For some drivers, a vehicle’s new car smell is one of the most intoxicating fragrances on the planet. You may associate this smell with a time when a car’s cabin is fresh and pristine, unblemished by things like juice stains and shoe scuffs.
This smell isn’t caused by just one substance. In fact, it’s created by a variety of elements that are used to construct a car’s cabin.
An Unusual Potpourri
The elements that create your vehicle’s new car smell are perhaps less rare than you might have imagined. One material that can cause this smell is polyester. Polyester is extremely resilient, and this has made it a popular choice for car upholstery. Polyurethane is another material commonly associated with a new car’s inviting aroma, and it’s typically used to construct the dash. Since it sits just under the windshield, your car’s dash can be subjected to extreme temperatures during hot summer weather. Polyurethane is hardy enough to withstand this type of heat.
In the first few weeks or months after installation, polyurethane and polyester typically release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air. This process is known as outgassing or off-gassing.
Polyester and polyurethane aren’t the only materials that release VOCs. Outgassing can also occur with chemicals such as ethylbenzene and formaldehyde. These substances are commonly found in the paints and glues used in a car’s cabin.
Health Risks and Solutions
You’ve probably deduced by now that even though a vehicle’s new car smell can be pleasant for your senses, it may not be doing your health any favors. Some studies suggest that if inhaled in large quantities over an extended period of time, the VOCs found in a new car’s cabin may cause headaches, dizziness and a plethora of allergic reactions.
The good news is that you can reduce your exposure to harmful VOCs simply by letting lots of fresh air into your vehicle’s cabin. In the first few weeks after you’ve purchased a car, VOCs are especially potent. During this period, it’s a good idea to roll your windows down whenever possible to prevent VOCs from accumulating within the car’s interior.
Due to rising health concerns, many automakers have been working to reduce VOCs in the vehicles they produce. For example, Toyota has sought to achieve this by swapping glues for water-based solvents. This means that the new car smell as it exists today may soon be a thing of the past.
There is a safe alternative available if you want your car’s cabin to smell its best: air freshener. This product can give your nose a treat while you’re behind the wheel. You’ll even find air fresheners on the market that are designed to replicate the smell of a new car’s interior, without the toxic chemicals.
A new car has a smell that’s appealing to many drivers, but some studies suggest that this aroma contains chemicals that may be harmful over the long run. For this reason, it’s a good idea to think about driving with the windows down whenever possible during the first few weeks after purchasing a car. This allows fresh air to circulate within the cabin at a time when the chemicals released in your car’s interior are most potent.
Check out all the interior products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on air fresheners and new car smell, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
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I'm a writer and editor who's a regular contributor with the New York Daily News and Carfax, and my content has appeared in over 20 publications. I've written content that covers industries such as automotive, medical, insurance, healthcare, real estate, plumbing, pest control, dental and hospitality.