June 24, 2024
That new-car smell could be hazardous to your health

That new-car smell could be hazardous to your health

If you’re like most people, the smell of a new car makes you think of success and excitement.

And, if you’re like us, you’re an avid reader of the journal Cell Reports Physical Science.

Those two things clash this month, as the journal reported how that new-car smell consists of a series of volatile organic compounds, “indicating a high health risk for drivers.”

Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Beijing Institute of Technology studied the air inside a new midsize SUV plug-in hybrid electric vehicle over a 12-day period. They moved the car in and out of a garage in different types of weather, attempting to mimic usage patterns typical of new-car owners.

They collected gases “near the midpoint of the front seat from the driver’s breathing zone” and analyzed their contents.

Plus: The safest new cars of 2023

Among the substances a driver would breathe in during that period, they found several known carcinogens. Warmer weather meant a higher concentration of formaldehyde, benzene, and similar chemicals used in creating the plastics and carpets found in many new cars. The chemicals, Forbes explains, “are considered class I carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), meaning that they are known to be cancer-causing agents.”

The news is most concerning to those who spend long stretches of time with new cars, such as dealership employees, rideshare drivers, or the kind of automotive journalist who drives new cars to evaluate them for… you know what… let’s just move on.

The study isn’t pointless bad news. The authors note that their results “will be helpful for vehicle designers in selecting appropriate in-cabin materials with lower potential emissions.”

Check out: The 2023 Porsche Taycan: an electrifying drive in more ways than one

Automobile makers have begun paying increased attention to cabin materials in recent years. The BMW iX M60, Fisker Ocean, Hyundai Ioniq 5, and Polestar 2 have been advertised as using healthier, more sustainable cabin materials.

In the meantime, the researchers say, simply opening windows on a new car can “rapidly reduce” the concentration of potentially harmful chemicals in cabin air. It lets that new-car smell escape faster. And maybe that’s something we should all want.

This story originally ran on KBB.com. 

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