Shop Parts keyboard_double_arrow_right
Need car parts? Select your vehicle
Reading Time: 3 minutes

If you’ve driven a new car from the dealership, then you’ve probably noticed its new-car smell. The scent smells like a mix of plastic and leather from various parts of the car. But what exactly is causing it and should you be worried if you smell it?

What Causes a New-Car Smell?

The new-car smell is a combination of compounds found in the car’s upholstery and interior. The smell is often caused by products that soften leather and make it shine. Some of them emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are responsible for the familiar odor. These are mostly derived from petroleum-based solvents used in plastic and vinyl, and they’re considered air pollutants.

new car interior
The new-car smell is often caused by products that soften leather and make it shine.

However, not all cars smell the same. The smell varies largely depending on the manufacturer and the vehicle. The smell of leather might be more prominent in some cars, while the smell of wood or even cleaners is more noticeable in others.

The new-car smell is so important that many manufacturers go to great lengths to analyze the smell of their cars, ensuring that they’re able to capture the essence of a new car smell. Audi even employs a nose team that smells the interior of their cars and the materials that they use.

Are New-Car Smells Toxic?

The new-car scent originates from VOCs, which can include toxic chemicals found in cigarettes like acetaldehyde, benzene, formaldehyde, styrene, and more. Luckily, these chemicals aren’t very dangerous because their concentration levels in a new car are extremely low. However, this doesn’t mean that you should treat the new-car smell like it’s aromatherapy.

Because VOCs come from known toxic substances, there are continuing discussions concerning whether or not the new-car scent is harmful. According to some studies, there may be a small possibility of health issues if there is long-term exposure. However, another study found that VOCs would at most cause headaches, allergies, and nothing more.

buying a new car
Some people want to retain the new-car scent because the smell gives them the impression that their car is new.

Why Do Some People Like the New-Car Smell?

Some people want to retain the new-car scent because the smell gives them the impression that their car is new. It gives some drivers a feeling of pride and accomplishment. The scent is so popular with drivers and owners that companies have started mimicking the scent and using it as an air freshener. However, if you don’t find the smell appealing, you can simply open your windows and let fresh air into your cabin. This will allow the VOC to clear out more quickly and speed up its decay.

The smell of a new car isn’t popular everywhere. In China, manufacturers are going to great lengths to eliminate the smell from newly made vehicles because their market prefers a car with no smell. Additionally, several car manufacturers are also attempting to eliminate the new-car scent for health reasons. Toyota has begun to use water-based glues instead of solvent-based glues, and Ford has experimented with soy-based foam instead of petroleum foam to reduce VOCs.

How Long Does the New-Car Smell Last?

There’s a misconception that cleaning the interior and applying certain products will bring the smell back. However, this is untrue because the new-car scent isn’t simply covered up by other odors. Instead, the chemicals that cause the scent decays. Car owners can expect these chemicals to decay about 20% every week. Most of the VOC will typically dissolve within a few months. As a result, the smell will also disappear after a few months.

That said, you can still improve your car’s fragrance by either cleaning your vehicle or getting sprays or air fresheners. There are some aftermarket products that try to recapture the new car smell. However, there’s no guarantee that they’ll smell exactly like the way your car did when it was new.

About The Author
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

File Under : Lifestyle
Garage Essentials
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

View all Questions & Answers

expand_more Answers BE PART OF OUR COMMUNITY: Share your knowledge & help fellow drivers Join Now