Is Your Car’s Air Conditioning Harming You?

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There is a lot to consider when buying a new car. You have to consider bottom line price, road tax, insurance, and car servicing costs. You even have to consider a particular model’s safety record. Now there might be something else to think about, according to the RAC: a car’s air conditioning system.

An RAC report suggests that there may be millions of UK drivers “at risk of being exposed to toxic air” because the air-conditioning systems in their vehicles are not filtering out toxic chemicals produced by other cars on the road.

The testing was conducted by Emissions Analytics researchers who looked at 11 different models of the most popular cars in Britain. What they found was somewhat troubling.


From Poor to Nearly Perfect

Researchers tested the quality of the air flowing through car air-conditioning systems irrespective of prior car servicing. It is assumed that all 11 models were brand-new vehicles that had not yet been exposed to the driving environment. Among the models tested, the Toyota C-HR was the worst performer. Its air-conditioning system filtered out only 1% of the toxic chemicals.

The Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polos were better – the Volkswagen filtered 35% – but not nearly as good as the best car on the list: the Mercedes-Benz E class. It filtered out 90% of the toxic chemicals, which may be another reason it is one of the best-selling German imports in its class.

Again, it must be noted that the tests were run irrespective of prior car servicing. This may suggest that as a car ages, its air filtering system performs even less admirably. An already poorly performing Ford Fiesta could actually be worse a few years down the road.

The Potential Dangers

So what does all this mean? It could mean increased exposure risk to owners of certain kinds of cars. According to the research, there may be up to 57,000 different toxic particles in every cubic centimetre of air on Britain’s roads. Those particles could be harming drivers without their knowledge.

This is not to say that damage to drive health is guaranteed. No one knows that yet. The point is simply to say that carmakers need to do a better job of designing air-conditioning systems that filter pollutants out of air they draw into a car.

The RAC says that a big part of the problem is a lack of standards. Because carmakers are not forced to adhere to a certain level of pollutant filtering, many do not put any effort into making their systems as clean as possible. This may be harming drivers in the long run.

There is little you or I can do to change how manufacturers build air-conditioning systems. But we can make sure that we have our systems checked every time we take our cars in for servicing. Even if your system is not doing as good a job as you’d like, a clean air filter is better than a dirty one.