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What Exactly Causes the New Car Smell?

Sure, your nose knows, but shouldn't your brain be informed, too?

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Salesman giving new car keys to customerRidofranz/Getty Images

What is the new car smell?

“The odor that many people recognize as ‘new car smell’ refers to the scent that a newly purchased car gives off from its interior. This scent can vary depending on the primary material found within the car—the smell of a car with leather-lined seats may not smell the same as a car with cloth seats, for example,” says Casey Dawson, a consultant with Superior Honda, a New Orleans-based car dealership. “Generally, the scents that make up new car smells are associated with freshness, cleanliness, or even the excitement of a newly purchased car.” Check out the ways you might be wasting your money on car maintenance.

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Mixed race woman enjoying new carmartin-dm/Getty Images

Where does the new car smell come from?

The answer to that question is the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are found in your car. “All modern-day vehicle interiors are manufactured using a wide variety of plastic, rubber, and upholstery materials, along with the dyes to color them and the adhesives to bond them. The chemical composition of these materials causes them to ‘outgas’, or release molecules in the form of VOCs, which is what you’re actually smelling,” says Richard Reina, product training director at Make sure you also know how to spot a good car salesperson—or a bad one.

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As anyone who has purchased a new car knows, that new car smell doesn’t last forever,” says Dawson. “Depending on your lifestyle, how often you use your vehicle, and how many other people normally ride in it, the scent can last for a couple of weeks or up to a month.” Here are some myths you need to stop believing about your car.

How long does it last?

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Driving car with both hands on the steering wheelPhotoAlto/Odilon Dimier/Getty Images

Could this smell be harmful?

If you’re uneasy about breathing VOCs, that’s perfectly normal. However, there is no knowing for certain if this smell is harmful to you or not. “Certainly, some researchers who are more focused on exposure to environmental hazards will maintain that breathing any VOCs is not good for you,” says Reina. “Others have countered that the amount of VOCs combined with the relatively short length of time they are inhaled will likely not cause long-term harm.”

Next, check out the 13 things you should never do in your car.