Is the “New Car Smell” Toxic For You?

There are many joys when buying a new car: The feel of new seats that have never (or barely) been sat in, all the latest and greatest features, and best of all, the “new-car smell.” It’s the scent that stains your nostrils for the first year of ownership and gives you the feeling that you made the perfect decision in buying that new set of wheels. But could that olfactory bouquet of bliss be toxic for your health?

Made of chemicals

XI’AN, CHINA – DECEMBER 25: Workers spray paint a car body shell at the BYD Automobile Company Limited Xi’an plant on December 25, 2019, in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province of China. (Photo by Yuan Jingzhi/VCG via Getty Images)

That new car scent might be downright intoxicating, and technically, it is. The scent that you smell is actually made up of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and it occurs when the various materials from the car “outgas” and release the VOCs. The issue is that the car’s interior materials are made from plastics and polyurethane as well as paint and other adhesives.

As you can guess, being exposed to these VOCs for lengthy periods of time can cause health issues like respiratory problems, headaches, muscle pain, and can even lead to cancer. However, do note that you would have to be exposed to the scent for a significant amount of time and breathe in large doses for it to be that problematic.

Some cars are worse than others

During your car shopping process, you might notice that every new car that you test drive smells different. That’s because every manufacturer uses a different scent and they go through great lengths to make that happen. For example, Ford enlists materials engineers, as a “smell jury,” to conduct studies using mason jars and an oven in which they heat up materials in the jars so that they can smell and rate them.

In an older study released by WebMD, they listed that some new cars are “healthier” than others. At the time of their results, they found that the Honda Civic and Toyota Prius (as well as other Hondas and Toyotas) were among the healthiest, as they produced fewer toxins than others.

Among the unhealthiest at the time were Kia, Chrysler, and Mitsubishi. Do note that the study was done around 2012 and some automakers have taken steps to make their interiors less toxic since then.

2020 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid

How to alleviate the scent

The new car scent will go away after some time, but if you’re really worried, then you can just roll down the windows when you drive to alleviate the scent more quickly. Just remember that on hot days, the scent can “outgas” even more, so if you can leave the windows cracked open when parked, that can help too.

If the new car scent ends up fading over time and you want a safe replacement to make your car smell fresh again, we recommend using Ozium, an air sanitizer that’s deemed safe to use. The two main ingredients are propylene glycol and triethylene glycol, which have been accepted as safe by the CDC.  Not only will this spray deodorize and sanitize the air you breathe in your car, but it can also help get rid of the scent of cigarettes.

Finance and sales manager Warren Cox speaks with a customer about a Dodge Charger
Millennials are changing the auto industry. | Hasan Sarbakhshian/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Enjoy your car

While the new car scent might sound hazardous, don’t let it deter yours from buying a new car. A new car is the second biggest purchase (aside from a house) that you’ll ever make in life, so enjoy it. After all, you can just keep the windows rolled down when driving if it really bothers you that much.