What Exactly is the Smell of a New Car? - Unhaggle

Posted by | August 28, 2015 | Features, Other | One Comment
What Exactly is the Smell of a New Car?

Is there anything better than the scent of a new car’s interior?

Sure, there are those that claim to hate it (see: crazy people), but most agree that that one-of-a-kind smell is one of the greatest perks that come with buying a new vehicle. Maybe it’s all psychological – we love it because it reinforces how shiny and new the purchase is, or perhaps it really is just glue and fresh cut fabric coming together and coincidentally creating a pleasing fragrance.

Either way, the question lingers (and we think it’s worth investigating): what is the smell of a new car and where on earth does it come from?

The short answer: glue. VOCs, otherwise known as Volatile Organic Compounds, get released throughout the adhesive curing process on interior materials including vinyl, rubber and plastic (three things that are found literally ALL OVER cars). The gases are actually pollutants that don’t need super high temperatures to evaporate – which is why they so easily escape through a new car’s seats and dashboard area.

So basically, the smell that most new-car owners find so intoxicating comes from a bunch of harsh chemicals that are all trying to escape into the air as they dry. Kind of gross, no?

A lot of car manufacturers seem to think so and that is the main reason behind many of them testing out water-based glues and alternative interior materials such as soy-based foam for seating. Unfortunately, the natural alternatives aren’t quite there yet (read: they smell awful and deteriorate quickly in humid weather conditions) which is kind of bad news for our health, but pretty great news for the ol’ sense of smell.

Those driving around with leather upholstery are privy to an even better new-car smell than those without – one that’s musky and delicious, but also totally fabricated. Sorry leather lovers, that scent is one big lie.

In order to make sure a vehicle’s leather interior will withstand the test of time, manufacturers have had to duplicate the warm and luxurious scent associated with new leather and apply it before those cars leave their respective factories. The original smell is lost during the manufacturing process, but brands understand the psychology associated with buying a luxury car, which is why they’ve worked so hard to provide the musky scent no matter what.

Do you love the smell of a new car? What do you think about VOCs as the root cause of the scent – should manufacturers work to get rid of them or just let the new smell live on?

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About Taylor Marsden

Taylor is an Unhaggle blogger. From finding answers to the car questions you thought were too silly to ask to breaking down the latest happenings in the auto industry, her posts have got you covered! When not writing, she’s dreaming about how she’d look behind the wheel of a 1964 Mustang Convertible (in cherry red, please). But if that’s too much to ask for, she’ll happily take a Tesla Roadster. You can guess the colour.

  • Jen Auten

    Thanks for raising this, but is it even a question? I’m sure most people enjoyed not wearing seatbelts before they became mandatory, but it doesn’t mean it was safe. Many adults and children spend several hours a week (or a day) in their cars, often in hot temperatures. Car manufacturers should of course do everything in their power to reduce harm to their customers.

    More details about the smell we all love:
    http://www.ecocenter.org/article/news-ecolink-press-releases/new-ecology-center-guide-toxic-chemicals-cars-helps-consumers

    And in http://greenguard.org/Libraries/GG_Documents/Reformat_Indoor_Air_Quality_Hazards_of_New_Cars_1.sflb.ashx:
    “The chemical mixture is comprised of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including
    formaldehyde; polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), used as flame retardants; and phthalic
    acid esters (phthalates), which are emitted from materials and finishes used to make car
    interiors, such as plastics, wood, leather, textiles, seat cushions, glues and sealants. Exposure
    to these substances can exacerbate allergy and asthma symptoms and cause eye, nose and
    throat irritation; cough; headache; general flu-like illnesses; and skin irritation. Some also are
    known to cause cancer and neurological effects. “

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