You and your family may be traveling down the road, with your windows rolled up, and your air-conditioning system on. With a combustion engine and exhaust system within just a few inches away from the interior of a vehicle cabin, are you just assuming that the air quality is safe for you and your family to breathe? If there is nothing to smell, how would you know? If the exposure lasts for extended periods of time, could you be slowly being poisoned in your own car? Unfortunately, the answer is yes.
The byproducts of the combustion engine include toxic chemicals and carbon monoxide, or (CO). CO is an odorless, tasteless and poisonous gas that can cause CO poisoning resulting in serious injury, brain damage or even death.
Recently, police departments around the country have been alleging that their Ford Police Interceptors, a modified version of the Ford Explorer, are leaking exhaust fumes and CO into the vehicle cabins, causing their officers to suffer CO poisoning that may result in serious injury to their officers and dangerous crashes involving other motorists. Many of these police departments have voluntarily pulled their vehicles from the road for safety concerns.
Federal authorities, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, are investigating many complaints concerning exhaust fumes in the Ford SUVs, including both the Interceptor and the Ford Explorer.
CO poisoning is caused when a person inhales combustible fumes, including those produced by gasoline and diesel combustion engines. When a person breathes in CO into their lungs, the body replaces the oxygen in the red blood cells with CO, preventing oxygen from getting to the organs and bodily tissue, causing damage.
Scientific studies have shown that increased levels of CO affect a driver’s ability to operate a motor vehicle, and can result in ”CO intoxication”. CO intoxication can cause fatigue, confusion or irrational thinking. Obviously, this poses not only a problem to the driver and other occupants of the vehicle, but also to other motorists who may be exposed to a driver “under the influence “of CO poisoning. More troublesome is the fact that the driver may not be aware that CO intoxication is occurring, making the exposure even more dangerous. Increased exposure can lead to heart damage resulting in life-threatening complications. Also, irreversible brain damage, and even death may occur before anyone realizes that there’s even a problem.
Vehicles are supposed to be designed to direct exhaust and CO emissions away from the engine through the exhaust manifold, catalytic converter, and exhaust pipes to the rear of the vehicle. Also, the air-conditioning system should be designed to prevent CO and other harmful contaminants from entering the passenger cabin.
Obviously, if you smell fumes or exhaust in your vehicle when your windows are rolled up, that is a clear sign that you have a problem, and need to get your vehicle checked out as quickly as possible. However, because CO is odorless, even if you don’t smell exhaust fumes, it is nearly impossible to know whether the cabin air in your vehicle has a high concentration of CO emission until the damage is already done. If you have doubts, there are many inexpensive carbon monoxide test kits on the market which you can use to test the CO level in your vehicle cabin.
Also, Ford has already agreed to settle a nationwide class action lawsuit relating to exhaust leaking into their 2011 to 2015 Ford Explorers through the air-conditioning system in the passenger cabin. While they did not issue a recall, they have issued two technical service bulletins in 2012 and 2014 relating to the application of sealant and undercoating to various vehicle parts, and a software upgrade to the air-conditioning system.
Ford has issued notices to all original buyers and current owners concerning the settlement, outlining the repairs they will make to try and fix the problem. It is important to note that the settlement does not include 2016, or newer, Ford Explorer vehicles. Those recent vehicles are also facing CO contamination claims.
If you own a 2011 to 2015 Ford Explorer, you may be able to benefit from the terms of this class settlement. It is important that if you receive such a notice, you promptly take your vehicle to the dealership to schedule the repairs. The safety of you and your family depend on it.