This Is What “New Car” Smell Really Is

Hint: it's not the scent of all that money you just dropped.

This Is What “New Car” Smell Really Is

Hint: it's not the scent of all that money you just dropped.

If you’ve ever purchased or sat in a new car, you’re probably familiar with the so-called new car smell. In fact, that distinctive scent is often so pervasive it sticks around long after you’ve left the lot. So, what is new car smell, anyway?

While your first instinct when getting in a new car may be to take a deep whiff, knowing what you’re actually breathing in might make you reconsider. That intoxicating smell you’re inhaling is actually the result of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, being released into that little glass-and-steel box you’re sitting in.

So, where are these VOCs coming from, and how did they get into your car? Unless you’ve got an entirely custom-designed, eco-friendly ride, odds are your car is packed with a significant amount of latex, polyurethane, and plastic. That steering wheel? Plastic. Those carpets? Possibly packing some plastic fibers. Those seats? Probably made from polyurethane foam.

After these elements have been factory-produced and installed in your car, they do a little thing called off-gassing. This means they’re releasing some VOCs into the air. That’s what gives your ride that smell you know and love (or get a headache from). It’s why people like to air out mattresses before sleeping on them—those VOCs can be olfactorily overwhelming.

But is new car smell actually bad for you? While the EPA lists everything from eye irritation to memory impairment as a side effect of VOC exposure, you’ll probably be just fine. The amount of off-gassing you’ll be exposed to from those new car materials is relatively small. Better yet, you can easily reduce your exposure.

If you find that you’re bothered by the smell of that new ride, don’t try to Febreze it away. The best way ditch new car smell is to roll those windows down. Let some fresh air in while you drive, and your car will smell a whole lot less new in no time. And when you’re in the market for a brand-new ride of your own, pick from one of The Best New Cars for 2018.

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