That New Car Smell!!
One thing that is always noticeable about new cars is their smell. It is a very special exciting smell that makes you feel good, and some people even find it erotic. Small cars, large cars, city cars, executive cars, four by fours, they all smell the same when they are new.
But what is it and why don’t they bottle it? Just imagine giving your five year old motor a quick spray to transform it into something that smells as if it had just come out of the showroom. It would be a great way to increase the sales of used cars too.
In fact the above is a bit of a simplification. Although all cars have a similar smell, there are subtle differences between different makes and models; no doubt there are some new car smell aficionados who pride themselves in being able to differentiate between them.
So, what are we smelling when we smell a new car and why is the smell specific to new cars? Firstly we need to consider what the inside of a car is made of. Apart from the upholstery (and here for an even more refined smell we strongly recommend leather) most of the interior is made of one form of plastic or another and the plastic parts are bonded together with various glues, adhesives and sealants. These materials take some time to lose all their solvents and other volatile components, and new plastics will continue to exude plasticisers (which chemically speaking are called phthalates) for some time.
Some years ago a study was carried out on the atmosphere within a new car using mass spectroscopy. This revealed over sixty different volatile organic materials. As well as the plasticisers and solvents mentioned above, they discovered cleaning solvents, paints, volatile solvents given off by the carpets, latex, vinyl, petrol and exhaust fumes; quite a little cocktail.
This heady mixture remained for a few weeks and after two months it had reduced considerably. When the car was brand new the organic content of the air inside was 7.5 milligrams per cubic metre and after just three weeks this had fallen by about 90%.
A toxicology study indicated that the air in a new car is potentially damaging to health, which is one good reason for not supplying it in aerosols to spray in your car interior. A recommendation was made that new car owners should ventilate their car as much as possible and drive with the windows open.
It is not only new cars that have that new car smell; fighter planes have it too, and the unmanned private spacecraft, the SpaceX Dragon, which recently docked with the International Space Station, has it too, at least according to the astronauts aboard the Space Station.