Some people love the smell of a new car. The familiar odor has become associated with the joy of owning a new, spotless vehicle. You can even buy air freshener that mimics the smell of a new car. The fumes inside a new car, however, make many people very sick, and scientific research shows that the much-sought-after new car smell poses serious health risks.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and other toxic chemicals constitute the new car smell. VOC fumes emanate from glues, paints, vinyls, and plastics inside new cars. They can trigger headaches, sore throats, nausea, and drowsiness. Studies have found 50-60 different VOCs in new cars.
The problem is similar to "sick building syndrome," in which VOCs make people sick when the toxic chemicals seep from walls, carpets, and fixtures of new buildings. Automobile cabins, on the other hand, are smaller, more confined spaces where air pollution has a more intense impact on occupants.
According to a 2001 study by Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, simply sitting in a new car can subject passengers to toxic emissions well beyond safe levels.
"We find new car interiors have much higher VOC levels than any building we've researched," said researcher Steve Brown. "Ultimately, what we need are cars with interior materials that produce lower emissions."
A recent Japanese study found that the VOCs in a new minivan were over 35 times the health limit the day after its delivery. Japanese automobile manufacturers have become the first to set goals for reducing VOCs in new cars. According to an alliance representing General Motors, Ford, and DaimlerChrysler, the U.S. auto manufacturers do not follow the issue of VOC emission in new cars.
Like the smell, the chemical effect eventually wears off, typically after about six to eight months. During those months, try to avoid parking in direct sunlight, and use a solar reflector whenever possible since heat causes even more VOCs to escape into the air.
Good ventilation is the key to avoiding VOC illness. Let in fresh air as frequently as possible by opening doors, rolling down windows, and running the air conditioning.
Many allergy sufferers, however, try to avoid the outdoor air (and pollen) during allergy season. For such allergy sufferers, we have the ultimate solution: a portable HEPA air purifier for your car. Simply plug the air purifier into your car's cigarette lighter, and it will effectively rid your automobile of allergens, VOCs, noxious odors, and other pollutants that find their way into your car.
Hopefully more countries will follow Japan's lead, and in a few years, maybe new cars won't emit toxic fumes. But at least we'll still have the scented air freshener to remind us!