Are you driving a toxic car? If you have a brand new car, the answer is, unfortunately, yes, but there is some good news – new cars aren’t likely to be as toxic in the future.
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As my car lease draws close to its termination date, I have begun the search for another vehicle. Aware of the issues I have with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, my husband forwarded me a couple of articles regarding new car smell.
Toxic New Car Smell: A Unique Cocktail of Chemicals
The first sentence in the article I read stated, “New car smell, a grand perk for first-time car owners, might be harmful, according to a new study.” It went on to say,
Research shows that vehicle interiors contain a unique cocktail of hundreds of toxic chemicals that off-gas in small, confined spaces,” said Jeff Gearhart, Research Director at the Ecology Center.
“Since these chemicals are not regulated, consumers have no way of knowing the dangers they face.”
What Is New Car Smell?
New car smell comes from parts, paints, carpets, and sealants off-gassing VOCs (volatile organic compounds).
When you stop to think about it, there are many things in the interior of a car that are a cause for concern when it comes to harmful chemicals. These parts are made of materials, such as plastic, which contains questionable chemicals.
There can be over 200 chemical compounds found in vehicles.
Consider the parts and pieces that make up a car interior:
- Steering wheel
- Door trim
- Shift knob
- Plastic knobs
- Rubber mats
According to a published white paper, “numerous studies have found the measurable presence of anywhere from 30 to more than 250 separate VOCs in a single vehicle.”
What Makes Toxic Off-Gassing Worse?
New cars provide a bad environment when it comes to toxic chemicals. As mentioned above, there are many car parts that can off-gas VOCs, however, when a car is parked or driven in warm temperatures, it can make the VOCs off-gas at a greater rate. It can also break other chemicals down into more toxic substances.
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What Else is Found in Toxic Cars?
Car indoor air pollution is recognized by the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
In addition to plastic parts, cars include many different toxins such as flame retardants, antimicrobials, and chemicals released from paint, carpet, and adhesives.
Do you have a film-like substance on your windshield? If you do, it could be an indicator of how toxic your car is. That film is made up of all sorts of chemicals such as hydrocarbons and petrochemicals from plastic, vehicle exhaust, and matter from tires and brake pads. Chemicals that are oily in nature condense on your windshield.
In addition to exposure from toxic chemicals, you can also be exposed to mold from a faulty air conditioner in your vehicle. If you suspect your car may have mold, you should look into the Lemon Law in your state to try to get a new car if you experience this.
>>Read Next: 6 Ways to Naturally Remove Car Odors<<
Chemicals and Health Concerns
We are exposed to numerous toxins every day at home, work, stores, etc. However, vehicles are a major source of chemical exposure – estimated at as much as 30 percent of our exposure.
Your car is a small, confined space in which you spend quite a bit of time each day. Breathing in the off-gassing chemicals and coming in contact with dust that chemicals bind to can create health issues.
In fact, the health concerns that come from toxic materials in new car interiors are recognized by the World Health Organization as sick car syndrome.
There is also an emerging field called Vehicle Indoor Air Quality (VIAQ). Its purpose is “to test, investigate and solve the problem of toxic exposures from driving and riding in cars.”
Some of the chemicals of concern found in a new car are:
- Polyvinyl chloride
These chemicals can pose different health challenges, such as:
- Learning disabilities and infertility
- Hormone disruption
- Impaired concentration
How do Cars Rank? The Best and Worst Toxic Cars
Fortunately, overall vehicle ratings are improving. Manufacturers are starting to eliminate hazardous flame retardants and PVC from vehicles.
In 2012, a study by the Ecology Center was conducted on cars. They tested the plastic, fabrics, and foams in 200 top-selling 2011 and 2012 cars for the presence of bromine (used to make flame retardants), chlorine, phthalates; and lead.
The top-ranking car in the study was the Honda Civic followed by the Toyota Prius and Honda CR-Z. The Honda Civic was given the highest rating because it doesn’t use bromine-based flame retardants on its interior components. It uses PVC-free interior fabrics and interior trim. It also has low levels of heavy metals and other metal allergens.
The worst cars in the study were the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Chrysler 200 SC, and the Kia Soul. The Outlander ranked the worst because it contained bromine and antimony-based flame retardants in the seating and center console. It had chromium treated leather and over 400 parts per million lead in seating materials.
Will a Healthy Car Be Possible in the Future?
Overall, automakers are beginning to take steps to reduce VOCs in vehicles and are looking for ways to reduce other potentially harmful substances in car interiors. However, it can take time to get updated cars on the road since it takes 4 – 6 years for the vehicle design cycle, so even if new ideas are presented today, don’t expect to see it implemented in a car for a few years.
Overall, Honda, Ford, and Volvo seem to be leading the way in taking measures to eliminate toxic materials.
“Vehicle testing at Ford includes measuring VOC and SVOC concentrations in various conditions: indoors or outdoors and with windows open or closed. They capture both standing emissions (exhaust) and compounds off-gassed by interior parts.”
Many automakers are starting to replace PVC parts with materials that contain fewer harmful additives. Some are also using less brominated flame retardants. They are using different materials and adhesives in manufacturing.
In addition, some automakers, such as Ford, are beginning to use natural soy-based materials in seat cushions and installing better ventilation and filtration systems to speed up the off-gassing process.
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What Are Some of the Things You Should Look for When Buying a Car?
If you’re in the market for a new car. Consider some of the following things:
- Take your potential car for an extended test drive to see how you react in the environment or if you notice any symptoms being triggered (especially for those of us with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity).
- Check to see if flame retardants are being used in your car.
- Buy cars with fabric upholstery instead of leather. Leather steering wheels and upholstery emit higher amounts of airborne ketones, furans, and styrene.
- Don’t buy a car with a sunroof. Due to the sealants and adhesives used around the sunroof, VOC levels can increase by as much as 30%.
- Ask the manufacturer if they subscribe to voluntary third-party eco-labels, such as the TUV Toxproof and Öko-Tex Standard 100.
How to Get Rid of New Car Smell
I have probably leased a dozen cars over time. That is quite a lot of off-gassing I have sat through. I have tried multiple things to take the smell away from the last car I leased, including putting charcoal under the seats to absorb the smell. Eventually, the smell went away after airing the car out for a while. Also, leaving the windows open while driving is a definite must.
Following are some things that will help you get rid of toxic new car smell:
- Keep the car interior well ventilated by opening the windows
- Recirculate the interior air
- Dust our car interior regularly with a microfiber cloth
- Wipe down your car interior with a non-toxic odor eliminator
- Vacuum out your car regularly
- Park in the shade
- Avoid sitting in the car while it is parked
- Use a solar shade to cover your windshield
- Add an activated carbon filter in your in-dash air filter – the carbon will absorb VOCs
- Use a car air purifier to capture VOCs, allergens, and odors.
By doing the things mentioned above, you will help to limit your exposure to toxic new car smell.
Read Next: 6 Ways to Naturally Remove Car Odors
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i have just puchased a new Vauxhall Corsa and from day 1 i have felt sick and giddy .it seems that the hot weather is accelerating the v o c curing problem. Vauxhall says they’ve never heard of it also the dealer has no idea. it is so bad that i can no longer drive the car so i intend to reject it. where do i go next ? has anyone experienced this problem with Vauxhall Corsas 22 model?
Sorry that you’re dealing with new car toxins. I’m not familiar with that car brand. On any new car that I purchase, I initially open all of the windows and turn on the fan to it’s max speed. I run each the air conditioner and the heater for some time. Of course, I’m not sitting in the car while this is happening. I also wipe down the car interior with
a non-toxic cleaner. I continue trying different things until a lot has off-gased and the smell becomes tolerable.
Helaine Fashbinder says
I am an MCS sufferer as well. My sensitivity began about 7 years ago and it has totally changed my world.
I am presently car shopping, and to my dismay, I have found that the voc level in the cars (2021) have increased tremendously. In 2016, I couldn’t lease a new Passat that I had previously been driving with no problem. I researched an article that said Honda and Volvo had lowest VOC levels. I leased a 2016 volvo and had no problem. Then, in 2018, I leased the same model again with no issues. Now in 2021, I became ill sitting in the new Volvos and couldn’t buy the car. Honda and Acura are still the best for low VOC levels, but I still have some reaction though not as bad as all the other brands.
It is very disheartening that articles I find keep saying the chemicals used will have to stop and lawmakers are working on this.
Thank you for all that you are doing.
Sorry to hear that you suffer with MCS. Yes, it does change one’s world! Thanks for the info on the cars you’ve tested.
Have you tried Ford or other brands? You think Honda and Volvo are the best for MCS?
I have a GM. It wasn’t too bad. I had to do things to get the chemicals out, but after a few days it seemed better.
Hello, do you know if a 2018 or 2019 least toxic vehicles that are out there? Severe MCS sufferer and we have had our Subaru Outback for 2.5 years and it is highly toxic when we are in car even for a few minutes to drive down the street our hair and all clothes smell like car . Never can drive in winter because of having to use defroster ect.
Sorry to hear that you suffer with MCS. 2.5 years is an awful long time for a car to off gas. The cars that I’ve had have seemed to stop off gasing within 6 months, but that’s with leaving the windows down, running an air filter at times and leaving charcoal in them. I’m not sure of a new list of least toxic cars. I just rented a new Hyundai (it had 8000 miles on it) and it didn’t seem bad. Here are some suggestions for removing odors which may help: https://www.livingnaturaltoday.com/2019/02/remove-car-odors/
hello, do cloth seats release more fire retardants from cushion than leather?
From my experience, they both can be bad. However, leather is easier to keep wiping down until the off-gassing dissipates.