The auto industry is pleased to report that last year was the best year for new car sales since 2019.
That means a lot of people are breathing in the scent we call new car smell, which… well, what the heck is that smell anyway?
The answer is, a byproduct of auto production that is now very carefully considered by the companies that make our cars.
The word to know here is outgassing.
The interior of a new car includes paints, sealants, glues and parts made of plastic.
They all have their own scents, which are particularly strong right off the assembly line.
Over time, some of the extra chemicals that were inside those parts find their way out and the scent fades, just as new paint loses its smell over time.
But just like many new paints, the smell from these parts comes from what are called Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs.
They’re not always so great to inhale, especially when you’re inside a car with the windows rolled up.
That’s why in some parts of the world that have air quality issues, like China, customers actually prefer a car that doesn’t have the classic new car smell.
(New car smell, gasoline… why do so many of us love these smells that we maybe shouldn’t breathe in?)
But here in the US and in many other countries, new car smell is still very popular.
There have even been perfumes and air fresheners that mimic new car smell.
And, over time, the automakers have stopped leaving that scent to chance and started curating it.
Many big auto makers hire people whose job it is to evaluate the new car smell and help make sure that it’s to consumers’ liking.
They have to be able to sniff out the individual ingredients from all those compounds in all the different parts of the car and make sure that, say, a luxury car that includes leather seats smells like luxury.
It’s a highly specialized job that not just anyone can do, which is why automaker Nissan refers to these employees as “smellmasters.”
This weekend, the community of Farmers Branch, Texas, northwest of Dallas, is formally opening what is says will be a first in the United States: a glow in the dark playground!
Let’s hope the park doesn’t close to visitors at dusk.
The Science of the New-Car Smell (Car and Driver)
Photo by 르노삼성자동차 via Flickr/Creative Commons