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Walk into any auto parts store and look at the scents available to deodorize your car. Chances are you will find air fresheners that claim to be “new car” scented. Have you ever wondered why someone may want that new car smell in a vehicle that is ten years old, or perhaps used it in your own vehicle?

You aren’t alone. When asked, most people will say it is an intoxicating odor they love. The fun is in how car manufacturers provide it. Do you know what Nissan employees go through to ensure the best new car smell?

The appeal of a new car scent

A building with tall glass doors and Nissan, who ensures the best new car smell, written on the side.
Nissan | Getty Images

When you sit in the driver’s seat of a new car for the first time, and take a deep breath, you will smell something fresh, new, and unlike anything else your nose has encountered. It is indescribable for most people because the new car scent isn’t as definable as the smell of coffee or the scent of pine, but it is no less noticeable.

Sadly, the scent fades quickly, and most people want it back. There are some companies that have created the scent, but what exactly is it that brings us so much joy?

The science behind it is simple, yet complex. What you smell in that new car doesn’t sound as pleasant as it smells. Your car’s interior is a mixture of plastics, leather, bonding materials, adhesives, chemicals to make them stain resistant, and more.

The odor is actually those materials “gassing off”, which is why the scent only lasts for a short time. However, there is a fine line between the intoxicating scent most people love and those gases being enough to make you nauseous. Nissan employees go through a lot to make sure it is just right.

How Nissan creates the perfect new car scent

Imagine having a job where your sole purpose was to sniff test individual parts of a vehicle before, during, and after assembly. That is the job of Tori Keerl, a material engineer with Nissan and “certified smeller”, and others like her.

According to CNN, Keerl says that every time they launch a vehicle, they have to test the odor of it. They sniff test steering wheels, seat cushions, visors, and more before putting them into a vehicle. Once those items are in the vehicle, Keerl and her team go sit in it to ensure it has the overall appealing scent people want rather than a more offensive smell.

When a vehicle’s odor is not perfect, the team must sniff various parts again to find out where the scent is most offensive and remove that part. It works basically the same way you would track down a foul odor in your home or vehicle. You sit in it and sniff around every inch until you discover where the odor is located.

Once this foul odor is located and the part removed, they must try to figure out why the material or combination of materials is causing it. In most cases, the off smell can be traced to “a supplier having changed some aspect of how the part is made.” It then becomes the task of Keerl to find out what changed and how to solve the problem.

How to replicate Nissan’s new car smell?

Completely replicating the new car scent is not 100% possible. It depends on the interior material of your new vehicle. Cars with cloth seats may smell like fabric protectants. Those with leather or wood will have that scent.

The scent we most associate with “new car” was a gas from the vinyl seats that older cars had and are no longer used in today’s vehicles. It produced acetone, benzene, toluene, and styrene gases, which are poisonous VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). This means we should get the same “happy” sensation from smelling a new shower curtain or a vinyl tablecloth.

Car manufacturers, like Nissan, try to reduce those harmful odors, while still providing new car owners with that luxurious scent. It may be done by infusing plastic with additional aromas or blowing fragrance into the plastic seat covers during transport.  


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