Currently reading: ‘New car smell’ is fading away as regulators clean up cabins
Legislation is increasingly dictating the use of odourless, less harmful materials
Autocar
News
3 mins read
11 September 2020

The ‘new car smell’ is on its way out, as regulatory bodies turn their attention to airborne chemicals emitted by plastics, glues, textiles and other materials that make up car interiors, pressuring manufacturers to adopt purer, odourless alternatives.

Eight substances that commonly diffuse from car interiors, particularly in the early stages of cars’ lives, have been identified as having an adverse effect on occupants. Dubbed volatile organic compounds (VOCs), they are: acetaldehyde, acrolein, benzene, ethylbenzene, formaldehyde, styrene, toluene and xylene.

Their scents can induce allergy-like reactions in some people, such as eye irritation, sneezing, dizziness, shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea and headaches, and their strength varies with the car’s exposure to heat and light.

“It doesn’t just evaporate and then disappear,” said Nick Molden, CEO of testing company Emissions Analytics. “It will evaporate into the cabin and then, in the evening, when it cools down, it will be reabsorbed by the surfaces.

“And it will re-evaporate again the next day, so when you mix it all up in a sort of VOC soup, then expose it to sunlight, you basically have a biosphere of VOCs, which can last quite a long time.”

Symptoms are reported most frequently in Asia. A 2005 survey of 800 new car buyers by South Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport found that 51.5% experienced at least one sensation of what it termed ‘sick car syndrome’, leading the country to establish local standards for VOCs in 2007. Similar initiatives exist in Japan and Russia.

Interior smell is consistently cited as one of the biggest complaints, if not the biggest, among new car buyers in Chinese JD Power owner satisfaction surveys, and China introduced its voluntary GB/T 27630-2011 “guideline for air quality assessment of passenger cars” in 2012, which covers testing methods and maximum interior emissions.

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This is due to become mandatory for M1-class vehicles (passenger models with up to eight seats) in July 2021, forcing manufacturers to replace existing materials with inodorous equivalents if they are to continue operating in the world’s largest new car market.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) has been monitoring the issue since November 2014 and updated its guidance on car interior air quality standards and testing in June. Although not yet adopted by any country, this offers a framework for governments keen to introduce regulation and, if widely implemented, would create consistency across international markets.

Known as Mutual Resolution Three, it “will encourage the reduced use of materials, and chemicals that can be harmful to humans… and the increased use of emission-friendly materials, improving the air quality in the passenger cabin”.

According to Molden, people should notice nothing more than “a less smelly car”, although there may be some quiet price rises as firms pass on the cost of new materials.

“They will require all of their suppliers to test swatches of carpet, bits of leather etc and be able to evidence that they meet these regulations,” he said. “Then they have to type-approve to make sure that it still meets the limits when you stick it all together.”

Jack Carfrae

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Comments
16

11 September 2020

 I never really thought about it, when you sat in a new car you just thought ah, that new car smell, and after you'd owned the car for while the odour gradually got less noticeable,I'm not surprised there'd be legislation along the lines that the smell of a car was potentially bad for you, it's how car makers get round it, does this mean all materials inside a car will have to be made changed?, that's going to take a while, at an extra cost o doubt, sell, I suppose it must be a good thing.

11 September 2020

No doubt the great British public will demand stronger 'air fresheners' be installed to replicate that new car smell. How dare these foreigners try and reduce our exposure to cancer causing chemicals!

11 September 2020

"Have you ever been travel sick in a car? Do you know anyone that has? Do you think you know someone who has? Were you traumatised by the thought of new car smell? If so, write to us and we'll get you millions in compensation!!" What a load of cr*p

11 September 2020
Straff wrote:

"Have you ever been travel sick in a car? Do you know anyone that has? Do you think you know someone who has? Were you traumatised by the thought of new car smell? If so, write to us and we'll get you millions in compensation!!" What a load of cr*p

 

aha.. the tired old "it didn't affect me so it didn't affect anyone else" comment always makes its presence known

289

11 September 2020

....rarely heard such utter boll***s. Its just creating work for 'Emissions Analytics'

Soon all cars will smell as bad as Japanese cars...anodyne, cheap and characterless- God forbid they might smell of Leather for example!

11 September 2020

It would be interesting to know which materials give off what. Not so that I can sue for compensation but because it’s an interesting technical subject. For example, judging the quality of a car by the softness of its plastics rather than their durability has always seemed questionable to me. Do soft or hard plastics give off more gas? 

12 September 2020
rhwilton wrote:

It would be interesting to know which materials give off what. Not so that I can sue for compensation but because it’s an interesting technical subject. For example, judging the quality of a car by the softness of its plastics rather than their durability has always seemed questionable to me. Do soft or hard plastics give off more gas? 

I reckon it's the soft squidgy plastics favoured by the German brands and the motoring press go to for a determination of interior quality that are more likely to release VOCs, Japanese cars often have harder more durable plastics, deemed lower quality, as with there already being a voc law in Japan, could this be why they don't use the softer squidgy plastics?

11 September 2020

Miss the smell of real Connolly leather,  went in a new Range Rover Autobiography recently and was hugly dispointed of the interior smell.   Havent sat in a new Rolls Royce for years, do they still smell of conolly hide...  I recall Jaguar brocures even smelt of leather... 

11 September 2020
V12smig wrote:

Miss the smell of real Connolly leather,  went in a new Range Rover Autobiography recently and was hugly dispointed of the interior smell.   Havent sat in a new Rolls Royce for years, do they still smell of conolly hide...  I recall Jaguar brocures even smelt of leather... 

 

Apparently Asian customers don't like it.

As for VOCs, I imagine the squidgy plastics and adhesives are to blame for much of them.

11 September 2020

Miss the smell of real Connolly leather,  went in a new Range Rover Autobiography recently and was hugly dispointed of the interior smell.   Havent sat in a new Rolls Royce for years, do they still smell of conolly hide...  I recall Jaguar brocures even smelt of leather... 

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