How fast do vehicles fill up with carbon monoxide with snow-clogged tailpipes?

Michelle Charlesworth Image
Saturday, January 30, 2016
How fast can CO build up in a car with a clogged tailpipe?
Michelle Charlesworth reporting live

MAPLEWOOD, New Jersey (WABC) -- During this most recent blizzard, there were a number of people who died from carbon monoxide poisoning outside in their cars.

Many people are unaware how quickly the gas can fill up a vehicle due to a clogged tailpipe.

So just how fast can CO reach a dangerous level? Eyewitness News visited the Maplewood Fire department to conduct this unscientific experiment.

We wanted to know how fast any of us would run into danger in a car with the engine running covered with snow.

"If the CO is at a high enough concentration you might not be able to act, go into a state of unconsciousness," said Chief Michael Dingelstedt, of the Maplewood Fire Department.

Chief Dingelstedt made sure on the dash we could watch his orange professional grade meter as well as a home CO detector. After only 1 minute and 24 seconds the professional grade alarm went off at a level of 90 parts per million, which is dangerous enough level to do harm.

"It takes a matter of minutes, you saw how quickly the level rose up in the vehicle today," Dingelstedt said.

Just one minute and 24 seconds, that's how fast without anyone inside the car the CO climbed to a dangerous level, and at the same time the oxygen level dropped.

"The meter that went off was also measuring the oxygen level and that dropped to 19 percent and kept falling as it did," Dingelstedt said.

Eyewitness News also reached out to a national CO expert online at CarbonMonoxideMyths.COM.

They said that what we created in the car was a "death chamber" and that within 15-20 minutes, CO poisoning can kill in a car like that. They also said that time and space change everything and that's why the home alarm did not sound.

"If you can take a couple of minutes to dig around your car you could save your own life or even you family's life," Dingelstedt said.