What is New Car Smell?

woman enjoying new car smellAs you’re pulling your brand new car out of the lot, it’s likely that you notice the familiar “new car smell”. The new car smell is something we’ve come to expect so much that if that smell were absent, you might feel like your new car is missing something important. In fact, when selling used cars, dealers often use aerosol air fresheners to imitate the popular aroma of new car smell and enhance their customers’ feelings about a car.

Where Does New Car Smell Come From?

The real chemical cause of new car smell is debatable and varies from vehicle to vehicle. The most common explanation, after examining studies by several universities is that new car smell is a combination of outgassing from components of the car’s interior and other gasses emitted by the car.

The most likely suspects to blame for new car smell are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) within polymers, vinyl and other materials that comprise the upholstery and dashboard materials. VOC’s are noted air pollutants and some studies have even noted potentially harmful levels of toxic VOC’s in cars.

Major car manufacturers, including Toyota and Ford, have experimented with natural materials that do not produce VOC’s, yet have had difficulty creating products that are durable and smell good. So for now, while researchers find other materials to construct vehicle interiors, it seems that the new car smell is here to stay.

How to Analyze Aromas like New Car Smell?

A chemical test called headspace analysis can help manufacturers discern the composition of off-gassed materials like VOC’s. The process of gas chromatography is used to analyze the headspace of solids in sealed containers. Headspace analysis is used to test volatile organic compounds which off-gas under various circumstances such as in confined spaces, in extreme temperatures, and in transit.

In addition to use in analyzing new car smell-causing plastics in car interiors, headspace analysis can help in the following cases:

  • Testing residual solvents in pharmaceuticals
  • Industrial testing of residual monomers in polymers
  • Identifying flavor compounds in food and beverages
  • Identifying contaminants in products

At Innovatech Labs, we conduct dynamic headspace analysis and static headspace analysis; both of which are used in conjunction with gas chromatography / mass spectrometry (GC/MS).  GC/MS separates components that are off-gassed based on size and polarity and uses a mass selector to identify the materials. Dynamic headpace analysis involves heating a sample in a sealed vessel that is being purged with a high purity gas.  The offgassed materials are then concentrated on a sorbent tube located on the output side of the vessel, which are then desorbed onto the GC/MS.  Static headspace involves sampling the evolved gasses from a sample in a sealed vessel that has been heated.

If you are curious about VOC’s, offgassing, or simply want to learn more about aromas in your products, contact Innovatech Labs and we can help you with our headspace analysis services.

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