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The Allure of New Car Smell

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author photo by Autotrader January 2011

You might be surprised to find out that the smell, or lack thereof, in a new car is a vastly researched topic, and car companies have teams of “noses” (smell experts) that evaluate the odors in a car.

What most people commonly refer to as “new car smell” is actually the release of gasses from certain components, like plastic, sealants, rubber and leather. Companies such as Ford and Audi have their noses smell various components of a car and if anything is unpleasant or strong, it doesn’t make it into the car.

The goal is to have a neutral smell, rather than something that may appeal to one car owner but not another. As a Ford spokesperson points out, the expansion of cars to the global market also affects the decision to have a neutral smell. “A consumer in Turkey may not find a certain smell as offensive as an American consumer,” offers Ford’s Kristen Kinley as an example.           

There are conflicting reports about the health risks related to these compounds, but most experts agree that it isn’t a bad idea to roll down the windows a bit for the first three weeks of owning a car to help ventilate the car and remove any potentially toxic fumes. Researchers have noted complaints of headaches and dizziness caused from the odors in new cars. Last summer, a Colorado-based man allegedly hit a bicyclist and fled the scene; his lawyers allege that the fumes from the new car smell in his month-old Mercedes may have contributed to the man’s mental state. 

Consumers still enjoy the scent, however, and automotive companies acknowledge that in the future, scent selection could be an option for consumers. In the meantime, if you really want the “new car smell” (for your own enjoyment or if you think it may help with resale), you can buy a spray or air freshener.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
The Allure of New Car Smell - Autotrader