Deadly Car Emissions and Your Automobile: Know What is There

You probably know that any combustion engine, as gas-fueled cars have, produces fumes. But you may not think much about such noxious emissions except when you have to submit your car, truck, or SUV to annual emissions tests required by many states and communities. Unfortunately, what you don’t know about your car can hurt both you and others. Nor is all the danger something you can smell or see so you need to know what is there and how to deal with its worst effects.

Ask yourself a simple question like, “What is the most toxic gas produced by my car, truck or SUV?” or “How can I protect myself from combustion fumes?” If you don’t know or can only guess at the answer, please read on. Your life may depend upon it.

The by-products of fuel combustion can be damaging both long-term and immediately. The former produces air pollution and is strongly linked to global warming while the latter can kill you rather quickly through even just one exposure.

In fact, a century after the first mass-produced automobiles rolled off assembly lines, hundreds of Americans die from combustion-related poisoning that robs the body of critical oxygen each and every year. Even more are rendered seriously ill; their health permanently changed. These deaths and illnesses can be prevented, both through good auto maintenance and repair as well as common sense measures. But you have to know what is there and how to work properly with it to reduce the dangers.

Every gas-based automobile produces a number of different by-products, of which there are typically three major pollutants or dangerous gases identified. These are:

– Carbon monoxide (Co)
– Hydrocarbons (Hc)
– Oxides of Nitrogen (Nox)

Carbon monoxide is the one you hear about most frequently and is also the most lethal of automobile emissions. Part of carbon monoxide’s greatest danger is that you can neither see nor smell it although this gas is invariably present. Carbon monoxide levels are usually highest when you first start a car. It is then that the fuel mix is at its richest to help the vehicle fire. Because your catalytic converter (the part of a vehicle responsible for turning carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons into less harmful breakdown products like carbon dioxide and water) is not yet warm or fully functioning at that point, the air becomes ripe with the colorless, odorless Co.

It is carbon monoxide that makes it vital you do not run a car, truck, or SUV in a closed garage for any period of time. It is also carbon monoxide that endangers you most if you sit in an idling car with the windows closed tight. You can also see seriously high levels of Co concentration with faulty carburetors, a dirty car air filter as well as fouled PCV and fuel valves, a problematic fuel injection system, a failing oxygen sensor or a choke that refuses to open and close properly. All of these represent problems you can correct through proper car maintenance and repair and that you can be injured by if you fail to do that corrective care.

I’ve had more than one nearly fatal run-in with carbon monoxide even though I am now fairly competent in repairing and maintaining automobiles. See another Associated Content article I authored: “When Cars Kill: Up Close and Personal with the Dangers of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning from a Faulty Car Exhaust” for details.

Beyond carbon monoxide you also find hydrocarbons which are usually the direct result of incompletely burned fuels, such as you see with a poor-performing combustion engine in a car. Hydrocarbon levels can jump exponentially when we allow our engines to degrade to the point where valves and rings used to seal the engine compartment fail. A vehicle that burns a lot of oil, for example, may be a candidate for high Hc levels. You can also have higher than normal levels with failed ignition wires and massively fouled spark plugs, both of which are usually replaced as part of a thorough car tune-up.

The third major emission is oxides of nitrogen or NOX, which is far more dangerous than simple nitrogen found all around us. This gas is most frequently a problem when the engine is operating under severe stress or the throttle is wide open. But the most serious NOX conditions appear with a failed or failing exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) valve. This valve usually works to reduce NOX emissions but, when the valve is damaged or heavily worn, NOX levels rise substantially. Once NOX rises and you’re exposed to it, you can develop headaches, visual distortion and serious breathing problems. Bronchitis and other lung ailments can be appear after exposure to this gas.

If you see a common theme here besides the whole idea of deadly car emission gases, it should be that all of these emissions can be controlled by keeping your vehicle properly maintained all along. Once a car, truck, or SUV no longer is serviced regularly and problems go unrepaired, emission levels build along with related problems like poorer and poor fuel efficiency, degrading overall performance, and costing you far more to run even though the vehicle is no longer a reliable means of transportation.

Your best bet, as always, is to maintain your car regularly and thoroughly. It turns out that such maintenance not only saves you money while offering you years’ worth of reliable transportation, but it can also protect your health as well as the environment to boot. If this sounds like money and time well spent, it should.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

three + 6 =