Taking home a brand-new car (or checking one out at the showroom) is an experience that even non-enthusiasts can relate to. And part of that is getting a waft of a distinct aroma that we fondly call “new-car smell.” It’s difficult to explain what kind of scent it is, but it’s an odor that is simply associated with a factory-fresh vehicle.
New-car smell comes from a wide variety of materials in a car’s interior. The cabin is composed of several kinds of plastics, chemicals and adhesives that produce odor by releasing vapors. If you’re lucky enough to acquire a luxury vehicle, for example, authentic leather or wood have their own distinct aroma that is sometimes crucial to the ambience.
Because of the presence of chemical vapors, some experts say that new-car smell is toxic. A study by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia suggests that new-car smell has things like benzene, acetone and toluene, which can cause anything from nasal irritation to cancer. It even claims that there are consumers who have fallen ill after being in cars that are up to six months old.
Other scientists beg to differ, though. In this New York Times article, a research paper by a professor at the Technical University of Munich reports that new-car smell only worsens allergies. It also says that tests on a month-old car and a three-year-old vehicle confirm that chemical vapors exist in very small concentrations that are not detrimental to health.
Recently, Nissan employed the services of an odor expert. His job is to simply engineer new-car smell by making suggestions on what materials the automaker should be using in its cars (particularly the Qashqai). And for me, that is a rather challenging undertaking.
You see, smell, just like taste, is a subjective matter and is difficult to quantify. Not everyone will like the flavor of an expensive steak dish from a Michelin-rated restaurant. Similarly, while new-car smell is often considered pleasant, there are people who will find it repulsive. Back in 2018, my sister didn’t like riding her brand-new Suzuki Vitara when she was pregnant. Granted, hormonal changes in her body probably caused her to be nauseous from the odor. But it goes to show that not everyone will find new-car smell acceptable.
What do you think of new-car smell? Let us know in the comments.