Winter is Here. Don’t Leave the Car Running In the Garage

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On Tuesday, January 5, friends and family of Alex Bedolla held funeral services for the 17-year-old from Emporia, Kansas. Bedolla succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning after he left his car running inside the garage while working on his car stereo on a bitter cold night.

Alex Bedolla’s family said the 17-year-old was unaware of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning in an enclosed space when he rolled his new car into the garage to work on the stereo.

Isidro Trujallo, Bedolla’s cousin, told KWCH in Kansas “I don’t think a lot of people know about that my age, our age.” His friend Luis Cervantas said “If I would’ve been him and I was in the garage with the car on, I wouldn’t have really thought about it neither, like … Those things don’t really pop up in your mind.”

Infographic authored by VFIS, offering specialized insurance to emergency service organizations. To view the original post, see the original carbon monoxide prevention infographic.

Carbon monoxide poisoning from automotive emissions used to be widespread and common. In a 1973 medical study, researchers found that just a 90 minute bus ride in Los Angeles was enough to cause irregular EKG results in 40 percent of patients with a pre-existing cardiovascular condition.

Prior to catalytic converters, running a car in an enclosed space like a garage could kill an occupant within 30 minutes, but catalytic converters drastically cut CO emissions. According to the Iowa State University College of Engineering, even a well tuned engine can produce 30,000 ppm of CO into the exhaust system. At the catalytic converter, that concentration drops to less than 1,000 ppm. Depending on the condition of the engine, a car without a catalytic converter typically emits 10,000 to 30,000 ppm of CO.

As a result, we don’t talk as much about carbon monoxide poisoning as we likely did in the 1970s. Here’s what to be aware of:

Defective Exhaust Systems

Exhaust systems that have degraded to the point of allowing exhaust gas to exit before the catalytic converter are especially dangerous. You’d likely hear a hole in the exhaust pipe, but be aware of any ticking noises that indicate a blown exhaust manifold gasket, or a cracked exhaust manifold. Those noises are most evident when the air gets colder.

Open Trunk Lids and Tailgates

If you’ve ever noticed how fresh snow collects around the rear of the car while you’re driving in a snowstorm, you know that air has a way of getting stuck back there while you’re driving. Driving with an open tailgate or trunklid can literally suck exhaust and carbon monoxide into the passenger cabin.

Rust Holes

Holes in the floor, especially when combined with a leaking exhaust system can direct carbon monoxide into the passenger area. If rust has developed to the point where a hole is evident, it might not be a death notice for the car. You can have an auto body professional weld the floor properly to seal up any leaks.

Riding in Truck Beds

This happens less frequently now that seat belt laws are so strict, but it wasn’t unheard of for parents to allow their kids to ride in pickup truck beds. When combined with a topper or a cap, exhaust emissions would flow into the bed area, causing carbon monoxide poisoning.

Running Vehicles in Garages

Even with the garage door open, a car can generate enough carbon monoxide to kill. It’s not only dangerous for the person in the garage. Carbon monoxide can then leak into the house with attached garages.

Carbon monoxide detectors in garages often go off just pulling a car in and out. Iowa State found that warming a car for just two minutes with the door open can raise CO concentrations to 500 ppm, and and measurable concentrations of CO remained in the garage for as long as 10 hours after the car had backed out.

Be safe this winter. Don’t run a car in the garage, and while you’re at it, don’t run a snowblower in an enclosed garage, either. Those engines don’t have catalytic converters and can easily fill a garage with fatal levels of carbon monoxide.

Craig Fitzgerald

Craig Fitzgerald

Writer, editor, lousy guitar player, dad. Content Marketing and Publication Manager at