How clean is the air you breathe during your commute?

Published November 11, 2019, 12:05 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



Atty. Gregorio Larrazabal
Atty. Gregorio Larrazabal

Before we continue discussing the preparations needed for riding a bicycle for your commute, there is one thing which I’d like to point out.

A friend forwarded me a link which provided information that discusses how the quality of air inside vehicles is, at times, 15X worse than the air OUTSIDE the vehicle.  It further stated that “research published in the journal Atmospheric Environment measured air pollutants inside and outside vehicles at traffic intersections in urban and suburban areas. Their findings include:

  • Stopping at red lights greatly increases exposure to air pollution.
  • Intersections with traffic signals have up to 29 times higher. concentrations of particulate matter than open roads.
  • Drivers spent 2 percent of their time passing through intersections, which accounted for 25 percent of their pollution exposure.

 Air pollution levels are high at intersections with traffic lights because drivers decelerate, idle, and accelerate there. The same result will occur anywhere cars idle, such as drive-through windows at restaurants.

The article further stated that, “Pollutant levels are often higher inside because cars take in emissions from surrounding vehicles and recirculate them. Studies have found that as much as half of the pollutants inside cars come from the vehicles immediately ahead, especially if those vehicles are heavy polluters, such as diesel trucks. Pollutants enter the car cabin through air vents and other openings, because vehicles are not built to be air tight.”

This is very interesting!  I’m sure many who are reading this now did not put too much thought into this.  The assumption of people is that the vehicle is sealed and air-tight.  So, for millions of people who commute to work inside a car every day, they have this false sense of security that they’re breathing better air inside the car than the air outside the vehicle.  Mind blowing!!

So the next questions would be: How do I make sure I breathe cleaner air in my car?  Is there an option for a cabin air filter?  Fortunately, many of the new vehicles being sold now have a cabin air filter installed in the vehicle.

Wait, what’s a cabin air filter?

A cabin air filter is “a small pleated filter made of multi-fiber paper cotton or other engineered material. Before entering the passenger compartment, outside air is directed through this filter to trap the contaminants inside the filter and prevent them from entering the inside of your vehicle”.It’s usually a square filter installed under the right side of the dashboard, under (or behind) the glove compartment.  That’s where the air intake is usually located for the automobile’s airconditioning unit.

So how many who drive cars actually pay attention to their cabin air filter?  Having described its usual location above, the next thing to know is how often do you need to replace it?  Well, like I mentioned above, many new vehicles have cabin air filters.  But it’s best to check with your car agent if the vehicle you’re planning to get has one.  How often one needs to replace the cabin air filter is dependent on manufacturer’s specifications. But usually it’s after 15,000 miles.  Some, however, use the length of use, instead of the mileage, when changing the air filter. I change my cabin air filter every year.

Can you get an aftermarket cabin air filter?  There are several manufacturers that sell aftermarket cabin air filters.  Personally, I google tests for cabin air filters, and just look for the product on-line.  Research is important. It’s best to check with your car agent, but aftermarket cabin air filters are supposed to provide better filtration.

What do you do if there’s no cabin air filter in your vehicle? Most of the older vehicles don’t have a cabin air filter.  For me, what I did was to buy a 3M home aircon filter available in most of the hardware stores in the malls.  Installing it in a Land Rover Defender did not take more than an hour, and all you need to do is look for the air intake (a hole under the right side of the dashboard) which feeds air into the evaporator.  One layer is enough.  I use double-sided tape to keep it in place. That filter will usually last 6 months.  But I visually check the filter often to make sure it’s not yet too dark.

BTW, if you’re installing a cabin air filter for the first time in a vehicle, please have a qualified mechanic also check the evaporator.  It’s pretty useless to have an new air filter, but a dirty evaporator.

So, yes, you, yes, YOU, the reader might be more comfortably seated in your luxurious SUV, but you might be breathing in more pollution than the people you see while on your way to work.  Let’s make sure you get to work safely and healthy!

If you have any questions, suggestions or tips which I can include in next week’s discussion, please feel free to email me at [email protected], or contact me on Twitter at: .