New car smell might come with a price you don’t want to pay — cancer risk

Apr 20, 2023, 1:30 PM | Updated: Apr 21, 2023, 12:57 pm

New car smell is a legendary accompaniment of buying a new ride....

The Larry H. Miller Chevrolet dealership in Murray is pictured on Tuesday, July 19, 2022..

SALT LAKE CITY — Who doesn’t love new car smell? Car companies have worked hard to ensure a pleasurable experience with new car smell. But now there is research showing the chemicals used in the production of the interior of some vehicles could be hazardous to your health.

These include chemicals like formaldehyde and benzene.

“They are volatile organic compounds or VOCs,” said Dr. Alejandra Maldonado, the state toxicologist for the Utah Department of Health and Human Services. What we’re smelling is the VOCs “off-gassing” from the material in the car.

Off-gassing is just the release of gas from a product. If you’re smelling a product — that’s off-gassing.

“They are in our everyday lives,” Maldonado said. “They’re in household products. They’re in furniture and carpets. We’re exposed to low levels of them every day.”

They’re even in the air fresheners that smell like new car smell.

Can new car smell (and other smells) be dangerous?

Some VOCs do cause health problems,” Maldonado explained. “There can be non-cancer effects like irritation of eyes, nose, lungs. Some are carcinogens or cancer-causing chemicals.”

Maldonado emphasized that “whether or not a person experiences health effects depends on the amount of chemical present, the specific type of compound, and how often and how long people are exposed.”

One of the risks of new car smell is that you can be exposed to higher levels of VOCs in an enclosed environment.

“Especially,” she said, “new cars coming off the lot that haven’t had the opportunity to de-gas.”

The toxicologist also spoke specifically about the risk of cancer.

“A lot of factors play into whether or not a person develops cancer, including carcinogens, but also life history, genetics, behaviors. It’s very rarely linked to one single cause.”

How do you protect yourself?

“My best recommendation for people who purchase a new car is to help speed up that off-gassing process so you reduce the number of VOCs you’re exposed to,” Maldando said.

How do we do that?

“Roll down your windows,” she suggested. “Make sure your air conditioner is pulling in fresh air. Heat helps off-gas. Roll the windows down when you’re parked outside. And time — time will reduce the VOCs.”

You can research and get more information about VOCs and the safety of products on the EPA website.

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New car smell might come with a price you don’t want to pay — cancer risk