From our car-sick series: CO poisoning?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Nov 01, 1991

Dear Tom and Ray:

This spring my husband and I purchased a 1987 Chevrolet Celebrity with 52,000 miles on it. It is a nice car and we really like it. Recently, something strange happened while driving it. We went on a short trip, and on the way there, we had the air conditioner on and had no problem. On the way back, we had the windows closed and the vent on. About 45 minutes into the drive, my husband, who was driving, started to feel weird (OK, OK, so my husband is weird once in a while). He felt like he was on the edge of a cliff and about to fall over. His whole sense of balance was off. I, as the passenger, felt fine. I drove the other 45 minutes home, and when we got home, I felt like I was going to fall over. It only lasted about five minutes, and then I felt OK again. We didn't smell anything during the drive, and we had not eaten any food before driving, so it couldn't be that. What do you think?

RAY: I think you're lucky to be writing to us today, Gail. It sounds like it could be carbon monoxide poisoning. My brother's been suffering from that for years now.

TOM: Huh?

RAY: You see what I mean? Seriously, you could have an exhaust leak somewhere under the hood.

TOM: When people hear the word "exhaust," they usually think about the back end of the car, where the muffler and tail pipe are located. But the exhaust system actually starts in the front of the car, and carries the exhaust from the engine to the rear end. So it's certainly possible that you're leaking exhaust right up front in the engine compartment.

RAY: There's a piece of weather-stripping that's supposed to keep engine fumes out of the car's ventilation system. If you have an exhaust leak AND that weather-stripping is not doing its job, that would explain how the carbon monoxide is getting in through the vents.

TOM: And that's VERY dangerous. Carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless. And in fact, most people don't even notice that they're being poisoned. It just slowly makes you stupid until you completely lose your judgment and start, like, writing a newspaper column with your brother.

RAY: Seriously, you should get this looked at right away. Your mechanic can use his emissions tester to search for an exhaust leak under the hood. And a visual inspection of the weather-stripping ought to tell him whether it needs to be replaced.

TOM: Of course, there is one other possibility. We all know that light-headedness is a sign of euphoria. And if this was the first time either of you had driven an '87 Celebrity, well...that would explain it too.

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