Can your car AC actually be harmful to you? Precautions to take in summer

The temperature is soaring in most parts of India right now and air-conditioners, at home, office and the car are running at peak performance. However, have you considered the harmful effects a car AC can have on your health?

There are some precautions that you need to take when using the AC in your car. No, we’re not going to preach on the harmful effects of toxic gases emitted from dashboards baking in the hot sun – the jury is out on that one, while most say it’s just a myth. There are other issues one encounters, both with your own health and the health of the car. Here’s a look at those issues. ALSO READ: How to Keep Your Car Cool in Summer

Can your car AC actually be harmful to you? Precautions to take in summer

Smelly AC, health risk

In some cars have you noticed a dank or musty smell that comes from it the moment you turn on the blower? This usually happens in areas where there is high humidity or just after a cold winter. The issue with such ACs could be mould or fungus trapped inside the AC duct, usually near the evaporator coil. Besides the stink, such moulds can also have harmful effects on people who have allergies or who suffer from asthma.

What to do: You will need to get your AC system cleaned out. Most service stations charge about Rs. 2,500 or so for a complete “AC service” where the clean out the ducts with compressed air, check the charge pressure of AC refrigerant, and clean the AC filter. (See below for tips to maintain your car AC). However, to effectively kill off mould, you will need to get an anti-fungal spray and spray the ducts and evaporator.

How to prevent it: One handy tip to prevent mould build-up is to use the blower only for the first few minutes every day. In winter too, turn on the heater and use the blower – the hot, dry air can kill mould growth. ALSO READ: Five ways to increase the effectiveness of your car AC

Can your car AC actually be harmful to you? Precautions to take in summer

Excessive AC use health risk

It’s a well-known fact that AC’s can dehydrate you. AC’s work at dehumidifying the air inside the car cabin, and with that it also extracts moisture from your body – from the skin surface. It’s one of the reasons people who travel extensively in air-conditioned cars also get headaches from the loss of moisture. Because of the cool cabin, you don’t feel the need to drink as much water as you would if you were sweating it out without an AC, but you still need to replenish your fluids. Extensive use of AC can lead to problem like dry skin, itchy eyes and dry nose.

What to do: Even in a car with the AC on it is prudent to keep drinking as much fluids as you can to replenish the body fluids lost due to evaporation due to the AC. Take breaks on your journey every 2-3 hours and step out to sweat a bit if needed! Also read: 7-tips to help maintain your car 

AC use and drowsiness

Some cars have super-effective ACs that can chill the cabin quickly. And most people will use the AC on recirculation mode mainly to continue recirculating that chilled air inside the cabin, to make the AC more effective. If you use fresh-air mode, the AC has to work harder to try and cool down the warm outside air it draws in, and hence for fast cooling it is better to use recirculation mode.

However, there is a big downside to this, especially on cars with nearly air-tight cabins on long highway drives. Using only recirculating mode can lead to carbon-di-oxide build up inside the cabin and that can lead to drowsiness, because of the lower oxygen percentage. To much CO2 build-up again gives symptoms like headaches and nausea.

What to do: Don’t constantly use AC recirculation mode only. Every now and then, if you have a manual HVAC system in your car, switch to fresh-air mode to get some outside air into the cabin. Or easier still, roll down a window a little for a couple of minutes to allow the stale air to vent out. In cars with automatic climate control – this isn’t a big problem, because the unit usually shifts to fresh air mode once the set ambient cabin temperature is reached. Also read: How to prevent drowsiness while driving



Here are five tips to maintain your car AC:

–          Clean the AC condenser located in front of the car near the radiator regularly with high-pressure water.

–          Get the car’s coolant drained and replaced and AC refrigerant (gas) checked and topped-up if needed once a year, just before summer, and check for leaks. Use the AC regularly all-through the year.

–          Use the blower at maximum speed with the windows down to blow out hot air and dust in the ducts before you start out and only then switch on the AC.

–          Clean the AC filter (if equipped with one) regularly, as we live in dusty conditions.

–          Don’t switch on the AC immediately after starting the car – wait till the engine warms a little and similarly switch off the AC first before switching off the car.

Share any thoughts you have on AC use and health risks with the CarToq community in the comments below. Also read: 10-weekly checks for your car