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Inside circulation, but still getting outside odors

We’ve noticed that when we have the inside air circulation on, we’re still getting exhaust fumes from outside the vehicle and other “smells”, too. I’ve never had this problem before and the dealership (and manufacturer) say that it isn’t air tight and we would still get outside odors coming in. I don’t accept this answer. We’ve never had this problem on any other vehicle we’ve driven. My husband has heart issues and when exhaust fumes still enter the car, it effects his heart. The only way to stop odors from entering the vehicle is to turn off the fan - but that creates other issues (especially with fogging up windows, etc). So, how do we remedy this? We’ve taken it in for maintenance, and they say everything is “shutting/securing” as it’s supposed to be. There’s no leak anywhere else. We don’t accept this answer (and even one of the service techs say it shouldn’t do that, but when they’re told by the manufacturer that’s what we have to tell the customer, that’s what we have to do). My husband hates to ride in the Equinox now due to this problem. We’ve read up on the “Lemon Law” and may have to enforce it. Does anyone else have any suggestions?

On some vehicles, the “recirculate” function of the HVAC system still allows a small amount (perhaps 5-10%) outside air to enter the system. Whether the Equinox is one of those vehicles or not, I can’t say.

However, before trying to invoke the Lemon Law, I strongly suggest that the OP research its content, relative to her state. I am making that suggestion because many of these statutes require that the defect be one that, “materially affects the safety or driveability of the vehicle”.

Does this possible HVAC problem constitute something that materially affects the safety or driveability of the vehicle? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I see it as a potential roadblock to utilizing the Lemon Law in this situation.

Before going to the extreme of filing a Lemon Law case, the OP should “kick things up a notch” by contacting GM’s customer service people at the corporate level. Their toll-free phone number can be found in your Owner’s Manual. In many cases, the corporate level folks can convince a dealer’s service department to do more for a customer than they had been doing. It is also possible that a visit/inspection by GM’s regional service supervisor could be arranged.

It sounds like this current car has always done this, correct? If so, and since they’ve already checked for correct operation of the ventilation system, I don’t know what else you can do about it. And since it seems to be part of the basic car design, and not a defect of yours in particular, you might have no luck trying to get it categorized as a ‘Lemon Law’ case.

First thing I would do is get an identical loaner car from the dealer and see if it does the same thing.

Although I don’t remember which car it was, I distinctly remember that at least one of my current or past owner’s manuals mentioned that fresh air is still added in recirculate mode (presumably to keep the air from getting too stale). Most likely your car is working as designed here.

If exhaust fumes are that dangerous for your husband, shouldn’t he keep an oxygen supply on hand? It seems pretty risky to rely on the operation of a car’s ventilation system to keep him from having heart problems.

You should never use recirculate as your only fan function. You’ll never get the bad air or odors out with it. Positive pressure is needed to keep the fumes out of the cabin.

Recirculate should only be used to cool the car with max ac or heat it faster. Recirculate will produce bad air. Whenever I have forgotten to switch to outside air it gets to the point of headache or just feeling bad and I then check. It’s always a relief to get good air into the car.

I believe all GM vehicles use “flow through” ventilation. This means that the heater/AC fan is always on just one speed below low. It allows a small amount of outside air to flow through the vehicle regardless of the heater/AC settings. Unless they have changed things recently…I believe that’s the way the system still operates.

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I’m with @lion9car, if this small issue is so critical to your husband’s health he should not be relying the car’s recirc function for this. I doubt there are any standards or requirements regarding sealing of the vehicle that would make the Lemon Law enforceable. More likely a small leak of fresh air is intentional on recirc to reduce the chance of a frivolous lawsuit. A smart mechanic may be able to seal it up but get another car is the quickest solution.

“get another car is the quickest solution.”

…as long as the OP confirms, prior to purchase, that the new car is hermetically-sealed against intrusion of any outside air.

Truthfully, I doubt if this is even possible or likely, as car mfrs try to avert situations of carbon monoxide poisoning by maintaining at least a small percentage of outside air in the car at all times, but…maybe the OP can find a car that forces the passengers to keep re-breathing the air inside the car.

“that the new car is hermetically-sealed against intrusion of any outside air”

If that were so the passengers would suffocate on their own breath.
I doubt the air in a large SUV would last two people more than 15 minutes.

I was attempting to imply that reality in my post, circuitsmith.

circuitsmith, I believe your sarcasm detector is broken!

I recall that from the early 70s flo-thru ventilation was incorporated in all automobiles even those without AC. Even in the OFF position the HVAC fan pulled fresh air in and vents near the rear of the cabin allowed air to escape.

I just purchased a 2013 equinox. I am having the same issue. Dealership says there is nothing wrong!! Outside smells coming in the cabin when in recirculation is on, is in fact a problem. I’ve owned a few different cars, NEVER had this issue. So frusyerated!

Even in “re-circulate” mode there is usually still some outside air introduced into the passenger compartment. It might be that the equinox just does this a little more than other cars, or maybe there’s something about the layout of the air intakes that makes it easier for the fumes from other cars or the equinox itself to find its way in.

I would replace the cabin air filter, preferably one with activated carbon to absorb odors from the outside. I had a very bad smell coming from the vents of my 2013 Equinox. It turned out mice had made a nest on top of the cabin filter. I replaced the filter and sanitized the vents and haven’t had any problems since.

More importantly, the 2.4l 4 cyl engine in 2010 to 2013 Equinox model had a problem with high oil consumption due to premature wear of the piston rings. Please check the oil level on a regular basis.

My Equinox started using oil at 20 to 25k miles. The pistons, rings, and timing chains were replaced at 42k miles under warranty. The powertrain warranty is 5yrs/100k miles, I don’t recall if there is an extended warranty or recall for this issue. I started this thread when I discovered my Equinox was using oil. It’s long, but has some good info.

Good luck with your Equinox.

Ed B.

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No car is airtight.

Well, I take that back. The Tesla Model X has a “bioweapon defense mode” which supposedly makes it air tight, but that’s stupid and you don’t want to pay $100,000 for it anyway. :wink:

My advice would be to talk to your doctor. If your husband’s heart is so vulnerable that breathing in exhaust fumes is a medical problem, then his doctor needs to do something about that. After all, when you get to your destination you’re going to step out of the car and breathe in all that stuff anyway.


That’s my question also. The amount of exhaust fumes a car will draw in, even with recirc turned off, is minimal, and about what you would get if you lived next to a highway.

My sense of smell has degraded with age, but I can’t smell any “exhaust fumes” during normal driving, again with recirc off.

Are you sure you don’t have an exhaust leak of some sort?

Here we go again. Replies to two different people on an 4 year old thread that did not make sense to start with.

If a car was air tight, you wouldn’t be able to open the door if you drove from a high elevation to sea level, until you opened a vent to let the outside pressure equalize the inside pressure. And then your ears would really pop.

Some cars are more airtight than others. VW’s used to be pretty airtight. The downside was it was harder to close the door if the windows were closed, as the air pressure would build up. I think b/c of that manufacturers purposely make them not airtight. On my Corolla there’s air channels designed in to the door jams to allow air in and out. And another thread a few weeks ago here discussed a weird hole seen in a trunk panel, that turned out to be an air venting method for the hvac system.