Unraveling the Chemistry Behind the Famous New Car Smell

Valerie Raskovic
Jul 26, 2023



For many new car buyers, nothing beats the exhilarating experience of stepping into a brand-new car and being greeted by that distinct and alluring aroma known as the "New Car Smell." This captivating fragrance has been an integral part of the car buying experience for decades, often evoking feelings of excitement and luxury. However, what many may not know is that the "New Car Smell" is not the result of a single magical ingredient but is, in fact, a complex blend of approximately 50 volatile organic compounds (VOCs). In this article, we will take a closer look at the science behind this aromatic phenomenon and explore the chemistry that creates this enigmatic elixir.


Understanding Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)


Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are a group of carbon-based chemicals that readily evaporate into the air at room temperature. They are commonly found in many everyday products, including paints, cleaning agents, adhesives, and even some consumer products like air fresheners and fragrances. In the context of the "New Car Smell," VOCs are emitted from various materials used in car manufacturing, such as plastics, adhesives, fabrics, and synthetic materials.


The Formation of the "New Car Smell"


The "New Car Smell" comes into being through a process known as off-gassing, where VOCs are released into the air as a result of the materials used in the car's interior undergoing chemical reactions. As the car leaves the manufacturing plant, the various components of the vehicle continue to emit these VOCs gradually.


The specific combination and intensity of the "New Car Smell" can vary depending on several factors, including the type of materials used, the manufacturing processes, and the age of the car. For instance, the scent of leather upholstery might dominate in some luxury cars, while in others, the aroma of fresh plastic and adhesives might take center stage.


The Role of VOCs in the "New Car Smell"


VOCs are primarily responsible for the iconic "New Car Smell" due to their ability to vaporize at room temperature. Some of the key VOCs contributing to this olfactory experience include:


Benzene: This aromatic hydrocarbon is often used in the manufacturing of plastics and contributes to the sweet and pleasant notes in the smell.


Xylene: Found in many adhesives and foams, xylene adds to the distinctive fragrance of the "New Car Smell."


Toluene: Present in paint and coatings, toluene brings a characteristic sharpness to the aroma.


Ethylbenzene: A component of gasoline, ethylbenzene contributes to the overall chemical bouquet.


Formaldehyde: This VOC is released from various interior components and is associated with a pungent smell.


Environmental and Health Concerns


While the "New Car Smell" may be appealing to many, there are environmental and health concerns associated with VOC emissions. Prolonged exposure to high levels of VOCs in confined spaces, like the interior of a car, can lead to health issues such as headaches, eye and respiratory irritation, and even long-term health problems. Additionally, VOCs contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone and smog, contributing to air pollution.




The famous "New Car Smell" is a delightful yet intricate symphony of around 50 volatile organic compounds. These chemicals emanate from various interior materials used in car manufacturing, creating an aromatic experience that has become synonymous with the excitement of purchasing a new vehicle. However, as we continue to advance in the fields of chemistry and environmental science, it's essential to strike a balance between preserving this sensory joy and addressing the potential environmental and health implications of VOC emissions. As car manufacturers strive to create more sustainable and eco-friendly vehicles, we might see changes in the composition of the "New Car Smell" in the future, ensuring a cleaner and healthier driving experience for everyone.


For those interested in buying a preowned car, conducting a vehicle history check through platforms like VinCheckUp can be a valuable step in ensuring a safe and reliable purchase.

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