Malaysia’s almost annual battle with haze is becoming especially severe this year. Several locations in Penang and Sarawak have already recorded API (Air Pollution Index) readings of over 200 (very unhealthy). The reading in Kuching is inching closer to the hazardous level of 300.
Haze is contributed by microscopic size particulate matter (PM) pollutants measuring no more than 2.5 micrometers. Ordinary air filters are ineffective against PM 2.5 pollutants, which is why the public are advised to use N95 face masks instead of regular surgical masks.
You should also keep your N95 mask on even while you are inside the car, because most cars' air-conditioning system don’t filter out PM 2.5 pollutants.
There are a few exceptions. For example, all Volvo cars are equipped with CleanZone air-conditioning systems that’s designed to clean PM 2.5 pollutants. It’s a standard feature on all Volvo cars sold globally.
To be specific, Volvo’s CleanZone feature consists of two complementing sub-features: Interior Air Quality System (IAQS) and Clean Zone Interior Package (CZIP).
IAQS uses air quality sensors to continuously monitor incoming air that is sucked in by the air-conditioning system. If it detects that air pollutants have exceeded permissible limits, it shuts the air-conditioning's intakes.
A set of multi-filters behind the dashboard also removes PM 2.5 pollutants, as well as pollens, while a layer of activated charcoal removes odour and ground-level ozone.
Meanwhile, CZIP automatically activates the blower to vent out stale air from the cabin every time the front doors are opened after the car is parked for an extended period of time. This is to vent out harmful vapours that are emitted by the car’s interior materials – plastics, leather, paint etc. – which our nose will pick up as ‘new car’ smell.
The so-called ‘new car’ smell is made up of harmful Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) vapours, which is especially concentrated in cabins of cars that have been parked under the sun.
The time for which the blower operates will gradually reduce, stopping completely when the car reaches four years old. This is because VOC emissions reduce over time, so there is less need for CZIP to continue working as the car ages.
Volvo Car’s cabins and air-conditioning system are designed with medical input from the Swedish Asthma and Allergy Association. All Volvo cars' interiors that have been independently tested and verified for its clean air.
Tesla also has a similar feature, using medical-grade HEPA filters to clear PM 2.5 pollutants from the cabin but since Tesla is not officially represented here, used grey import models aside, we shall consider it an outlier.
The Proton X70’s air-conditioning also comes close even though it’s not as sophisticated as the Volvo’s. However, the X70’s cabin still uses HEPA filters that filters out PM 2.5 pollutants.
The centre console of the X70’s cabin houses the additional HEPA filter, which the rear air-conditioning vents use to circulate clean air throughout the cabin.
However like all mechanical components, how well the air filters/purifiers work depend on strict adherence to maintenance schedule. Always refer to your vehicle's owner's manual for information on proper care and maintenance.