The smell of a new car is instantly recognizable. In fact, the mere mention of it has been known to trigger an emotional response. For some, it’s a pleasant feeling that accompanies purchasing a new vehicle. For others, it’s one of irritation as they can’t wait for the odor to wane. Now matter which side you are on, you may be wondering how long the new car smell lasts. Here’s what you need to know about it.
Volatile Organic Compounds
Before you can understand how long the new car smell lasts, you have to know what causes it. Automobile manufacturers use a wide variety of materials when assembling the interior of vehicles. Many of these materials are made up of chemicals that omit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a process also referred to as off-gassing.
Examples of these chemicals include bromine, polyvinyl chloride, lead, and urethane. In fact, there are hundreds of different chemicals just in the interior parts alone. They can be found in components such as carpet, upholstery, dash boards, window and door trim, floor mats, cup holders, and many other things.
On average, VOCs dissipate at a rate of 10% to 20% per week. At this rate, the new car smell doesn’t last as long as some people may think. In fact, after six months or so, you will notice a considerable difference in the scent of your car. If someone claims their car still has that new car smell after a year, it’s probably just from the cleaning supplies they use to keep it looking brand new.
Heat things up
Heat is the main component needed to fuel the off-gassing process of VOCs. For instance, if you purchase a new car that has been out on the lot for a bit in a hot climate like the Southwest, chances are its new car smell is not as strong as one that has been in the shade of the showroom. As the car’s interior heats up, the chemicals release the VOCs into the air. Most have no scent, but those that do are what cause the new car smell. Because the fresh air helps clear the odor from the car, it’s best to drive with your windows down if the weather permits, to help speed the process along.
Because VOCs are derived from known toxic chemicals, there’s an ongoing debate about whether or not exposure to the new car smell is dangerous. However, studies have shown that the risks associated with these potential health concerns involve long-term exposure. Since most VOCs have dissipated after only a few months, the remaining pose little threat. However, if the new car smells bothers you or flares up your allergies, try to drive with the window down when possible and make sure your air vent is set to draw in fresh air, not circulate existing and trapped VOCs.
Many automobile manufacturers are seeking to reduce the level of toxic chemicals used in the materials required to assemble a vehicle. For example, several have started to use soy-based solvents and sealers to install carpets and upholstery. In fact, several companies, including Acura, Ford, and Honda, have moved to PCV-free interiors in many of their cars and trucks.