you’re done baking the car, make sure to thoroughly air it out and then scrub all surfaces with a nicely damp microfiber cloth. You can also use vinegar, depending on what surfaces inside your car you’re scrubbing.
  • Place boxes of baking soda or other odor absorbing materials in your car. Realize that this is not removing the toxins, but merely dissipating the odor.


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