Do Cars Produce Carbon Monoxide? Am I Safe Inside?

With vehicles being such a fixture in most folks’ bug-out plans, the idea of the true vehicular bug-out, where you sleep in your car if needed or are forced to evacuate from a disaster, is gaining in popularity. Plus, sometimes, you’re just tired and need to pull over to get a nap in.

dog looking at pick-up truck across flooded road
dog looking at pick-up truck across flooded road

The issue is that some people assert that cars generate dangerous carbon monoxide gas, and it might affect you if you’re inside it while it’s parked. Is that the truth? Do cars make carbon monoxide gas?

Yes, cars do generate carbon monoxide gas as a byproduct of combustion, but this gas is present in exhaust normally. It can be a health hazard or even deadly if allowed to accumulate inside a sealed cabin or enclosed space.

Much of the time, you don’t have to worry about CO gas coming from your car in normal operation. But in certain circumstances where you are parked, have the windows rolled up, and the engine still running, it could be a threat.

This is something you must watch out for and learn how to mitigate if needed. Keep reading, and I’ll tell you everything you need to know.

What is Carbon Monoxide, Exactly? And Is It Dangerous?

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas consisting of a single carbon molecule and a single oxygen molecule. It’s a common byproduct of combustion in all sorts of things that burn, including the fuels we use in our vehicles.

This stuff is absolutely notorious as a silent and truly deadly killer. When inhaled, it blocks oxygen molecules from being absorbed by your body tissues, including your organs.

It’s odorless, colorless, and tasteless, and you often cannot even tell you’re being affected until it’s too late because symptoms don’t always manifest right away.

If you notice you have an unusual headache, feel unusually tired, or nauseous, or start to suffer from memory or cognitive problems, or if anyone around you is having a seizure, you are likely being affected by carbon monoxide. It often kills people while they are asleep, because they simply never wake up as they are poisoned.

The stuff is bad news, and that’s why you must take the issue of staying in your car with the windows rolled up so seriously if the engine is running.

All Vehicles Produce It in Their Exhaust

To be perfectly clear, all common internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles produce carbon monoxide in their exhaust. If it uses an internal combustion engine, carbon monoxide is going to be a byproduct no matter the fuel: gasoline, diesel, propane, coal, alcohol, kerosene, whatever.

Accordingly, no matter what kind of vehicle you’ve got, you must follow the same procedures for staying safe from it.

Being Inside a Vehicle with the Engine Running Can Expose You to CO Gas

If you’re driving down the road normally, or sitting there idling in the open with the windows cracked and the air conditioner or heater running, you have little to fear from carbon monoxide.

That’s because most cars that are in good repair don’t emit very much in a way that can leak into the cabin, and you’re pumping fresh air into the cabin anyway. As long as you get plenty of air, there won’t be a problem.

The hazard starts to increase if the vehicle is not in good repair, has an exhaust leak, is burning rich, or is just a type that emits tons of exhaust gases in normal operation. When you have the windows up and no fresh air moving into the cabin, this is where things start to get dicey…

Exposure Rates Are Much Higher in Deep Water, Snow, or Mud

The most common causes of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning in a vehicle are when people have the engine running and are sitting in deep snow, water, mud – anything else that can block up the tailpipe.

This will allow those gases to slowly start creeping into the passenger compartment and poisoning the occupants.

Sure, you might start noticing you feel bad over time, and can crack the windows to let in plenty of fresh air, but if you’re stuck in a bad situation and put your seat back to take a nap, you might not ever wake up.

As long as the tailpipe of your vehicle is clear and the exhaust system and engine are functioning normally, you don’t have much to worry about even with the windows up, but anytime you might be bogged down or snowed in, be alert.

Never Run the Engine Inside an Enclosed Space

One thing you must never, ever do in any vehicle, no matter what kind and no matter what the reason, is run it inside an enclosed space.

If you sit inside a garage, shipping container, or any other structure that will not allow for adequate ventilation and run the engine, the space will fill up very rapidly with deadly gases, and you’ll soon be suffering from CO poisoning.

This is how some people choose to end their own lives, and it’s known to be an effective method for doing so, especially in a small garage that is tightly sealed. It won’t take long for you to be compromised by the CO gas, and then potentially pass out.

From that point, you’re probably done for because this stuff is heavier than air, and tends to accumulate near the floor or ground, meaning folks who succumb to it in such a space are as good as goners.

Never, ever run your vehicle inside any enclosed space for any reason, even in an emergency!

1 thought on “Do Cars Produce Carbon Monoxide? Am I Safe Inside?”

  1. I had a friend just returned from Nam. he had met a girl and was just dating but asked her out for a Christmas party. we went in my car. I had to work the next day so we left early around midnight. it was colder than a well diggers ass so he asked if he could use the car to take the girl home. the car was in the garage so they sat and started it up to get warm. they started to kiss and make out and lost track of time. when they realized what was happening it was too late. I found them the next morning her feet on the floor door opened. his hand on the door knob. the fire department tried to revive them and told me it takes only four minutes to be overcome past moving to get out. Yes this is a true story. I lost a friend his family a son and brother. fate is cruel. fight in Nam for two years with not a scratch. come home find a girl to be with and have the world to use as you will, only to be cut off with only a moment of passion that cost both their lives. That was in 1967 and the fumes from a car bring back finding my two friends dead in my car as if it was yesterday. Please never sit in a car to get it warmed up. it only takes a small leak to kill you. you can make only one fatal mistake. Even at 80 I value each day as a treasure. life is too short to be foolish. Please if you listen to no-one else listen to me. your loss of life devastates everyone around you. I have been fortunate to be with the woman I married for fifty four years and it is still too short. May you all have a healthy life with one you love———I, Grampa

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