Posts Tagged ‘car’

Will I suffocate if I sleep in my car?

September 2nd, 2011 7 comments

I have been asked several times now whether I “camp” by sleeping in my car.  After all, Sam is a wagon, so it seems like there should be enough space, right?

The reality is that I don’t like sleeping in cars.  I tried it once a few years ago with my old Outback in a national forest in northern Minnesota, but the experience was quite unpleasant.  Condensation built up on the windows, the air inside was quite cold, and I couldn’t open any windows because of the swarming hordes of blood-sucking mosquitoes waiting to get in.  Actually, a few did manage to get in, presumably through the ventilation system.  Not a good night’s sleep.

Still, that was then, and this is now.  I decided to give it another try in a campground in Grand Teton National Park.

One of the nice undocumented things about the 2010 and newer Outbacks is that the rear seats folded down are at the same level as the front seats folded back.  One needs only to remove the headrests to create an eight-foot long, nearly flat surface.

The rear seat folded down mates perfectly with the front seat reclined back

The key word there is “nearly,” since there were still some annoying bumps to contend with.  I got out my excellent Exped UL7 air mattress and put my sleeping bag on top of it.  All of the rest of my gear got pushed off to the side.

Yes, you can sleep in an Outback

The evening started off well.  The temperature was comfortable, Sam’s cabin air filter kept the mosquitoes from entering via the ventilation system, and I had a great view of the stars through the moonroof glass.  I drifted to sleep.

A couple hours later, I jolted awake with a horrifying thought: could I suffocate by sleeping in such an enclosed space?  A bunch of frantic web searches on my smartphone turned up no reliable reports of people suffocating in cars where there had been no sources of carbon monoxide.  Lots of people have died from leaving their cars running, but it seems that nobody has ever died from sleeping a night in a non-running car.

Just to be safe, I opened a door for a while to do an air exchange before going back to sleep.

I survived (obviously), but I started to wonder: if we assume Sam’s interior is perfectly sealed, how long would I be able to survive on the air inside?

Let’s assume that Sam’s cabin volume is 102 cubic feet.  I have about 20 cubic feet of gear, and I myself occupy about 12 cubic feet.  That leaves 70 cubic feet of air.

There are two primary suffocation modes to worry about: hypoxia and CO2 poisoning.  It turns out that humans notice high CO2 levels — they are perceived as being very unpleasant or even painful — but humans are very poor at detecting low oxygen levels.  For this scenario, I’m going to assume that I’d wake up if CO2 levels got dangerously high, which leaves only low O2 levels to worry about.

For simplicity, I’m also going to gloss over the fact that I was camping at 7,000 ft of elevation.  Compensating for the lower oxygen levels at altitude is left as an exercise for the reader.

Thanks to a handy page at Oak Ridge National Labs, we see that the formula for calculating maximum residence time based on oxygen levels is:

T = (V) (21 – L) / (100 n C)

where V is the volume of air in ft^3, L is the acceptable lower limit of oxygen in percent, n is the number of people, and C is the oxygen requirement per person per minute.

I’m going to assume that I’m a healthy adult male, so L is 12% and C is 0.007 ft^3 min^-1. Recall from above that the volume of available air is 70 ft^3. Plug in the numbers:

T = 70 * (21 – 12) / (100 * 1 * 0.007)

= 900 minutes

= 15 hours

I’m not going to be sleeping in there for anywhere close to 15 hours, so I think I’m safe.

Will I be doing more back-of-the-car camping?  Doubtful.  I really, really like being able to sit up straight in my tent without hitting my head on the ceiling, something that’s impossible in the back of the Outback.

The Tire

July 4th, 2011 Comments off

I was speeding up the Alaska Highway from Fort Saint John towards Fort Nelson when it happened.  I think I was admiring how similar that part of British Columbia looks to the river valleys of Indiana and central Minnesota: rolling hills, farms, deciduous trees, and so on.  The only major difference was the occasional appearance of chemical facilities alongside the road.

One in particular caught my eye, and my gaze drifted from the road to the plant’s sign. “Sour gas processing? I wonder what sour…”


My eyes immediately jerked back to the road, then up to the rear view mirror to see what I had hit.  Rapidly receding into the distance was an enormous pothole.  I had seen countless potholes already in the short time I had been traveling on the Alaska highway, and although the earlier ones had been large and deep, they were easy enough to avoid.  Easy enough, that is, when watching the road.

Poor Sam.  Just a day earlier, I had been in a Walmart parking lot repairing his windshield from a rock chip.  The pothole encounter threatened to be far worse.

With my heart thumping, I turned off the radio and felt and listened for any sign of mechanical distress.  Any new noises?  Any vibrations? I concentrated intensely.  After several seconds, I became satisfied that nothing was amiss, turned the radio back up, and sped up to about 100 mph to pass a truck.

In hindsight, that was stupid.

A couple hours later, I stopped to stretch my legs.  While I was out of the car, I happened to glance at Sam’s driver’s-rear tire.  What I saw made my heart sink: a huge bulge in the sidewall.

That's going to be expensive...

Sidewall bulges are bad news because they can cause blowouts.   They can’t be repaired; the tire must be replaced.  Based on the mark on the rim (which thankfully was not bent), I figure the impact with the pothole snapped some of the tire’s cords, causing the bulge.  Sam had a spare tire, but it was just a temporary, and those aren’t good to use for long distances.   And a long distance was exactly what I faced.

I was about 60 miles before Fort Nelson at the time I noticed the bulge, so I decided to press on.  I arrived at 4:30 p.m. on a Saturday; most everything was closed.  Fortunately, one of the two tire shops in town, Kal Tire, happened to be open, so I pulled in there and talked with one of the guys.  Unfortunately, they had only a single tire of the right size in stock, and it’s bad practice to replace only a single tire in an all-wheel drive car.  I weighed the risk of a blowout against the potential damage to Sam’s differential.  I also considered the high cost of the tire, which would have been around $200.

Complicating matters was the fact that I was in an extremely remote part of the country.  There wasn’t much between Fort Nelson and Whitehorse.  Not even cell service, for the most part (though I could have fallen back to the satellite phone).

In the end, I decided to press on the 600 miles to Whitehorse.  I knew that the tire could fail at any time, but if it did, it would probably not mean a loss of control since the tire was in the rear.  The presence of the spare increased my comfort with the risk.

The next day, I began the drive.  It was the slowest 600 miles I have ever driven: at no time did I exceed 60 mph.  That limited the stress on the bad tire and reduced the chances of loss of control should a failure occur.

Along the way, I encountered numerous large animals on and near the road: dozens of black bears, a few moose, some elk, some caribou, a few goats, some big-horned sheep, and a couple of herds of bison. Yes, bison.  I didn’t think that their range extended so far north, but there they were.  I was thankful that I had hit a pothole instead of a large mammal.

Bison along the Alaska Highway. Don't want to hit one of those.

It was a beautiful road, one of the most scenic that I have driven.  It was also, fortunately, an uneventful trip.  I reached Whitehorse without any difficulties.

The search for replacement tires in Whitehorse was not so simple.  Very few tires of the requisite 225/60R17 size were to be had in Whitehorse.  Canadian Tire had a few in stock, but none of them were very good (according to the Tire Rack reviews), and at any rate they were at least 50% more costly than in the States.

Since Sam’s other three tires were still in good shape, I wanted to replace only the bad tire.  As I mentioned earlier, that’s normally ill-advised with an all-wheel drive car due to the stress on the differentials, but after reading about the subject for a while, I decided that replacing a single tire was still the most economic course of action.  If the circumferences of the tires were similar (within 1/4″ or so), the stress wouldn’t be too great. I conveniently ignored the potential differences in level of grip.

Given the high cost of new tires in Canada, I decided to go the used route.  I found a guy named Art advertising used tires on Kijiji and gave him a call.   As luck would have it, he had some tires of the right size in stock!  I drove over to his place, a couple miles from downtown Whitehorse, to give them a look.

Art was working on a Hummer H3 when I pulled up to his house and workshop.  He was a husky fellow, with blonde hair and a jovial personality.  All around his workshop were piles of tires. Some were sorted and labeled, while others — the new arrivals, I would learn — were simply in piles.

Tires, tires everywhere

I took a look at the tires he had mentioned and found them to be a matched set of four in great condition.  However, I needed only one tire, and Art was understandably reluctant to break the set.

We talked for a little while, and I described my trip to him.  It turned out that he had moved to the Yukon from Winnipeg, and that he and his wife spent winters in the Philippines.  After a little while, he suggested another option to me: I could look through the unsorted tires and see if I could find a single tire of the right size.  So I did.

After about 15 minutes of digging through mounds of tires, I struck gold: a 225/60R17 with 8/32″ of tread left, the same amount remaining on Sam’s existing tires.  It was a different brand, Bridgestone instead of Continental, but beggars can’t be too choosey.  Art dug around too, and he found another tire of the same size, a Goodyear.  That gave me not one but two options.

Amazed at my good luck, I chose the Goodyear, and soon the old Conti was in the pile headed for the dump.

The old tire

Everything turned out fine. Sam got his game face back on.

Sam on the Alaska Highway


July 3rd, 2011 1 comment

Now that the trip is finishing its second week, I thought it would be good to talk a little bit about my horse car, Sam.

Sam as a new car, June 2010

Sam has been a trouper on the journey so far.  About 10% of the total miles for the trip have been covered, and he has done it with aplomb.  He just keeps going and going.

One of the major expenses for the trip is gasoline.  Sam’s EPA rating for highway mileage is about 25 MPG, but thus far on the trip he has far surpassed that.  With the AC going pretty much all the time, and at 70+ MPH speeds on cruise control, he has been averaging about 28 MPG.

He laughs at hills.  He blows by other cars when passing.  He handles well, even with the 150 pounds of cargo box and hockey gear sitting on his hitch.

Sam on the Icefields Parkway in Jasper NP

The only problem so far occurred just outside of Dawson Creek, BC when a mean ol’ Nissan kicked up a rock that put a star in Sam’s windshield.  Given the nature of the chip, I knew that it would evolve into a large crack if not promptly treated, so I stopped at the first store that I knew would both be open on a holiday (Canada Day) and stock the necessary salve: Walmart.

I got the repair kit, found some shade in the parking lot in the shadow of an RV, and set to work.  Things might have gone better if the syringe hadn’t had a crack in it, if the RV had stayed parked, or if the adhesive donut applicator thing hadn’t failed under pressure (spewing resin all over the place), but I think the repair was mostly successful.  The chip is still visible, but the star pattern is mostly gone.  Sam will be getting a new windshield soon anyway due to a crack that’s mostly concealed by my Minnesota State Parks sticker, but I’m trying to delay that as long as possible due to the hassle of finding a replacement on the road.

Sam has surgery after taking a rock to the forehead

What Sam needs now is a good bath.  He looks like a good Subaru — that is, muddy — but I don’t think the numerous bugs are good for his paint.  I’ve sprayed him down a few times along the way, but I really need to spend an hour or so to give him a long soaking and maybe a new coat of wax.  Wouldn’t hurt to vacuum his interior, too.

So yes, on the car front, everything has been great.  I’ll do my best not to make you hit a moose, Sam!

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New license plates

May 4th, 2011 Comments off

Sam the Subaru got new bling today, by which I mean that the new license plates arrived.

New license plates!

Appropriate for the trip, eh?

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