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Exhaust Fumes In Car

Q. I've just bought a car, Vauxhall Cavalier GLi, 2 litre petrol, hatchback, automatic transmission, 1990, PAS, 90,000 miles, full service history, obviously well maintained throughout its life.

My only problem with the car is that, as with a lot of cars I've driven, there is a faint but detectable smell of exhaust fumes in the cabin which is unpleasant and causes the children in the back to feel car-sick. I've put this down to cars which are either hatchback or estates (station wagon to the Americans). But I've never had this confirmed by anyone other than friends who have come to the same conclusion - that their children aren't car sick in saloon bodied cars.

Can you offer any confirmation of this theory, that hatchback and estate bodied cars allow small quantities of exhaust fumes to enter the cabin? And if so can you offer any solution to improve the airtightness of the cabin?

Thank you,
Jeremy
Bedford, England

A. I have owned a few station wagons, or estate cars as they are called in your neck of the woods, and I have noticed the same thing. More so as these type of cars get older. The problem is in the aerodynamics of the car. The relatively flat back of a wagon causes a vacuum to be formed immediately behind the rear of the car. As speed increases, so does the vacuum.

Since nature abhors a vacuum, this causes some of the exhaust gas to be drawn into that area. Not really a problem when the car is new and the tailgate and window seals are in good shape. As the car gets older, these seals shrink and doors go slightly out of alignment. This allows some of that exhaust gas to enter the passenger compartment.

What you can do is inspect all the seals and make sure they are fitted properly and there are no cracks or splits. Also check the underbody to make sure there are no rust holes that can allow the fumes to enter. Of course you should have the complete exhaust system checked for leaks as well.

Another thing I have found to be of great benefit is a rear spoiler. I had a Chevrolet station wagon and had a similar problem. I also had a problem keeping the back window clean since the vacuum draws in dust and dirt as well. I put a rear spoiler above the tailgate and it just about completely eliminated the fume and dirt problem. What the spoiler does is take the clean air flowing above the car and forces it down along the back of the car, eliminating the vacuum. They cost about $60.00 to $75.00 here in the States but I have no idea what they would be over there.

I would check with the local Vauxhall dealers parts department. Most car manufacturers offer this spoiler as an added option and you might be able to get one specifically for that car. If they don't, there are many aftermarket companies that do.

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