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Clearing the air: Keeping your car free of pollen, inside and out

Consumer Reports News: May 04, 2011 03:53 PM

Spring is here, and unfortunately for some of us, that means airborne tree pollen is, too. The powdery green stuff wreaks havoc with those who are allergic to it, but it can also make a mess of your car, both inside and out. Here are a few tips to hopefully help you breathe easier, and to protect yourself and your car from pollen.

Clean your cabin air filter
Most cars built since around the year 2000 have an air filter for the interior that can screen out not just pollen and other airborne pollutants. Cabin filters also prevent your heater core and air conditioner from becoming clogged, thereby reducing efficiency. But it's an easy filter to ignore, especially if you don't know your car has one. Mechanics we spoke with said they have seen vehicles that were equipped to house a filter, but did not come from the factory with one—presumably this was on lower-trim level models. In these cases, the filtration could be added by simply installing a filter. (Not sure if youre vehicle is equipped with a filter? Check your owner's manual.)

The good news is that in the world of particulate matter, pollen bits are relatively large and easy for the filter to trap. Cabin filters are usually relatively easy to locate and change yourself. They're normally located under the hood, often near the base of the windshield, or behind the glove compartment. Your owner's manual should tell you how to do it and how often it needs to be changed. Most manufacturers recommend changing the filter at least once a year and more often in dusty conditions. If you can recall the last time it was changed, right about now would probably be a great time. Replacements can be found at auto parts stores, and you can save if you do it yourself. Expect to spend $10-35 for the filter, although some higher end models might cost more. If you have a dealer do the job, it might cost as much as $100 or more.

Keep the outside clean
Pollen may not look abrasive, but wiping it off the car or even leaning on a pollen-coated fender can cause scratches. The best bet is to start with a freshly washed car, and apply a good coat of wax. Then, you can just rinse the pollen off weekly, or more often if you like. And by keeping it off the outside, less is likely to end up inside where it can coat the interior, as well as get into your eyes and lungs.

Check pollen at the door
Keeping your car windows closed—whether you're in it or it's parked—will help keep the green stuff on the outside, especially in the early morning or at dusk. Those are prime times for pollen. And set the fan to recirculate when possible.

If you're still bothered by pollen in the car, a shop vacuum or better yet, a household canister vac with an upholstery attachment should help. Plus, you can clean out a winter's worth of other debris while you're at it. If your allergies are really bad, wear a particle mask while vacuuming. A damp cloth can remove much of the dust on the dashboard, around gauges, and in many hard-to-reach places.

More tips on how to cope with pollen season.

Jim Travers


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