Silly question – How to get that new-car smell
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.