Where does the new car smell come from?

At least 12 carbon atoms, fluorine, bromine, sulfur, nitrogen, and oxygen molecules. The release of these volatile organic compounds at room temperature is what gives rise to the cocktail we know as the new car smell. But where do all those compounds come from? Well, of all the new materials that make up the interior of a car, from the plastic of the dashboard or the polyurethane underneath to the upholstery, paint, etc ... And, although, with points in common, it will vary from one car to another, depending on your materials and company policy.


And is that some manufacturers, such as Audi, BMW, or Seat, for example, have specialized teams to find where these odors come from, to avoid those that may be unpleasant. In the case of Martorell, the one in charge of ensuring that all its cars come out with a new neutral smell and that it is pleasant to any nose is the Quality department and more specifically, the María José López chemistry team. “Our team is made up of chemists and we are specialized in looking for a neutral smell in the cars we produce and in ensuring that this transmits a quality experience to the user. We are not looking for a specific smell ”, explains María José. And he continues by giving us details about the work methodology that follows: “We analyze all non-metallic materials in a car, one by one in our laboratory and we evaluate if the odors they give off are acceptable. One of the tests we do is to heat the car to 60 degrees and thus check how the cabin smells because the heat makes it easier to appreciate the smell.


We always seek to make the experience when entering the car as comfortable as possible. When some of the materials smell too strong, a protocol is activated to try to replace them or to look for possible solutions. Of all the materials of a car, there is one that is unique, the leather: it has to smell like good skin because it gives the vehicle a premium quality ”


But we all know from experience that this smell fades after a while. Do you know how long it lasts or how to maintain it? “Our goal is that this neutral odor is maintained and that over time, the materials in the vehicle do not deteriorate, which could cause unpleasant odors. Logically, caring for the vehicle and other external agents can affect the smell ", he ends.


However, regardless of whether or not we like these smells, there are studies that assure that the substances that cause them are also not good for health. This is the case of a recent study by the University of California Riverside, in the United States, which ensures that exposure to these elements, especially benzene and formaldehyde, during the average 20 minutes that most journeys usually last in a large city, exceeds the limits that health authorities consider safe. The study authors, toxicologists Aalekhya Reddam and David C. Volz measured the chemical elements that are part of this cocktail and that are on the list of carcinogens recognized by the US health authorities. Of course, the study clarifies that the fact that an element is considered potentially carcinogenic,


According to this type of study, María José López points out: “This type of study on the materials used in the vehicle and the odors that they give off began in the mid-90s. the vehicle does not emit substances harmful to health and for this, we work closely with all suppliers in the development of these materials and in their incorporation into the vehicle ".


Finally, it seems that that new car smell that in some cultures like ours is something positive (in fact there are those who sell air fresheners that simulate it), in others it is counterproductive. A study carried out by JD Power in China, for example, ensures that 16.4% of the population of this country rejects the smell of a new car and, when asked about the problems they have had with the newly acquired vehicle, there are more Chinese people who refer to the smell of the car, than those who talk about engine performance or fuel consumption. The reason? Well, precisely the level of awareness that exists in this country for the quality of the air and the toxicity of chemical products. In fact, there are cars that are sold under the heading "high-quality odorless materials" as a claim. EvenContinental has developed, especially for China, a material called Acella, which eliminates the smell of a new car by replacing it with another of oranges, green tea, or men's perfume. There are also brands, such as Ford, that have patented systems to accelerate the release of this smell quickly, among other things, exposing them to high temperatures and ventilating the interior. For tastes, smells, it is clear.

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