With wildfire smoke lingering over most of southern B.C., again, residents and visitors are being reminded to take health precautions.

Not exercising strenuously outdoors while air quality is poor is one of those often-heard recommendations.

One health precaution that isn’t discussed often, though, is changing a vehicle’s cabin air filter.

Nearly every modern vehicle today has a cabin air filter and it’s smart to change it regularly, especially so during wildfire season.

According to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, smoky air makes it harder for your lungs to get oxygen into your blood.

“The harder you breathe, the more smoke you inhale,” said the B.C. CDC. “Take it easy during smoky periods, consider exercising indoors and drink lots of water to help your body cope with the smoke.”

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The B.C. CDC says wildfire smoke can also irritate your respiratory system and possibly cause an immune response, which may lead to inflammation that affects other parts of your body.

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In fact, the B.C. CDC noted that “when driving, keep the windows up, the air conditioner on and use the recirculate setting to limit intake of the outdoor air.”

For most vehicles, changing cabin air filters is a simple process. An online search for a specific vehicle make and model should yield DIY videos on how to replace them.

For those unable to do so, having a friend, relative or acquaintance do so is an option, as is taking the vehicle to a repair shop.

“Generally speaking, this air filter is accessible, depending on the make and model, usually from below the passenger side (dash) — underneath the glove box area, or you may have to remove the glove box to access it,” said Josh Smythe, customer care manager for BCAA’s automotive department.

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“If there’s nothing specific in the owner’s manual to indicate something that they can do, it might be a little bit beyond them, and it might be worth taking it to a trusted technician.”

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Smythe says if that’s the case, then perhaps they could watch, “because, generally speaking, it’s not that hard. It’s just the first couple of times that might confuse people.”

If you haven’t changed your cabin air filter in some time — out of sight, out of mind — don’t be surprised to see leaves, twigs and a lot of dirt.

Smythe says the average filter should be changed either every 24,000 kilometres or two years, whatever comes first.

“In time, it will accumulate and accumulate,” said Smythe. “Everybody is better off to maintain scheduled maintenance so they can remove possibilities of complications due to lack of maintenance.

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“Especially in times like this, where there’s horribly bad air quality. This filter is certainly working hard. And especially after something like this, change it out, put in something fresh.”

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