Adapting your car’s air circulation in the age of COVID-19

Adapting your car’s air circulation in the age of COVID-19

Dear Car Talk:

I’m retired but had been driving with Uber for the past couple of years. I haven’t driven since COVID-19 started but plan to resume.

In what position would you recommend that a 2018 Mazda CX-5′s air conditioning system be put to minimize the amount of in-car air being circulated? Thanks. -- Jim

RAY: Well, I’d suggest you turn off “recirculate,” Jim.

There are two buttons on the left side of your air conditioning control panel. One has a diagram of air (represented by an arrow) coming into the car from outside the front windshield. That’s the “fresh air” setting.

The other button shows the air in a circle, recirculating inside the car. Don’t press that one.

The recirculate button reuses all but 5% to 10% of the air inside your car. It’s useful when you want to cool the car quickly, because you’re not continually introducing new, hot, humid air from outside.

The fresh air setting will introduce much more new air, and that’s what you want. I’m guessing you want to minimize the amount of passenger air you’re breathing. And to be fair, your passengers probably want to do the same since for all they know, you just got back from the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and Group Hug.

So even better -- regardless of the AC settings -- open at least two windows. Open your driver’s window and the window diagonally opposite that, on the passenger side in back. You don’t have to open them all the way, but even by opening them a quarter of the way, you’ll usually create a cross current and move air through the car. Even better, crack all of the windows a quarter of the way, if your passengers are amenable.

That doesn’t mean you have to forgo the air conditioning (or heat). You can run those anyway, even with the windows open, and make the in-car temperature more comfortable.

And if I were you, I’d explain to your passengers exactly what you’re doing and why. I’d say: For your safety and for mine, too, I’m following safety recommendations and keeping several windows ajar. Is that OK with you?

Most people will say “of course” and be grateful for your consideration. Unless you’re picking them up from the hair salon, Jim.

Cash in on trade-in value and enjoy the newest safety features

Dear Car Talk:

I own a 2011 Lexus ES350 with 150,000 miles. The car has been dealer maintained from day one and has never given me a problem. It’s the best car (reliability) I have ever owned.

The missus thinks I should trade it in for a 2021 model because of the enhanced safety features. I feel the 2011 is safe enough and paid for! What say you? -- Jesse

RAY: Is this dealer open today, Jesse?

Your wife is right. The deployment of new safety equipment over the past decade has been revolutionary.

Cars today have what are essentially self-driving technologies. Through increased processing power and miniaturization, we now have computers and sensors in cars that really can prevent or minimize accidents.

They’ll stop the car when you’re not paying attention. They’ll nudge you back into your lane when you drift out of it. They’ll keep you from changing lanes when there’s a UPS truck in your blind spot. Maybe your wife has noticed that you can use a little help in some of those areas, Jesse?

The truth is we all can. Computers are just better at some of this stuff than we humans are. And a computer never gets distracted by a text message or a spouse making the case that you need some help with your driving. For older drivers, these things are even more helpful, as our reflexes inevitably slow down.

You got 150,000 trouble-free miles out your Lexus ES350. Go get a new one. Get a hybrid and, in addition to the safety enhancements, you’ll get 44 miles to the gallon.

You’ll also be pleasantly surprised at how much you can get for your 2011. With the computer chip shortages caused by the pandemic, used car prices have gone way up. So cash in, use that as a down payment, keep your wife happy and make both of you safer. Enjoy the new car, Jesse.

P.S. You’re miffed that you wrote to me now, aren’t you?

Got a question about cars? Write to Ray in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email by visiting the Car Talk website at

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