Should Gary really be sleeping on (literally!) exhaust gasses when he goes camping?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jul 01, 2006

Dear Tom and Ray:

This is a family relations/exhaust gases type of question. When camping, I use the exhaust gases from my Bronco II to inflate our queen-size air mattress, which would require about a month to inflate by blowing in it. I simply duct-tape an unused plastic gas-can nozzle to the tailpipe, and then hold the other end tightly to the mattress's air opening. After about 40 seconds, when the mattress is really filled, I quickly screw the plug into the mattress, and voila -- I'm set for a good, firm night's sleep. But this does raise a couple of questions, as well as the ire of my dear spouse. Might I damage my truck's engine? It doesn't seem to have any effect on the truck. Might we all, as my wife suspects, die of carbon-monoxide poisoning if the air mattress were to burst while we sleep? I've been using this method for several years with no harmful effects that I'm aware of, but boy do I get a hard time about the process. So, what do you think? Am I a reckless and irresponsible danger to my family, or a resourceful follower of the tradition of shade-tree mechanics the world over? P.S.: It does stink pretty badly when I deflate the mattress, but since I always do it outside, I don't see any problem. -- Gary

TOM: I couldn't help noticing that you asked two questions, Gary -- one about the possible asphyxiation of your entire family, and one about whether this is hurting your truck. And you asked about the truck first!

RAY: Well, it's not hurting your truck, Gary. So rest easy. Now, about your family. We're not experts on carbon-monoxide poisoning, but I can sympathize with your wife's concerns. I actually think that there's less threat from the mattress bursting than from a slow leak.

TOM: If the mattress were to suddenly burst, you'd wake up, because there'd be a loud noise. You'd also suddenly drop 4 inches to the ground, probably landing on a few well-placed rocks as the mattress collapsed. So, you'd know instantly that exhaust gas had been released and you could quickly exit the tent.

RAY: More dangerous, perhaps -- and more likely -- is a slow leak. If the CO were just seeping out over several hours, you could conceivably just breathe it in while sleeping, and not know it.

TOM: You say it smells terrible, but even if your wife woke up, she'd probably just attribute the bad smell to you.

RAY: So, in the interests of family safety and marital harmony, we're going to suggest that you invest in a portable air compressor. There are compressors that run off the car's 12-volt power port (aka cigarette lighter), and they'll give you all the nice, safe, clean air you need.

TOM: You can get one for less than 50 bucks. And you can use it to fill a tire in an emergency, too.

RAY: Your exhaust solution was clever, and you do get shade-tree points for creativity, Gary. But go for the compressor. Everyone will sleep better.

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