My car is trying to kill me

N ormally with a heading like that you’d expect this to be a light-hearted, hopefully humorous piece about my car. I wish that were the case, but sadly this post is deadly serious and a warning to others: I’ve just discovered that my car has been seeping carbon monoxide into the cabin. I’ve been slowly getting poisoned over the last four months, and if I hadn’t heard a similar story from a friend I might never have realised it…

The alarms bells started ringing after hearing some great news from a friend in Jamberoo. For the past four years Steph has been driving to Canberra nearly every weekend to sell her paintings at the Kingston markets. And for the past four years she has been feeling tired and unwell on Mondays. She, me, her doctor and everyone else put the tiredness down to stress – as a struggling artist who has difficulties making ends meet every week, she simply can’t afford to take time off. However she has been forced to rest on Mondays (and increasingly Tuesdays too), because she simply was unable to work on those days after the long trip to and from Canberra. She felt too dazed, too ill, to do anything productive.

In fact it was getting so bad that she recently changed to doing the markets every second weekend, because the fallout from the trip to Canberra was getting worse and worse. However two weeks ago she changed cars, went to Canberra, and came back feeling fresh as daisy on the Monday. This was an amazing and pleasant surprise, as it had become a running (and grim) joke that she would always be wrecked for a couple of days after the trip.

Steph found the difference so stark that she joined some dots, did some internet research about carbon monoxide (CO) and realised that she had been suffering most of the symptoms of CO poisoning for several years. Tiredness, headache, inability to concentrate, dizziness, excessive thirst, sore throat… these were all the effects she had been feeling, all of which magically disappeared after she changed her car. They’re also the same sort of symptoms one gets with too much stress or suffering from a virus. Carbon monoxide is odourless, colourless and tasteless, and who ever thinks their car might be poisoning them?

Certainly not me, even though I’ve been suffering the same effects for months myself. For the past four months I have complained intermittently of all of the symptoms above. As Mum went into hospital four months ago, and died three months ago, it was entirely reasonable to blame it all on stress. But in hindsight I realise it was also four months ago that I started driving Mum’s car. 

Hindsight’s a wonderful thing, and it all seems so obvious now. I only drive the car on weekends between Sydney and Gosford – during the week it sits on the street. I have usually been tired on the weekends, and often extremely tired on Mondays and Tuesdays. I’ve limited my running to the second half of each week, because I simply haven’t felt up to it until Wednesdays or Thursdays. I’ve stopped driving at night because I found the white lines on the freeway dangerously hypnotic. More than once between Sydney and Gosford, I’ve pulled over at Brooklyn for a rest because I’ve felt too tired or dizzy to keep driving safely. 

It never once entered my head that the car could be responsible for all this. But as soon as I heard Steph’s story all the dots joined up, and I got scared. After several calls I finally found a mechanic who is able to test for CO leaks, and today he confirmed my car is indeed dangerous. It’s quite a relief to know there’s an external reason for my unwellness over the past few months – and also very concerning to know it would have continued much longer if I hadn’t heard Steph’s news. 

This whole story raises several terrifying questions. How many other cars are driving around with undiagnosed CO leaks? How many people are feeling ill because of it, but blaming other factors such as stress? Worst of all: how many accidents are caused by lack of concentration and dizziness due to CO poisoning?

I’ve read many side-stories in papers over the years about single-car accidents in country areas where a car has veered off the road and crashed, often at night. In cases where speed and alcohol are ruled out, the verdict is usually that the driver just “fell asleep”. That’s what happens when you get too much CO in your system.

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Born in New Zealand, now living in Australia. When I'm not travelling, that is... Though I have travelled quite a bit before, 2012 is the first time that I've taken a year off to roam the world. Spending this time with Kristen exploring some of this planet's finest sights has been the best decision I've ever made. Who knows what 2013 will bring?

2 Responses to “My car is trying to kill me” Subscribe

  1. James November 2, 2008 at 9:59 am #

    So is it fixed?

  2. damienmaurice November 2, 2008 at 11:51 pm #

    still at the mechanics. I’m not entirely convinced they understand the problem properly, so I have ordered my own carbon monoxide tester. I should get both it and the car tomorrow…

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