New Car Smell Is Toxic?

Lighting up the MotoringFile inbox this week was a story from naming its top ten best and worst cars in terms of material toxicity. You know that delicious new car smell? suggests you don’t breathe that in too deeply. They’re saying that all the plastics, glues, foam and other materials that make up the interior of a car can give off harmful gasses. Just how harmful? Depends on your sensitivity, but seeing we all spend a lot of time in our cars, it’s worth thinking about. What makes this MINI-related is that the Clubman S was #10 on their list of worst offenders. See the whole chart after the break.

Does the toxicity of your car’s interior worry you? Is that new car smell just too sweet a perfume to give up? Sound off in the comments.

  • Dr Obnxs

    The stuff is not good for you. That said, there are a lot of other things in our lives that are a lot worse for you than the stuff in new cars. FWIW, if you get into a new car that has been sitting a few days, that film on the inside of the windows is formed by condensation of lots of the things in “new car smell”.

    • Matt, What does “FWIW” mean? I am getting beaten up with all of these abbreviations and acronyms used by people when they are making statements via text or other. Thank you.

      • Evan

        For What It’s Worth

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    • robert fairchild

      Mark Jacobs Bags rates higher than Mitsubishi Outlander for toxic smells…


  • John

    One wonders how much these measurements vary from car to car of the same model, depending, for example, on which interior materials were selected. For example cloth seats vs. leather vs. vinyl.

  • Anonymous

    One more reason to get a convertible.  All those harmful vapors get whisked away by the breeze.  😉 

  • Dr Obnxs

    I suspect that cloth is the least offending material, but it will let out the VOCs (volitle organic compounds) faster as it’s more porus. Leather itself isn’t bad, but it’s treated with lots of stuff. Also, keep in mind that tons of plastics and the like emit these things, like the stuff under carpet, adhesives and on and on. But it’s truely complicated to know what is least harmful: For example, when driving a rag top with the top down, you get exposed to lots and lots more particulates and the like because the air isn’t filtered…. I have no clue what’s worse!


  • Charte37

    I remember getting migranes when I first got my Clubman S in 2009, and I remember that the “new car smell” triggered those. Since then it’s been my g/f’s daily driver and ive been back in my R53 🙂

  • Bob Hayhurst

    Yes, smoking is bad. Yes, our children should wear bike helmets. Yes, driving faster then the speed limit is potentially hazardous. Yes, healthy is good for you. Yes, Yes, Yes. Having said that; Give me a break.

    While the smell in a “new” car may be (at some level) not nessesarily good for you, I suspect that Big Mac you wolfed down at lunch will have a more immediate and longer lasting effect on your healh then any new car smell.

    This group claims to have a database of over 900 hundred cars. Wow, I really can’t imagine. This sounds like fertile ground for the ABA and trial lawyers.

    I did note that for a $30 donation they will send you a nice pair of organic socks and a thank you note…

  • Anonymous

    When I go in my 2008 MCS it was just plain neutral. Nothing annoying at all.

  • Anonymous

    If new car smell is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

  • RakSiam

    I was thinking that my new Coupe has seemed to have much less “new car smell” than I remember from previous cars.

  • Hemisedan

    Let’s see now, new car smell is a health hazard now, right? I wonder how long the enviromentalists took to dream up this one. Myself, in my lifetime I’ve had over 9 new cars, and over 20 company new cars. The new car smell never once gave me head aches, or any other ailments. But, if some idiot told me beforehand, I probably would have felt something, maybe that is.

    Now I’ve had my 2011 JCW Hatch and no problems, and there is still a little new car smell there. And I enjoy every minute of it. Now I suppose they will say that it will cause cancer. What rubbish!!

  • otter

    I wonder how they determined the levels and types of volatiles in theses cars; if they simply went about smelling new car interiors their results are rather suspect. If you are concerned about VOCs building up in the atmosphere of your car, ventilation is the key (especially when the interior gets hot), weather permitting, leave the sunroof and or windows cracked and make a habit of keeping the vent fan turned on whenever you are driving.

  • otter

    Oops didn’t notice the link, they did publish their methodology; ignore my first sentence.

  • Anonymous

    I am VERY VERY Skeptical of this site and the ratings they are using. Seems very arbitrary and they do not note what materials, length from date of production etc. Not very scientific from something claiming to be doing something scientific. 

    Also- some of these cars from certain brands are strenuously tested to be sure the fabric VOC levels are minimum and they meet international standards (tested by third parties to meet these standards) yet these brands do not receive levels that are commensurate with these ratings.

    One glaring thing to me was the BMW X6 vs. BMW X6 M – same exact seat backs are used in both yet the numbers are very different…. could be one sat for a long time (X6 M) and X6 was fresh…. time will aid in VOC degradation. 

  • Dr Obnxs

    Tons of stuff emits volatile compounds that are pretty nasty. There is no debate about this. What is of concern in places where these vapors can concentrate. That’s why the post about ventilation being key is right on the money. Start to drive with the windows open, or the vent blower. Get cabin filters with activated charcoal instead of the cheaper ones without…..

    The levels of emitted toxins is getting lower, in general, and this is a good thing. But they will never be totally eliminated. And this is a fact of life.

    Now, thinking that this is some huge conspiracy created to increase government intrusion, or some other total load of unsupported BS, is just a waste of effort. Instead, it’s helpful to think of awareness of the potential impacts of VOCs more as a result of increased understanding. Kind of like learning that germs carry disease, or that arsenic isn’t really good for you, or getting lead out of gas, paint and plumbing is a pretty good idea. We know more than we did, and it’s only prudent to use our knowledge to make better decisions.

    In the spectrum of relative risk, should this be on the top of your list? No, definitely not. But that’s not the point. The point is that very minor changes in how we use our new cars can have a significant impact on our exposure. These changes in behavior are even more important for those that have babies or young children in the car.

    Don’t want to change what you do? Fine…. Like “new car smell”? fine… But knowing about it is better than not knowing. One can make an informed decision.

    • Anonymous

      Totally agree with your statements- VOCs are bad, they need to be decreased. Some companies have gotten that hint while others have not, the EU has legislation (also why MINI surprises me as part of the BMW Group who cares about this stuff). Painted the interior walls of my house with low VOC paint (Sherman Williams) and all that- buy vehicles that the brands seem to care about such things like the environment (not going nuts).

      You obviously know “OKO-tex”, well the numbers obtained do not agree with the certification numbers for that certification in a few instances as per HealthyStuff’s numbers…. 

  • veggivet

    I asked the dealer to leave the windows down on my R50 back in 02 once it arrived. They were happy to do so, and I got the added bonus of knowing the car was stored inside. I will do this when I order my R61, and will leave the windows down in my garage for the first few weeks.