The New Car Smell: Pleasure or Poison?

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(Photo Credit: Pexels)

The trademark scent of a new vehicle is often enjoyed by many but what is it actually that creates this smell?

When you step into a new car, one of the first things you'd experience would be your olfactory senses being pleasured by that delightful new car smell. It's no 'Versace Eros' or 'Gucci Bloom' but it's just as delightful and it's hard to exactly point out why. It has even come to a point where people are trying to find ways to recreate the scent or delay it from wearing off in their cars.

However, there seems to be a lack of understanding of what the scent actually is other than that it's just 'how things smell like when they're new'. That's not wrong per se but if we want to be more specific, it's the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found on and in the new interiors of a car that give off this aroma in a process called off-gassing.

What is 'Off-gassing'?

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Off-gassing is when chemicals previously trapped in materials are being released into the air. VOCs present in leather, carpeting, adhesives, vinyl sealants, plastic parts, and other components of a car's interior are being off-gassed slowly in your car and the heat in our tropical nation would only just hasten the process.

What VOCs are being released?

Now that we have a better understanding of what's taking place, let's take a look at the compounds being released. There is toluene, a liquid solvent often used in nail polish that can be found in the car's interior in paints and adhesives. 

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Benzene and formaldehyde are harmful carcinogens that could lead to cancer while benzene also comes with the risk of damage to one's reproductive and developmental health. The former is found in a variety of materials inside a car while the latter is most commonly found in leather and carpeting. 

You can also find styrene, a compound that can cause sleepiness or irritation to your eyes, nose, and skin, in the plastic parts of the vehicle. 

These are, of course, only just some of the chemicals present.

Should I be worried?

As intimidating as the VOCs sound, there is no need to worry for the most part. The main reason comes in the nickname of this phenomenon. 'New' car smell denotes a short time period before these VOCs have mostly off-gassed (this is when the smell starts to fade). Although studies about how harmful this is are generally inconclusive, most would argue that as long as you take some measures in reducing exposure to these VOCs, the risks are minimal. 

What measures should I take?

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Air purifiers are one way to go to combat these airborne VOCs while keeping your car well-ventilated by rolling down windows when you can is also a good way to get those chemicals out of your vehicle. If you're looking to get rid of the VOCs fast, some have tried 'baking' their cars in the hot sun (not necessarily a difficult thing to do here) to hasten the off-gassing process and then airing the vehicle.

You would be glad to know that car manufacturers are paying attention to these VOCs. Toyota has opted for water-based alternatives instead of solvent-based glues while Ford has dabbled with soy-based foam instead of petroleum for their car interiors. 

The new car smell — it's definitely pleasing to many, but at a cost!

I want to find the highest selling price for my car within 24 hours!

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