Smoky Air isn’t Just Bad for You, It Harms Your Vehicle as Well

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Smoky Air Isn't Just Bad for You, It Harms Your Vehicle as Well

While Canada experienced a lower than average number of wildfires this year, south of the border hasn't fared so well. The hundreds of wildfires that are currently raging across the west coast of the United States are contributing to the worst air quality seen in decades. Nearby cities like Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco have terrible air quality. But Victoria and Vancouver have sat in the #1 position now for over a week: worst air quality on the globe.

Despite Canada’s low number of wildfires, air quality across Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan is continuing to decline as the fires continue to burn. Breathing in too much wildfire smoke can make anyone sick. Is particularly damaging to high risk groups such as the elderly or anyone with respiratory issues. 

In this article we will discuss a few ways you can protect yourself and your vehicle. Because smoky air isn't just bad for you, it harms your vehicle as well.

Protecting Yourself at Home 

If you are experiencing poor air quality in your area due to the wildfires there are a few ways to protect yourself. These will help keep you and your family safe and healthy while in your home. 

  • Keep all windows and doors closed.
  • Use the recirculate function if you have air conditioning.
  • Make sure the air filter on your furnace or air conditioning system is clean. If the filter is dirty, replace it with a new filter.
  • If your house is too warm to keep the windows closed and consider using an air purifier or a fan. 
  • Be sure to clean your fan of any dust or debris if you are using a ceiling fan to recirculate air.

Protecting Yourself on the Go

The average Canadian spends 45 minutes to an hour commuting to and from work every day. Personal vehicles are the primary mode of transportation for 74% of Canadians. And your in-car smoke protection is only as good as your filter. 

Most car manufacturers recommend changing your air filter every 20,000 km or every 12 months, whichever comes first. This is regardless of how clean your air filter appears to be. A clean cabin filter will keep the smoky air outside and clean air inside. So check your cabin air filter consistently and changing it as necessary.

But here a few more ways to avoid breathing in smoke while driving your vehicle. 

  • While driving, always keep windows fully rolled up to let the cabin air filter do its job.
  • If using air conditioning, make sure to use the recirculate setting to cycle the clean air in the vehicle. 
  • During particularly smokey situations or in very dusty areas, ensure the air on the vehicle is turned off. This ensures you are not clogging up the filter with dust, smoke and debris unnecessarily. 


How Smoke Can Harm Your Vehicle

Smoke from wildfires can cause serious issues to your vehicle if it is not properly addressed. Here are some common problems related to smoke:

Strange Engine Noises

When your car is idling, you should feel and hear the smooth vibrations of an efficient engine. If you notice unusual noises, it suggests that the engine isn’t getting enough airflow. Most notably these are a coughing, popping or spitting noise. This means your air filter is dirty or clogged and needs to be replaced. A dirty filter reduces the airflow, changing the air-fuel ratio. The rich fuel mixture creates a black soot residue that covers the spark plugs. That popping noise comes from the spark plugs not firing properly due to this residue. Dirty spark plugs can also cause problems with starting your car and misfiring.

Decreased Power and Performance

If you noticed that your vehicle isn’t as responsive and powerful as it usually is, there’s a good chance a dirty air filter is preventing your engine from receiving the clean air it needs to perform optimally. Simply replacing your air filter can eliminate this issue.

Lower than Usual Fuel Economy

Decreasing fuel economy is a clear sign of a bad or dirty air filter. A bad or dirty air filter restricts air flow, lowering the oxygen in the mixture. Your engine compensates for this by consuming more fuel to produce enough power to move the same distance or speed as you would with a clean filter.

Black Smoke or Flames in the Exhaust System

An insufficient air supply means your engine will be running on a fuel-rich mixture. The second part to this equation is that it won’t burn completely before entering the exhaust. This leaves the car as a black soot-like residue. This residue can be seen as black smoke. Alternatively, the heat in the exhaust might ignite the unburnt fuel, causing flames at the end of the exhaust and a popping sound.

Smell of Gas or Petrol in the Exhaust System

If you smell gasoline when starting the car, it’s because insufficient air is entering the fuel injection system and the excess unburnt fuel exits the car through the exhaust pipe (hence the smell). When you replace the air filter, the smell should go.

Check Engine Light

An inadequate supply of air can result in carbon deposits accumulating in the engine, which will eventually trigger your check engine light. If the light comes on, check your air filter to see if it needs replacing before you run other, more expensive diagnostics. 


As you can see, a dirty air filter can cause numerous problems for your vehicle if it isn't changed regularly. During times of low air quality both filters in your vehicle become dirty and clogged much quicker than usual. Not sure how to check your air filters? No problem! Call our service department for a no-charge filter check to make sure that you and your vehicle are staying safe and healthy.