Driving off the forecourt in your brand new car is a special experience. 

Part of the joy comes from that intoxicating, unmistakable new car smell. There’s something truly unique about it, but, all too often, it doesn’t last.

What can you do to prolong the new car smell for as long as possible or even restore it in an older vehicle? 

What is the new car smell?

It’s hard to put your finger on why we like the new car smell so much, and what actually causes it.

If you take a look inside your new car, specifically at all those interior features and panels, chances are there will be plenty of thermoplastics being used.

Getting those materials into the right shape and colour means treating them with various chemicals, and those chemicals get absorbed by the plastics.

The way they react with the materials creates what’s known as a ‘volatile organic compound’ (VOC).  These VOCs are the source of what we know as the new car smell.

And it’s not just the thermoplastics that do this ‒ all sorts of different materials in the car, such as the carpets and the headlining, can react to the way they have been treated in a similar way, producing that familiar smell.

An end to the new car smell?

Not all drivers are keen on it, though. In China, the smelly interiors of new cars are so dividing that Ford has hired a team of ‘smell assessors’ to ensure their cars roll off the production line with a less industrial odour. These assessors are tasked with checking the smell of the individual components going into each new model.

Other manufacturers have moved towards using more water-based solvents and glues or experimenting with soy-based foam.

There are also concerns about the safety of some of the chemicals used to finish the interiors, which may see more car makers shift away from their traditional methods, and that new car smell might soon be a thing of the past.

Creating the right odour

Even once it’s gone, there are things you can do if you want to restore something closely resembling the new car smell.

For example, you can buy air fresheners and cleaners that promise to replicate that familiar scent. There are a few out there, all with slightly different aromas, so it may be worth testing a few in-store to decide which one you like most.

But for a more authentic new car smell, nothing beats keeping your car nice and clean, inside and out. You might not be able to get it back to showroom standard, but at least you can enjoy a bit of luxury until you spill that next drop of coffee.

Go to Solved to read more about driving, the rules of the road and road safety.