Silly ques­tion – How to get that new-car smell

Kapi-Mana News - - CLASSIFIEDS -

New-car aroma is highly de­sir­able. But def­i­nitely not good for you, re­ports

‘‘New car smell‘‘: it’s what iden­ti­fies a car as truly box-fresh and for many it’s a sniff-sym­bol of their as­pi­ra­tion to own a brand­new ve­hi­cle one day.

In the words of Bruce Spring­steen’s Used Cars: ‘‘Some­day mis­ter, when the lot­tery I win, I ain’t ever gonna ride in some­thing that doesn’t have that new-car smell again.’’ Well, it goes some­thing like that.

In the ab­sence of au­then­tic new­car smell, many seek to repli­cate it in their more ma­ture ve­hi­cles. Some prod­ucts, like in-car air fresh­en­ers, claim to give you that high-end odour in­stantly, without the three-year fi­nance com­mit­ment and crip­pling de­pre­ci­a­tion.

But re­ally, what’s the best way to get that new-car smell?

To an­swer that ques­tion we need to know what new-car smell ac­tu­ally is. The an­swer: it’s toxic.

That prized odour is ac­tu­ally a cock­tail of 50-100 Volatile Or­ganic Com­pounds (VOCs) that com­bine in the con­fines of a car’s cabin to cre­ate a uniquely dam­ag­ing aroma.

It’s like that ‘‘new build­ing smell’’ of paint and car­pet . . . but so, so much more nasty. It’s all the bad stuff that’s used to make that shiny new car: sol­vents, rub­ber, freshly ex­tracted plas­tic mould­ings, that kind of thing.

That’s why par­tic­u­lar brands of car (at least those made in the same fac­tory or with the same in­te­rior de­sign/con­struc­tion) share a par­tic­u­lar smell. Each VOC-recipe is slightly dif­fer­ent be­cause each car­maker has its own blend. De­li­cious.

This is why mo­tor­ing writ­ers are uniquely brave and tal­ented in­di­vid­u­als. Not only are we ex­posed to new-car smell con­stantly, but we can also jump into a new model blind­folded and tell you in­stantly whether it’s a Hyundai, Peu­geot or Great Wall; es­pe­cially a Great Wall. Any­way, you’re wel­come.

The most ground­break­ing and in­flu­en­tial study on this is­sue was car­ried out back in 2001 by the Aus­tralian Com­mon­wealth Sci­en­tific and In­dus­trial Re­search Or­gan­i­sa­tion (CSIRO). It stud­ied both Aussie-made and im­ported cars and found VOCs such as ben­zene, ace­tone, styrene, and toluene were de­tectable in­side the ve­hi­cles.

These are strong enough to have an im­me­di­ate ef­fect on some peo­ple, such as dizzy­ness or a headache, with pos­si­ble longert­erm health prob­lems – al­though these are hard to quan­tify be­cause each brand of car is dif­fer­ent and peo­ple’s driv­ing habits dif­fer.

By the way, it’s those same VOCs that cause that an­noy­ing film on the in­side of your wind­screen that’s so hard to clean off.

The CSIRO study found that the lo­cally made ve­hi­cles had much higher VOC lev­els be­cause they were the new­est of all; the im­ported cars had some ship­ping time to set­tle the chem­i­cals down.

In­deed, new-car smell is a short­lived thing. It fades sig­nif­i­cantly af­ter a few months (al­though it can spike in ex­treme con­di­tions, such as hot weather).

Don’t con­fuse new-car smell with leather and/or wood, which many peo­ple also as­so­ci­ate with de­sir­able ve­hi­cles. Those aro­mas don’t re­ally go away but they’re more ‘‘ex­pen­sive car smell’’ re­ally.

There have been a num­ber of sim­i­lar stud­ies in the years since: one by the Tech­ni­cal Univer­sity of Mu­nich in 2007 and more re­cent pro­grammes by US-based Ecol­ogy Cen­tre and Ja­pan’s Osaka In­sti­tute of Pub­lic Health. All agree on the over­pow­er­ing pres­ence of VOCs, al­though there’s no clear un­der­stand­ing or cas­es­tudy of ex­actly how dan­ger­ous they are in the long term.

Car­mark­ers don’t gen­er­ally think of new-car smell as a good thing. Many are mov­ing to­wards less harm­ful cabin ma­te­ri­als: wa­ter-based glues for ex­am­ple, or soy-based foam for seat fill­ing.

Ford has used soy in the seats of two mil­lion ve­hi­cles in the US, for ex­am­ple.

Volvo is on a mis­sion to clean up car in­te­ri­ors with a new ‘‘mul­ti­fil­ter’’ fit­ted to new-generation mod­els like the XC90 that fea­tures an ac­tive layer of char­coal to soak up con­tam­i­nants. Still keen? Well, to an­swer the ques­tion (fi­nally): to get that proper new-car smell, you have to ac­tu­ally get a new car. Sorry.

Feel free to try one of those pine tree thingys that you hang from your wind­screen, but they mostly seem to smell like a pub­lic con­ve­nience.

That’s not quite the same thing, al­though it’s bet­ter for you.

The Volatile Or­ganic Com­pounds (VOCs) in new-car smell are also re­spon­si­ble for that an­noy­ing film on your wind­screen.

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