Switching on the A/C instantly upon starting your car causes cancer: True or false?

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Earlier this year, people started to share a viral Facebook image about how turning on the air-con immediately after starting your engine will pose a threat to our health. This actually started to circulate in 2009 via email, but only found its way to Facebook this year.

It’s so viral that people would rather be safe than sorry, and shared it like crazy. Some of us would apparently do what was suggested—wait for a while after starting the engine before turning on the air-con.

The theory behind this is that the dashboard, sofa and air freshener emit benzene, a cancer-causing toxin.  When the car is parked in a hotter location, the level of benzene is increased tenfold, therefore making the entire car an agent for cancer. Switching the air-con on immediately means when you open the door, you close it immediately and therefore creating a confined space for you to inhale an unhealthy dose of benzene.

How true is that? Well, it’s yet another urban legend.

The theory about benzene is correct: the dashboard, seats or air-fresheners do, under certain hot environment, emit benzene. They’re of course not the only thing s in the world to emit benzene: glues, paint or furniture also emit benzene.

So, there’s a cause for concern then?

Not exactly. You see, the reality is that the amount of benzene emitted is extremely low in this instance. Even if we’re looking at the benzene emitted from exhaust fumes (the hottest and highest level of benez), that’s only 0.013 mg to 0.56 mg of bezene—much lower than the 400 mg to 4,000 mg mentioned in the urban legend. And we’re talking about the exhaust, for goodness’ sake.

Older cars might have higher level, but the level isn’t to the extent of 400 mg. Not even 4 mg for sure. If that is the case, all cars would have been recalled!

However, it is still recommended to open the window or door for a while if your car is piping hot when you enter it. The reason is simple: it’s so hot in there, you won’t be worrying about the benzene in there, but the hot air in there that can cause more damage.

When in doubt, always ventilate!