Q: As I'm driving and pulling up to traffic lights, I usually leave about a car length between my vehicle's front end and the rear of the...

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Q: As I’m driving and pulling up to traffic lights, I usually leave about a car length between my vehicle’s front end and the rear of the car in front of me.

I do this to avoid sucking up the exhaust fumes of the car in front of me.

It occurred to me, though, that I don’t know where the intake that brings fresh air into my car is located.

I have a 2003 Pontiac Vibe. Where are these intake vents?

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— B. Sull, Waterford, Conn.

A: The heating-and-ventilation air intake on most vehicles is at the base of the windshield. This location provides optimum airflow to the cabin while the vehicle is moving.

A plastic grille and screen are designed to keep out leaves and other debris, but it’s a good idea to clean this area periodically with a vacuum.

Vehicle air-conditioning systems are common sources of odor complaints. A persistent problem is best treated professionally by fungicide application to the air conditioner’s evaporator and housing.

This can be done through strategically drilled holes in the plastic housing or might require a complicated disassembly.

Minor relief might result from the vehicle owner spraying Ozium or a similar product into the air intake with the blower set to high.

It’s preferable to draw in fresh air rather than recirculate existing cabin air.

Recirculating air is best done in heavy traffic or on hot days after the air-conditioning system has reduced elevated cabin temperature to a moderate level.

Brad Bergholdt teaches automotive technology in San Jose, Calif., and writes this column for the San Jose Mercury News. E-mail him at under-the-hood@juno.com or write to him in C/O The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111.