CO poisoning: Is my car’s exhaust system dangerous?

CO poisoning: Is my car’s exhaust system dangerous?

Is my car's exhaust system dangerous? Hiding beneath our vehicles, our exhaust systems keep a low profile, but they are extremely important. They funnel away the dangerous gases produced during engine combustion. Poorly maintained exhaust systems pose an extreme danger because they release carbon monoxide (CO)—an odorless, tasteless, highly toxic gas—which can travel into the passenger area and cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

Since an exhaust leak can lead to CO poisoning, it's a very dangerous situation. If you suffered injuries or a loved one passed away due to vehicle-related CO poisoning, you want the Texas CO poisoning lawyers of the Wyatt Law Firm on your side.

How Carbon Monoxide (CO) is Produced and Filtered in Vehicles

Normally, the CO created in the engine travels with the other combustion byproducts to a device called the catalytic converter, which filters out most pollutant emissions and converts the deadly CO into the nontoxic CO2. The tailpipe then expels the filtered exhaust fumes away from the vehicle so it can dissipate outside.

Different things can disrupt this proper function, however. For example, a leaky motor vehicle exhaust system can cause unfiltered engine byproducts to enter the vehicle. OSHA considers 100 ppm immediately dangerous to life and health, but broken exhaust systems can leak more than that into an occupied vehicle. An exhaust system without a catalytic converter releases CO emissions ranging from 30,000 to 100,000 parts per million, increasing the pollutants in tailpipe emissions and making exhaust gas leaks that much more dangerous.

Learn How to Prevent CO Poisoning in Your Vehicle

Fortunately, preventing CO poisoning from exhaust systems is very straightforward. Here’s what you need to do to stay safe:

  • Get your exhaust system serviced annually. Exhaust leaks that occur before the catalytic converter release tremendous amounts of unfiltered CO, which can enter the car through an open window, door, trunk, or hole in the floor.
  • Get your exhaust system serviced even after “harmless” fender-bender accidents. Even minor accidents can damage crucial exhaust components and endanger passengers.
  • Get your engine tuned up annually. Misfiring and untuned engines produce exponentially more CO than a tuned engine.
  • Beware that CO-filtering catalytic converters attract thieves. Catalytic converters contain precious metals and can be stolen from vehicles with high ground clearance if the thief brings the right tools.
  • Heed any “check engine” lights. Your engine already produces confined explosions and releases some poisonous gases on a good day: malfunctions potentially threaten your safety.
  • Beware of engines in older cars, classic cars, rusty cars, or cars that have fallen into disrepair. They can be compromised by age, rust, corrosion, or lack of a catalytic converter.
  • Never run or warm up your car in the garage, even with the garage door open. Lethal levels of CO accumulate rapidly, even in vehicles with a catalytic converter.
  • Never run your car with the tailpipe blocked. People stranded in snow storms running their cars for warmth sometimes get CO poisoning when snow buildup blocks the tailpipe and prevents exhaust from exiting.
  • Remember that highways generally have higher CO levels, so know the symptoms if you are high-risk. Pull off the highway and get to fresh air if you start feeling headache, fatigue, chest pain, or other symptoms of CO poisoning. High-risk groups present symptoms at lower levels of CO, even ambient highway levels.
  • Keep a portable CO detector in your car and immediately pull over and get out of the car to fresh air if it goes off. Since CO is undetectable without an instrument, keeping a CO-reading instrument with you can save your life.

Nearly all CO poisonings are preventable. Learn more about CO poisoning and remain vigilant to stay safe!

How CO Poisoning Happens Due to Exhaust Systems

Carbon monoxide fatalities happen every year around the world, and some of these are due to faulty exhaust systems. CO poisoning can happen for different reasons to vehicle occupants, many of which involve the negligence of car manufacturers or other parties.

Generally, a faulty exhaust system can fail to dispose of harmful CO as it should. The same is true when there is a blockage in the exhaust system. Instead, the odorless and undetectable carbon monoxide can leak into the cabin of the vehicle. If there is no ventilation from open windows, the CO fumes can cause poisoning to occupants of the vehicle.

The Effects of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas to humans, and because it is also undetectable, it is particularly important to know the possible signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Some of those signs include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tightness of the chest
  • Dizziness or feeling light-headed
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Headaches that can feel like tension headaches
  • Blurry vision
  • Being short of breath
  • Feeling ill or like you have the flu

Exposure to carbon monoxide causes the CO to displace oxygen in your bloodstream. While you can still breathe - completely unaware you are inhaling poison - your body is essentially suffocating due to oxygen deprivation.

There are different kinds of carbon monoxide poisoning, all of which can cause serious harm.

Acute CO poisoning

This type of CO poisoning happens suddenly and all at once. This could happen due to a sudden exhaust blockage that causes CO to pour into the vehicle, resulting in symptoms. Headaches are common with acute CO poisoning, and exposure to a large amount of CO in these situations can result in neurological effects and cardiac events.

Chronic CO poisoning

This type of poisoning happens over time instead of all at once. A victim has exposure to carbon monoxide in smaller amounts regularly, and symptoms might come and go with their exposure. However, over time, symptoms can become more pronounced, and victims might suffer permanent damage. This might occur if there is a small CO leak in a vehicle and a driver has steady, though low, exposure every time they drive. Victims of chronic poisoning often have a better prognosis than those with acute poisoning, but there can still be long-term effects.

Fatal CO poisoning

When enough carbon monoxide builds up in a person’s bloodstream, it can result in irreversible and fatal damage as it deprives the heart, lungs, and other vital organs of oxygen. A large enough amount of CO can cause a person to die in as quickly as five minutes. In addition, a significant amount of CO can cause a person to lose consciousness, which makes them unaware that they are suffering poisoning and increases the chances of death. If a person driving a car falls unconscious due to CO poisoning, they will likely crash, which can also be deadly.

Unborn children are particularly susceptible to fatal CO poisoning, as their blood cells absorb carbon monoxide faster than fully formed cells. If a pregnant woman suffers carbon monoxide poisoning, there is a high likelihood of miscarriage or fetal death.

Even if someone survives carbon monoxide poisoning in their vehicle, they can suffer long-term effects.

These can include:

  • Neurological effects - Oxygen deprivation to the brain can result in permanent brain damage, which can have many adverse effects. Some common effects include memory loss, cognitive processing impairments, behavioral and emotional control issues, vertigo, and seizures.
  • Cardiac problems - CO exposure can cause cardiac disease and other issues that can increase the risk of a cardiac event.
  • Respiratory problems - The lungs can also suffer permanent damage due to CO poisoning, which can lead to chronic illness and premature death.

Even with treatment, carbon monoxide poisoning can result in a lifetime of impairments and other effects that can change your life. If someone else’s negligence led to your CO poisoning, that party should be responsible for covering all of your losses.

Know Your Legal Rights after Vehicle-Related CO Poisoning

The law allows injury victims to file claims to seek compensation for their losses from liable parties. In addition, family members that lose a spouse, parent, or child can also file a claim for wrongful death to seek financial recovery. While no amount of money will ever turn back the clock and eliminate your injuries or your tragic loss, it can help you move forward in a better position and with a sense of justice.

First, you must identify the nature of the exhaust malfunction, such as catalytic converter issues or a blocked exhaust pipe, to determine whether someone might be responsible for causing it. This can require a thorough investigation of your vehicle’s exhaust and analysis by auto experts to determine what went wrong and when.

Next, determine whether the problem happened due to another party’s negligence.

Different parties might bear liability for this type of CO poisoning, such as:

  • Car or truck manufacturers that produce vehicles with inherently faulty exhaust systems
  • Mechanics that dangerously modify the exhaust systems of vehicles
  • Mechanics that improperly repair an exhaust system and allow the leak to continue

Any of these parties might cause your carbon monoxide exposure, and you want to file claims against the proper ones.

Knowing your rights following CO poisoning in your car can be challenging or even impossible, especially if you have little knowledge of car exhaust systems or the law regarding personal injury claims. The best course of action is to consult with a Texas CO poisoning lawyer who handles these types of cases.

How a CO Poisoning Lawyer in Texas Can Protect Your Rights

If you or a family member has suffered injuries as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning, it’s in your best interest to contact an attorney right away. This is especially important if the injuries were serious or someone has lost their life as a result of the incident. Car manufacturers, mechanic shops, and their insurance companies are ready to aggressively defend against any claims that they have, and they will not hesitate to deny your claim or attempt to settle your case for far less than it is actually worth.

There are many ways that an experienced lawyer can help the victims of CO poisoning protect their legal rights. We discuss some of the most important in detail below.

Determining Whether You Have a Claim

Not every instance of carbon monoxide poisoning entitles victims to compensation. To have a claim, the CO poisoning must have been the result of someone else’s negligence. Negligence occurs when a person fails to use the degree of care that someone would ordinarily use in similar circumstances. Furthermore, if the CO poisoning was due to a vehicle or equipment defect, you may also have a claim under a theory of strict liability. An attorney can evaluate your case and determine whether you may be able to pursue compensation.

Filing a Claim with the Appropriate Party

If your attorney determines that you do have a viable claim, he or she can file it with the appropriate party or insurance company. If your claim is against a government agency, your lawyer may also file a notice of claim with the appropriate agency. Filing a claim often involves a significant amount of paperwork along with a demand letter that sets out the damages you are seeking. An attorney familiar with representing injured victims will make sure that your paperwork is complete and filed within any applicable time limits.

Attempting to Negotiate a Settlement

Very few personal injury claims go to trial. Instead, plaintiffs and at-fault parties typically resolve them by reaching an out-of-court settlement. When a case settles, the victim agrees to release the at-fault party from any further liability in return for compensation, which can be a lump-sum payment, periodic payments, or some combination of both.

Unsurprisingly, insurance companies and at-fault parties want to settle cases for as little as possible. To this end, they engage in various tactics that aim to get claimants to settle for less than their cases are worth. In addition, they will not hesitate to take advantage of claimants who do not have lawyers if they can.

Fortunately, once you have secured legal representation, the insurance company (or the at-fault party) will need to communicate with your lawyer rather than you. This will ensure that you do not say or do anything that could hurt your claim. In addition, your lawyer will actively attempt to negotiate a fair settlement offer with the insurance company that adequately compensates you for your losses.

Filing a Lawsuit and Representing You in Court

If the insurance company refuses to make an adequate settlement offer, your lawyer will likely file a lawsuit in the appropriate court to pursue your rightful compensation. If your case doesn’t settle before your trial date, your lawyer will represent you in court and present evidence that supports your claim to a judge or jury.

When is the Right Time to Call a Car Exhaust Poisoning Lawyer?

After receiving a diagnosis of carbon monoxide poisoning, you might have to undergo oxygen therapy, physical therapy, or even psychological therapy to treat your lasting effects. During this time, as medical bills start to pile up, you might start to wonder when is the appropriate time to discuss a possible legal claim with a CO poisoning attorney.

The right time to consult with an attorney about a carbon monoxide leak in a car is now. Texas provides a two-year deadline to file a personal injury claim, which includes claims for defective products under product liability or strict liability principles. Once this deadline passes, the defendant in your lawsuit can request the court to dismiss the case, which the judge will likely do.

While two years might seem like a long time, there is a lot that needs to happen in that timeframe before you file your lawsuit. The investigative and insurance process can take a long time, and it is beneficial to try to settle your claim directly with insurers first. This can be a long process, so it is best to begin as soon as possible.

Our law firm provides completely free case evaluations, so we can assess your rights and legal options. Do not hesitate to connect with our team if you suffered harm from CO poisoning or lost a close family member.

Let Our Texas CO Poisoning Lawyers Help

paula a wyatt attorney wyatt law firm san antonio
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning  Attorney, Paula A. Wyatt

Have you suffered injuries, or did a loved one die due to CO poisoning? Know that you may have legal recourse. The path is not always easy, so you want the right assistance and representation from the start. Reach out to a personal injury lawyer.

At the Wyatt Law Firm, we care about the victims of unjust CO poisoning. Furthermore, we don’t let them walk away from their incidents empty-handed.

Call us today at (210) 340-5550 for a free case review, or submit a confidential contact form via our website.



Greiner, T. H., Ph.D., P.E. (n.d.). Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: Vehicles (AEN-208). Retrieved August 8, 2019, from

Laukkonen, J. (2018, November 20). Here's How to Avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Your Car. Retrieved August 8, 2019, from

Libretexts. (2019, June 05). Catalytic Converters. Retrieved August 8, 2019, from

Schreter, R. E. (2008). Formation and Movement of Carbon Monoxide into Mobile Homes, Recreational Vehicles, and Other Enclosures (D. G. Penney, Ed.). In Carbon Monoxide Poisoning(pp. 57-97). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group.


"*" indicates required fields

I have read the disclaimer.**