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To-Do List: Change the Cabin Air Filter in your car and ADD CARBON!

To-Do List: Change the Cabin Air Filter in your car and ADD CARBON!

I know, car maintenance is not everyone’s “thing” and air filters sound super-boring.  However, if you’ve owned your car for a while and never changed the filter, or bought a used car and have no clue when this filter was last changed, you could be horrified at what you would find (and hence are breathing in every time you drive it)!  It’s time to think of this task as a “health upgrade” for you, the driver or passenger!

Cabin air filters in cars (tip: these are different from the engine air filter) are probably even more neglected than household air conditioning or furnace filters, for several reasons:  our car ventilation systems are exposed to even more dust, toxins and critter debris than our homes, and many people are averse or afraid of car maintenance.   However, it’s so easy to order the right filter online with your car’s model and year, and now virtually every maintenance procedure on every model car can now be found on YouTube.  There’s no excuse for rolling up your sleeves and getting to it (or bribing your teenager or neighbor to do it with some food)!   Simple tools like screwdrivers, sockets and a vacuum cleaner are usually the only things needed. 

Before you order the filter, however, check to see if they are available with activated carbon.  If so, definitely get that one.  Not only does carbon help with smells in your vent system and car interior, it can remove NO2 from ventilation air.  Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) is a by-product of fuel combustion and it irritates our respiratory system, causing flare-ups of asthma, which can trigger a visit to the emergency room if the coughing and difficulty of breathing is not controlled.  Over time, NO2 can actually cause asthma or respiratory infections.  A study in the UK at the University of Birmingham showed how much the activated carbon lowered NO2 levels compared to basic pollen filters.  In heavy traffic, many people close the windows and put the ventilation system on “recirculation mode”, which helps reduce NO2 levels by about 1.6 times compared to open windows.  However, you shouldn’t keep the windows closed and recirc on for extended periods of time because CO2 levels will start to rise; maintaining appropriate ventilation is also important to prevent drowsiness.  Here’s the alternative:  using external ventilation with activated carbon filters fitted.  Even with fresh air coming through the ventilation system, NO2 levels were 6.6 times lower than levels with windows open.  Also, in-vehicle NO2 levels were on average 14.3 times lower with closed windows and recirculated air.  It just makes sense to go with activated carbon if it’s available in a filter for your car. 

With minimal research and $, you can feel a lot better about the air you breathe on every drive.  Then, you can place a reminder on your calendar to do it again next year, and keep up the good habits!

Photo by Ivan Bogdanov on Unsplash