That new car smell…and Old Style beer

I was only about two years old when my grandfather passed away, but the smell of Old Style beer still comes to mind every time I think of him. I also remember how my grandparents house smelled. Kind of old and musty.

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Olfactory perception is the culprit to blame. Otherwise known as your sense of smell, it’s the strongest sense linked to memory of human vertebrates. It helps us recall and recollect. It brings us back to a place and time, good and bad. Happy and sad. There’s a huge science behind it and it has to do with how our brain works, but what fascinated me in my research was that associations between smells and memories actually start occurring before birth. Alcohol, cigarette smoke and garlic are a few of the most popular scents linked to association. Interesting huh? But I won’t bore you with all the details of sensory cells of our nasal cavities and olfactory sensory neurons and all that scientific stuff.

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If you’re one of those people who admittedly enjoys that coveted “new car” smell, you’re not alone. You are joined by millions of other across the world who link this scent to a happy, enjoyable time in their life. Who doesn’t like getting a new car? Or who doesn’t like remembering the first time they drove their car off the lot? I admit. I’m one of those. I felt so accomplished with my first brand new car purchase. I felt like such a big girl and It really was a new part of my adult life.

Would you be surprised to learn that said “new car” smell is actually

in question of weather or not it poses health risks!?

The health risk of that new car smell varies by make and model, but in short, it is a composition of the offgassing of different plastics, paints, adhesives, sealants, rubbers, and lubricants which are choc full of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) such as phalates, formaldehyde, chlorine, lead, bromine and perchloroethylene. The health effects of VOCs are complicated to study, mostly because they usually are not acutely toxic. It usually takes a long time of being exposed to VOCs to realize their compounding health effects. And some of the time, it’s sadly too late. Just a few acute and compounding health effects: disorientation, headache, irritation, respiratory, allergic, or immune effects in infants or children, leukemia, lymphoma and many cancers.

The parts of your new vehicle that off-gas the most? Steering wheel, dashboard, floor mats, seats, arm rests, anything treated with a flame retardant and carpeting. So, pretty much every interior part.

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Have you ever taken a new car home and noticed a grease-like, dirty, film build-up on the interior windows and windshield after awhile? It always reminded me of the cigarette smoke that would coat the inside of the windshield when my mom would smoke in the car as a kid. But my husband and I aren’t smokers, nor has anyone else smoked in the car. It took me a while to learn what that film is. It is actually off-gas build up. A gross chemical film of the unhealthy synthetics we’re breathing in with our new investment or joy ride. Not so joyous is it?

The new car smell is really unavoidable unless you vow to never buy a brand new car again. Even then, many people enjoy the “new car fragrance” so much, a synthetic version was created to replicate the new car smell in aerosol form. The only thing you can really do is leave the windows down as much as possible and let your vehicle air out indefinitely. It is especially important to do so in the warmer months as heat is what causes chemicals to leach.

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Healthystuff.org is an awesome website for researching toxic chemicals in every day products that we use. They produce a one-of-kind rating system for healthy interiors for new vehicles. You can view the PDF file here. They have an entire section on their site of toxic interiors of vehicles and even child car seats. The newest version is still yet to be updated, but it still gives really great information! Honda seems to rank the best and Hyundai/Kia is the worst!

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4 thoughts on “That new car smell…and Old Style beer

  1. Well, that’s a bit disturbing! I’ve never bought a new car and I probably never will, so maybe I’m safe from this particular health hazard!

  2. Interesting! We just bought a used vehicle so we didn’t have the “new car” smell and now I am glad we didn’t! My favorite scent memory is triggered by almond extract. My grandmother made (and still makes and decorates) cakes for weddings, birthdays, etc and the smell of almond extract reminds me of her frosting recipe!

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