Your Health

Health Considerations when Buying a Car

Here's the deal on what you can and can't control

Zoom, zoom! Off you go… Well, almost. Buying a car is tricky business, whether you are looking to buy a new car off the lot or a used car. No matter what, there is a lot to consider. We’re going to focus more on the health related aspects of the car, because we aren’t mechanics, or negotiating ninjas. But we do know health. So, let’s break it down.

First off, no matter what kind of car you are looking to buy, old or new, sport car or minivan, gas-guzzler or fully electric, we can pretty much promise there are going to be flame retardants in it (sorry). There are studies looking at the amounts of different types of flame retardants and in different areas of the car, and basically they all say, yep, we found flame retardants.

While we often say we don’t love flame retardant chemicals, we also understand that stepping into a car at all can be risky. This is just another one of those risks, and that’s okay. Getting from point A to point B isn’t always possible car free, and while taking public transit, biking, or walking are always great, we get it, sometimes that just isn’t an option. So, basically, don’t sweat it. Without major overhauling to how almost all products are made and to politics throughout the world (because even American made cars are subject to regulations in different countries sometimes) we aren’t going to be able to avoid all flame retardants. And, it’s perfectly okay to make strides in some places and just know we can’t escape them everywhere.

Now, if you do want to make a difference in your health, there are still some options relating to cars that you CAN make. According to the EPA, transportation is one of the primary contributors to air pollution, so our choices can really make a difference. Looking at fuel efficiency and amount of CO2 produced all relate back to air pollution, which has been linked to a variety of different health concerns including asthma, cardiovascular disease, and poor birth outcomes.

Not all cars produce the same amount of pollution or CO2. Someone at Thrillist went through and analyzed a bunch of different categories of car and calculated the amount of CO2 released per mile as well as an efficiency score. You can read all about that process and the winners in each category. You can also compare cars based on fuel economy on this site run by the U.S. Department of Energy. Or, to learn more about different green vehicle options, check out this information from the EPA.

The other thing you have control over is what you put in your car (or what you don’t allow). One way to protect yourself is to keep fragrance out of your car, so skip that air vent clip and those little tree hanging things. While they may keep your car from smelling like coffee or fries, they also introduce all kinds of chemicals like fragrance and phthalates that have been linked to problems including changes in estrogen levels, asthma, and even abnormal sperm.

If you are getting a used car, it’s a good idea to get the air filter and cabin air filter checked and changed, if needed. If you’re getting a new car, be sure to ask how often you should be changing them.The air filter in your car is similar to air filters in your home, but in cars they filter the air that goes into the engine. Properly caring for the air filter is important for engine performance and maintaining fuel efficiency. There is also a cabin air filter that prevents things like pollen, dust, smoke, and smog from circulating in the air you breathe. Different cars have different recommendations for how often you need to change the filters, and where you drive can change this. If you are driving in heavy traffic or in dusty deserts, you will probably have to change them more often. Check your car manual for recommendations and figuring out where these are even located, or ask your mechanic. You can replace both the engine and cabin air filters pretty easily yourself, if you are handy enough to hang a picture without punching a hole in your wall. No judgment if you can’t, but, in that case, we recommend asking a friend that knows about cars or a mechanic to help you out.

If you’ve got kids (or kids on the way), one other things to consider is the car seat you are going to buy. Many do have flame retardants, just like cars in general, but not all. So, do some snooping and see if one that is flame retardant free is a good fit for your family. And, while you’re at it, consider adding your name to this petition saying you don’t support the use of flame retardants in car seats.

What are you waiting for? Get out on the open road and go!