Driving (or idling) in bad traffic isn't just a soul sucking use of your precious hours on this earth, it's also rough on your physical well-being. And if you drive with the windows down you'll be exposed to even more pollutants, particularly if you live in a smog-prone area or a part of the country prone to bush fires. But you can mitigate the amount of air pollution around you by activating your car's best creature comfort.
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Engineers at Washington University in St. Louis figured out that air conditioners are the most effective method of keeping your cabin air as pollution-free as possible. To test their hypothesis they outfitted various cars with portable pollution-measuring sensors, both inside and outside the vehicles.
As they tracked the cars over a four-month period, they identified different concentrations of pollutants depending on their location, what vehicles were nearby and whether or not there was construction work. They also measured pollution with the windows up, down, with the fan on, or with the air conditioning on.
With the air conditioner on, the indoor cabin air was anywhere from 20 to 34 per cent cleaner. You can thank your car's cold evaporator, the element in your air conditioning system that absorbs the heat and produces the cold air. The car's cold evaporator attracts the pollutants to its surface, where they are deposited before reaching your car's cabin.
Of course, employing this trick means something of a devil's bargain: air conditioning is a major contributor to climate change and you'll be improving your air quality within by worsening your impact on the environment at large. That in mind, maybe best to save this one for particularly smoggy, hot days and stick with the fan the rest of the time.