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Why New Cars Smell Like They Do

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2017 Dodge Journey

Love or hate it, there’s no mistaking the smell of a new car. It’s hard to put the aroma into words, and although it doesn’t last forever, it does leave quite the impression on your nose and psyche.

Unfortunately, the origin of the desired or despised “new car” smell is a strong concoction of nothing you should really be inhaling, particularly with the windows rolled up.

“The truth is it’s a far less romantic, yet still heady, mix of 50 to 60 volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, off-gassing in your car. (These are the same compounds that cause a greasy film to form on your car’s windshield),” reports HowStuffWorks.com writer Kristen Hall-Geisler.


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And, even though the new car smell is quite potent, it’s fleeting.

“At new-car concentrations, these chemicals are not terribly dangerous, but they’re not exactly aromatherapy, either,” reports Hall-Geisler. “They do break down quickly, to the tune of about 20 percent decay every week, so the smell doesn’t linger all that long.”

According to Hall-Geisler the five VOCs that make up most of the scent rising from your car’s interior are:

  • Toluene, which spawns from crude oil and is a component in nail polish removers;
  • Styrene, which is a lab-created synthetic chemical found in carpet backing, rubber, and insulation;
  • Ethylbenzene, which is a flammable, colorless gas that is present in petroleum and coal tar;
  • Xylene, which is also found in petroleum and coal tar but possesses a sweet scent despite its flammable liquid properties; and
  • Trimethylbenzene, which is a liquid component of thinners and solvents.

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If the truth behind that mysterious new car aroma has now freaked you out, made your skin crawl and your head ache, you can take solace that auto manufacturers are trying to deliver new cars minus the new car smell by using less chemical-laden materials, according to Hall-Geisler. In the meantime, she says you can rid your new car of its fragrance more quickly by rolling down the windows to let the fresh air, well, clean the air.

News Source: How Stuff Works