View Full Version : Air Conditioning and Headaches

29th Dec 2006, 01:24
Hello all,

I went out and bought myself a new car on Wednesday - absolutely great, except for one item that I am fairly concerned about; I have noticed that when using the air conditioning it serves its purpose well but on odd intervals a weird odour comes through the system (only for a second or two every ten minutes or so) which has given both two of my friends and I (on two different occasions) fairly bad headaches. When the A/C is switched off, this problem is non-existant hence it now being a new rule of the car not to use it!

I am having the system inspected by the Mazda distributor I bought from on Monday, but does anybody have any idea what may be happening here?
If it means anything to anybody, the manual states that this car uses the refrigerant 'R 134a' which supposedly doesn't harm the ozone layer... what about me!?

In all seriousness though, before getting a result from Mazda on Monday, should I allow my family and friends in the car at all; could it be a serious problem/hazardous to the health for them? Would be interested to hear if anybody else has experienced similar happenings.

All the best,


29th Dec 2006, 01:57
The refridgerant , freon or otherwise should not enter the cooled airstream. Good thing to get it checked out thoroughly.

Another good thing is that as you're in Northampton, you won't really need it for about four months.

Standard Noise
29th Dec 2006, 02:02
Another good thing is that as you're in Northampton, you won't really need it for about four months.

Is a/c really necessary, in the summer, keep the windows open and get some fresh air, it's nicer and it'll save on fuel.

29th Dec 2006, 02:10
I'm not sure if this would apply to your car but one of the signs that something was wrong with my car aircon was as occasional bad smell (really offensive) when the aircon was running. When the unit failed it turned out to be the evaporator (installed behind the dashboard) that was the problem and the bad smell was apparently diagnostic of that.

Since your car is new that's unlikely to be the problem but if you have had the system of "recirculate" it will take in any smell from the interior of the car including vapours from anything that was used to clean it prior to delivery. Anyone who has ever smelled the air from the car aircon used by a smoker will know how well these things take in smells. Si it could be simply that ... vapour from cleaning materials. It will take a little while to dissipate but it will eventually go.

... it's nicer and it'll save on fuel.
it's not nicer at all, it's hot, sweaty and sticky and the drag on the car caused by having the windows open will send your fuel costs soaring. A car with the windows closed is more aerodynamically efficient, one with the windows open is not.

29th Dec 2006, 02:11
Yes, in most countries on most days, this is true. However in some countries, on alot of days it is invaluable.
On summer day in Sydney, I took out the bike and headed north to Palm Beach on the coast road. Bloody hot day and the wind itself was hot. (On a bike so better than all windows down). It was near unbearable even at speed. I sped up - the wind got hotter. I was in shorts and by the end of the day I had blisters on the front of my legs. Sunburn times ten. Would have been an excellent day for the Monaro with a/c.

29th Dec 2006, 02:24
BlueDiamond - sorry, when referring to the term 'new' I was applying it as meaning a new car for me as opposed to the absolute age of the vehicle! The car in question is in fact a 1998 Mazda 323F and the problems I am experiencing do sound familiar in that the smell is unrecognisable, very offensive and I am at a loss to find another odour to compare it with.

As I say, we have been getting a whiff every ten minutes or so and only for a split second! I also tend not to use the re-circulate function unless I want to take emergency heating action of some form!

RE Use of Air Conditioning: I use it often in the Winter in combination with mildly warm air to help with de-humidifying which in turn helps in preventing the windows steaming up.

Thank you for the replies, very interesting reading.

Cheers, Jack.

29th Dec 2006, 04:41
AC in the UK? Maybe those global warming rumours are really true!

Dea Certe
29th Dec 2006, 04:59
Half-baked Boy,

Had a similar experience with car air conditioning. A bit of odor and then headaches. I was told it was due to "mold" (could that be "mould?) in the unit. The mechanic flushed out the system and we've had no problems. An easy and inexpensive fix.

Good luck!


29th Dec 2006, 05:01
When I were a lad, all cars had "440 air conditioning" - 4 windows down, 40mph. Yeah, an old chestnut... ;)

HalfBaked, you might save some time (and money) with the dealer by trying to pin it down a bit:

- Park car on driveway, run a/c for 10 minutes (or however long it takes for smell to appear)
- Now put a/c on recirculate, see if same happens

If smell appears on both settings, you know it's towards the 'downstream' end of the a/c. If it appears in one or t'other, you've zoomed-in on another part of the system. If it doesn't appear on your driveway... then maybe you've been driving past the HP Sauce factory in Aston... :E

Refrigerant shouldn't smell as offensive as you describe; sounds more like something 'organic' where it shouldn't be. Hope it works out well - keep us posted.

Lon More
29th Dec 2006, 05:10
There are filters in the Airco which need cleaning/replacing during scheduled service. Possibly this was neglected.
Some years ago the airco on my Peugeot 406 Coupe started to stink, Investigation showed an ex-pigeon deposited,by a pine martin under the bonnet. Took a while running with airco on and windows open to get rid of the smell

29th Dec 2006, 05:16
The a/c should have a condensate drain for the water to drain - if that gets clogged up then mold can form - however if it is a new car then unlikely I would have thought.

I have had to recharge the a/c on my car a couple of times in the last few years so I have smelt R134a while discharging the hoses on the manifold gauges - definitely has a distinctly odd smell and could possibly cause a headache but it's not toxic as I understand it.

However, if there is a leak the a/c will stop cooling at some point.

29th Dec 2006, 10:03
I would imagine that the AC charge of R-134 should have been quickly depleted had it been the cause of the symptoms - but stand to be corrected.

Please have the cause confirmed and insist on driving another of the same type around for a few days if the service department finds no fault with your car.

Gaseous emissions from a modern auto interior are well documented and will be amplified by the climate control system. Glue, dyes, textiles and treatments among other sources will add to interior air pollution.

One obvious cause of nausea would be COx emissions into the cabin - this should be taken very seriously. Current engine tech outputs a cleaner exhaust stream than past motor cars where such a leak would have been more obvious to the vehicle's inhabitants.

Said another way - engine exhaust leaks into the passenger cabin can be 'quietly deadly'.

29th Dec 2006, 11:17
Tip - If you have one, don't take the missus or girlfriend (or both) for a drive without giving them an aspirin beforehand.

Otherwise you won't be a star at the "dogging" spot!!!

29th Dec 2006, 11:30
Allan, to be honest I'm the one who needs the aspirin after the amount of moaning I receive at our local 'reservoir'... and that's in the negative way!


p.s. Car being serviced as we speak, nowt to do with the A/C, just that it's due for one. A/C to be inspected on Monday! For now I am not using it.

29th Dec 2006, 13:03
If it smells bad, it won't refrigerant, and if it was, it would only last for a while - like until there wasn't any any more.

It'll be mould in the evap coils. 98 is probably too old to have a cabin (pollen) filter, but you could verify and check that too.

Is a/c really necessary, in the summer?in England, it's acually more necessary - I might even say invaluable - in the Winter :8

...Loose Rivets knows why

29th Dec 2006, 15:57
When I bought my first car with aircon, I was advised to run the a/c for 10 mins per week, regardless of ambient temperature, to avoid the mould build-up. Not much use in your current predicament, but if it proves to be the root cause, it might prevent a recurrence.

However, in your shoes, I'd certainly want to discount CO2 before handing over the hard-earned.

29th Dec 2006, 18:01
Allan, to be honest I'm the one who needs the aspirin after the amount of moaning I receive at our local 'reservoir'... and that's in the negative way!

'Not tonight dear, I've got aircon'.

29th Dec 2006, 18:33
It sounds like something quietly growing and spawning in the A/C system. One of my cars, years ago, would do that if the A/C hadn't been used for a while.

You could always tip in some disinfectant and some Eau de Cologne ;)

29th Dec 2006, 18:41
When a mouldy air-con unit is used, millions of mould spores are dispersed into the air. If you detect a musty or stale smell in the circulated air when you first switch on your air-con, there could be mould growing in the unit. Clean the air-con filter and cooling coil regularly. Spraying a mould inhibitor on these parts can prevent mould growth. In addition, an air purifier can remove any airborne spores

Nil Flaps
30th Dec 2006, 06:15
Just curious. Brother-in-law decided to get a mate of his back after he played a pretty low prank on him at a party.

B-I-L sifted all the nuggets of sh1te out of the cat litter tray, removed the air vent covers in matey-boy's work van, deposited the catsh1t & replaced the covers.

Being winter in the UK, matey-boy drove his van around with the heating full on. The smell sure gave him a headache :}

He's never been the sharpest tool in the shed & it took him days to work it out. Took them a lot longer to kiss & make up.

30th Dec 2006, 22:16
R134a is considered to be harmless except in massive concentrations or long exposures.

The MSDS (material safety data sheet) from Du Pont is here (http://www.pioneerair.com/sitemap.htm) as a downloadable PDF.

It is possible the headaches are psychosomatic as the gas is not recognised as causing the symptoms as described.

Nevertheless if similar happens again it would probably be a good idea to open the windows and get some fresh air in, as with any gas release.

As noted, as you're in Northampton you'll not be needing the aircon for many a month! :P I should know, being in Bedford!

Better to go to a recognised cooling/heating specialist rather than the manufacturer/main dealer IMHO as they are more likely to be able to diagnose any faults.

I know some people who are prone to dehydration can suffer badly due to the extreme dryness of the air conditioned air. Could this be the problem? Do you feel thirsty as well? Also cold air when the body is hot can have all sorts of unexpected effects.

Don't know if any of that is useful, hope you get it sorted soon! :)

31st Dec 2006, 00:08
Bobbins, Matt, bobbins!
The bacterial growth on the gubbins due to previous periods of non-use are known sources of nausea-producing odours. The vehicle is 'pre-owned' and, whilst it is merely an assumption that the aircon hasn't been used regularly, it seems a situation that would fit Occams Razor. There are acknowledged treatments available to disperse the mould growth and introduce a deodorant. The simple intermediate solution (to avoid the headaches) is to leave the aircon OFF.

31st Dec 2006, 01:45
I'd recomment selling the used Japanese vehicle to an unsuspecting buyer, and then go get yourself a brand new Hummer, track down the aforementioned, offending used vehicle in a parking lot some night, and crush it.