Everyone loves that new car smell…but once you know what makes that new car smell you may change your mind. The fumes you love are made up of about 200 different chemicals, including formaldehyde, benzene, and various other volatile organic compounds (VOCs). You may have heard of VOC’s, because they are air pollutants and they’re everywhere from household cleaning products to paints.
The new car smell is emitted by the off-gassing of plastics, adhesives, and other components that make up the interior of the vehicle. Off-gassing is similar to evaporation and occurs when the chemicals that are added to polymers do not bond to other compounds and are therefore released over time.
No research has definitively established that any harm is done by that new-car smell, although some of the chemicals are known carcinogens. If you’re driving around in a new car, especially during the hot summer months it’s important to keep your vehicle well-ventilated. Off-gassing increases due to warmer temperatures. Using the external air-circulation feature can lower the concentration of chemicals by as much as 77% according to Jeff Gearhart, research director at the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Many automakers are working to cut the potency of the new car smell. Toyota, for instance, has moved from solvent-based glues to water-based alternatives and Ford has experimented with swapping petroleum-based seating for soy based foam. In an attempt to cut off-gassing, this has also posed a problem as buyers have come to expect this “smell.” In fact, leather manufacturers have had to add the smell back in, because during the current manufacturing process the warm leather smell disappears before the vehicle is even shipped to be purchased.
The next time you sniff that new-car smell, just remember it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.