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Cleaning Up the Air Inside Your Car


The air can be repulsively dirty when you take a jog in the local park and even inside your house, but how about driving down the freeway at rush hour?

Hundreds of cars ahead of you are spewing out carbon-laden exhaust, rubber dust from tires and brake lining particles--all of which gets sucked into your ventilation system and then right up your nose.

Auto makers are rushing to help solve the problem and a new generation of air filtration systems is promising to make the air inside your car cleaner than the air in your home. Although far fewer than half of new car models offer the systems, they are rapidly being introduced in the current year.

So far, Ford, BMW, Volvo and Volkswagen are leading the charge into cleaner air. Unfortunately, nobody yet makes an aftermarket device that can adapt the filters to existing cars.

The Ford Taurus and Sable are the first popular nonluxury cars that come equipped with standard air filter, produced by Freudenberg, the leader in the filtration industry. 3M is also active in the market, supplying filters to Volvo and BMW.

The Freudenberg filters are supposed to capture 100% of every particle larger than 3 microns (roughly 20 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair). An electrostatic charge in the filters also help catch the dust particles, as well as pollen that causes common allergies that affect nearly one out of every four individuals.

The filters are also supposed to be good enough to capture mold spores, which commonly grow on the air conditioning evaporator cores inside the dashboard and can cause allergic fits.

In product testing, a filter used in Los Angeles by Freudenberg for 23,000 miles came out as black as charcoal, while a similar filter tested in Arizona came out light brown, said Arthur Cashen, marketing director for the company's car filters.

The filters are designed to last about 18 months and cost about $20 to replace, Cashen said. The next step in auto air filters will be ones that can effectively remove odors that waft in from buses, hydrocarbon gases that are suspected of causing cancer and ozone gases.

"The systems are being well received," Cashen said. "In just two years, we have gone from no cars having them to more than 60 models that now come equipped with our filters."

* Vartabedian cannot answer mail personally but will attempt to respond in this column to automotive questions of general interest. Do not telephone. Write to Your Wheels, 1875 I St. N.W. #1100, Washington, DC 20006.

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