The Effect of Exhaust Fumes

The Effect of Exhaust Fumes
| By: Christian Brothers Automotive

Can we drive down Memory Lane for just a sec? Do you remember roasting marshmallows to make s’mores? (...if not, just hang in there with us…) You’re standing near the campfire, all the graham crackers and chocolate are nearby, and you’re putting a marshmallow or two on your roasting tool. There it is–that delicious marshmallow begins swelling over the flame. Best campfire ever…until the wind shifts and blows the smoke right into your face, burning your eyes, filling your lungs, and banishing you from the firepit area with your half-roasted mallow, coughing like you have a bad cold. You were having a good time.

That campfire smoke is toxic and can be very dangerous to you. The same is true of the exhaust fumes that exit the tailpipe of your car while it’s running. What are exhaust fumes, anyway? Exhaust fumes are the byproduct released when fossil fuel is burned to power your vehicle. You burn wood, you get smoke. You burn fossil fuel through a vehicle, you get exhaust fumes. Most of us never really think about it. If you crank your vehicle in a garage and forget to open the garage door, you’ll think about those exhaust fumes very quickly, as it will be difficult to breathe. Please never do this!

The reality is that we all inhale exhaust fumes as part of our everyday life in some capacity, whether we’re stuck in traffic or jogging past a busy intersection. While inhaling tiny amounts of exhaust fumes at an intersection won’t cause immediate damage, continuous overexposure to these can be very dangerous and even fatal.

Today’s blog is focused on your safety. We’ll explain what makes exhaust fumes dangerous and why, as well as what you can do to minimize your exposure to it.

What Makes Vehicle Exhaust Dangerous?

So, what makes exhaust so dangerous in the first place? It’s chemical makeup! Pathogens and gasses found in exhaust fumes can adversely affect the body. Exhaust commonly contains:

  • Sulfur dioxide

  • Carbon monoxide

  • Nitrogen dioxide

  • Formaldehyde

  • Benzene

Water vapor and carbon dioxide are also present in exhaust fumes, but these gasses do not cause adverse side effects.

The dangers of exhaust fumes are the contents. How can these contents be harmful to us?

The Dangers of Exhaust Fumes

Here are four dangers of exposure to exhaust fumes.


Whether you’re a chemist or not, you’ll probably recognize the term carbon monoxide over the other gasses found in exhaust. This one alone is dangerous and can cause carbon monoxide poisoning, which leads to death. That’s why many homes today have carbon monoxide detectors, especially those homes heated by natural gas and use gas burning stoves. Breathing carbon monoxide can be fatal.


In June 2012, the World Health Organization decided, based on enough research and credible evidence, to label diesel engine exhaust as carcinogenic, while gasoline has continued to be classified as possibly carcinogenic to humans. The National Human Genome Research Institute states that a carcinogen is a substance, organism, or agent capable of causing cancer.

Lung Disease

When something is burnt, soot is produced. Soot is not only damaging to nearby materials, as it can leave behind quite a stubborn stain, it can also make it hard to breathe if inhaled, especially to those who are exposed to it on a regular basis. Soot has also been noted to be related to a number of other heart and lung-related diseases and health concerns.

Debilitating Reactions

Breathing in just a little bit of exhaust can cause a number of health-related problems, including:

  • Dizziness

  • Headaches

  • Nausea

  • Disruptions to vision

  • Breathlessness

  • Eye irritation

  • Respiratory tract issues

What Can You Do to Avoid Exhaust Fume Danger?

Prevention starts with education. You can help keep yourself and your family safe by understanding how exhaust fumes can impact the human body and avoiding situations where you might be exposed to harmful fumes. Ensuring routine maintenance on your vehicle’s exhaust system is a great start!

Signs Something is Wrong with Your Exhaust System

Your exhaust system can tell you a lot about the health of your vehicle, so it’s important to learn the following signs that your exhaust system may need service:

  • You Can Smell Your Exhaust – If you smell exhaust in the cabin an exhaust leak is a likely cause, and it should be repaired immediately.

  • Your Exhaust Isn’t White – If your exhaust is anything other than thin and white, like thick, black, or gray, there could be a number of issues present in your exhaust system.

  • You Hear Loud Noises – Noticing any knocks from your engine? Are things just noisier than usual? Your exhaust system may be a good place to start.

While all of these don’t necessarily mean that you can accidentally breathe in exhaust fumes, it’s important to ensure your exhaust system is in good condition to avoid any leaks or other system problems that could cause you or someone else to be unnecessarily exposed to exhaust fumes.

Seek Help From Your Local Auto Repair Shop

If you have identified any signs of a faulty exhaust system in your car or want the peace of mind that your system is as efficient and safe as it can be, it’s best to seek help from a local auto repair shop. The team at Christian Brothers Automotive is always available to inspect your car, get to the bottom of your exhaust problems, and provide exceptional, professional, and accurate recommendations for repair.

Ready to roll? Locate your nearby CBA location and call to schedule your visit! We’re Driving Joy with a Nice difference!

This blog was written in March, 2013, and was updated in August, 2023, to reflect current industry standards and best practices.

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