Tips from Used Car Advisor

Car Advisor Tamotsu Todoroki

Hi, this is Tamotsu Todoroki. I am a car advisor of
I write an online column every week to take care of your vehicle. My column is all about something useful and practical for your vehicle. Please have a look once to keep your car in good condition.


What is New Car Smell? - Vol.438

Car enthusiasts may proclaim that there's nothing like the smell of a new car. And if you've ever entered a brand new automobile, you can surely agree that it has a very specific smell.

The funny thing is that a new car smells unlike anything else people generally find pleasing. You cannot compare the new car smell to a perfume or chocolate chip cookies. But it does smell unused and even fresh - if you feel somewhat poetic about cars.

Getting to the bottom of the new car smell should start with a new car smell definition.

How to Define a New Car Smell?
The combination of different materials found in new cars creates an odor commonly referred to as new car smell. The same definition can apply to other vehicles like trucks, buses, RVs, etc. Even brand new motorbikes have a very specific smell.

Despite the smell that we have come to find attractive, the chemical compounds in the materials might pose some health hazards. This is why you should have a better understanding of what new car smell actually is.

Materials and Chemicals
Car materials usually include vinyl, polyester, polyurethane, paint, and various adhesives. Those who are willing to splurge a little also get some leather and real wood in their automobiles. But for the most part, it's different types of plastic and organic chemicals.

The chemicals responsible for new car smell are better known as VOCs or volatile organic compounds - it doesn't sound remotely as pleasant as the smell, and for good reason. Volatile organic compounds are one of the main air pollutants and can be quite harmful.

However, there is no need to panic. VOCs are found in many common household items from waxes to cleaning products. The VOC concentrations are usually very low and they evaporate quite quickly in new cars. The evaporation rate is about 20% every week so your car won't be smelling that new after a couple of months.

Why do New Cars Produce the Smell?
The vinyl and plastic in car interior are held together by petroleum-based adhesives and sealants, which release VOCs when new. This process is called off-gassing and it is not limited to cars. A lot of other new products give off a similar, sometimes pleasant smell. If you get a new piece of furniture and carpet, they produce a smell which is remotely similar to new cars.

It is universally accepted that people actually like the smell of new cars. Scientists are not exactly sure why certain VOCs give off a pleasant smell. However, a more important question is how dangerous can it be.

According to a study, chemicals like formaldehyde and ethylbenzene might cause dizziness, allergies, and headaches. These are often found in adhesives and paints, but car manufacturers are actively trying to reduce the amount of these harmful VOCs.

The Silver Lining
Heightened awareness and new environmental standards are pushing car manufacturers to reduce the amount of VOCs in cars. Water-based adhesives, for example, may be able to replace the more harmful solvent-based glues. The car companies are also experimenting with natural materials like soy-based foams, which are not exactly pleasant smelling.

Some manufacturers even produce the new car smell artificially since it is so important for the customers. If you get a new leather interior in your car, chances are you are actually enjoying an artificial scent of leather. The smell of real leather goes away during the manufacturing process but the factories would add it back to ensure customer satisfaction.

The Final Sniff
By now you should have a complete understanding of new car smell and its origin. But as car companies reduce the amount of VOCs in new vehicles, the smell might disappear altogether in the future.

Nevertheless, the industrious carmakers will find new ways to intoxicate you with the smell inside a new car.