This Is What "New Car" Smell Really Is

It's not nearly a nice as it smells.

Ah, that crisp and clean "new car smell." Few scents trigger such a rush of positive feelings all at once. And it's always such a sad day for any driver when he or she steps into his several-month-old vehicle and suddenly realizes that the coveted new car smell is gone. However, it all begs the question: what on earth was that "new car smell," anyway?

Buckle up, friends, because the truth isn't pretty.

When you buy a new car, much of the vehicle is composed of things like latex, polyurethane, and plastic, all of which produce "volatile organic compounds" (VOCs), which are chemical byproducts created by everything from plants to plastics that have a high rate of particle release at room temperature. That steering wheel? It's plastic. That carpeting? No doubt packed with plastic fibers. Those cushy seats? Polyurethane foam. Literally all of those individual components roll off their respective assembly lines releasing fresh VOCs into the air (official term: "outgassing") that, when used to build that cool new ride you can't wait to drive, combine together to form that "new car smell." (Congrats, you're smelling fresh toxic chemicals!)

So is new car smell harmful to your health?

Short answer: Yes and no.

While VOC exposure can trigger everything from eye irritation to memory impairment (in the most extreme cases) to mind-splitting headaches (according to a study published in Neurotoxicology and Teratology), in most cases, by the time your car hits the road, the initial outgassing of the materials of which it's comprised will be over and the number of VOCs being released into the air—and the new car smell associated with them—will have been significantly reduced.

And if you're concerned about the amount of VOCs that remain in your car's air, there's an easy solution.

According to the EPA, one of the best ways to reduce your VOC exposure takes just seconds: opening the windows. The fresh air entering your car can push out some of that VOC-filled air, and some of your new car smell along with it. And if that seems like an obvious solution, it's because it is. And for more amazing knowledge that will help you live smarter, don't miss these 50 Amazing Facts About Everyday Items. 

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Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more