Surprise: That New Car Smell Could Be Killing You

Chris Teague
by Chris Teague

Think twice about sniffing a big hit of your car’s cabin air. Almost everyone loves the fabled new car smell, but a recent study suggests that some of that fragrance could be toxic to the people inhaling it. People reported on data from the Environmental Science and Technology publication that found toxic flame retardant materials in 99 percent of cars it studied.

The publication analyzed the cabin air quality of 101 vehicles across 30 states, including EVs, gas, and hybrid models, between model years 2015 and 2022. Shockingly, the vast majority of them contained a flame-retardant material called TCIPP, which is under investigation as a carcinogen. Most also had two other materials already classified as carcinogenic, including TDCIPP and TCEP.

The study’s lead researcher, Rebecca Hoehn, noted that drivers spend an average of an hour in their vehicles every day, presenting significant concerns about people with longer daily commutes and younger passengers. Hot weather increased the interior off-gassing, which comes mainly from the foam in seat cushions. Though they’re intended to slow a fire, emergency first responders are concerned that the materials will goose their already high cancer rates. Experts told People that drivers could roll down windows and park in shaded areas to reduce the off-gassing, but noted that a reduction in the materials is a better solution.

Some are urging the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to revise its standards and push automakers to achieve flame resistance without cancer-causing chemicals, but no such policies have yet been announced.

[Image: PixieMe via Shutterstock]

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Chris Teague
Chris Teague

Chris grew up in, under, and around cars, but took the long way around to becoming an automotive writer. After a career in technology consulting and a trip through business school, Chris began writing about the automotive industry as a way to reconnect with his passion and get behind the wheel of a new car every week. He focuses on taking complex industry stories and making them digestible by any reader. Just don’t expect him to stay away from high-mileage Porsches.

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  • El scotto El scotto on May 12, 2024

    Mobile homes are built using a great deal of industrial grade glues. As a former trailer-lord I know they can out gas for years. Mobile homes and leased Kias/Sentras may be responsible for some of the responses in here.

  • 3-On-The-Tree 3-On-The-Tree on May 13, 2024

    Old news if it is even true. But from m my time as Firefighter/EMT fighting vehicle fires when it catches fire it is very toxic.

  • 3-On-The-Tree I don’t think Toyotas going down.
  • ToolGuy Random thoughts (bulleted list because it should work on this page):• Carlos Tavares is a very smart individual.• I get the sense that the western hemisphere portion of Stellantis was even more messed up than he originally believed (I have no data), which is why the plan (old plan, original plan) has taken longer than expected (longer than I expected).• All the OEMs who have taken a serious look at what is happening with EVs in China have had to take a step back and reassess (oversimplification: they were thinking mostly business-as-usual with some tweaks here and there, and now realize they have bigger issues, much bigger, really big).• You (dear TTAC reader) aren't ready to hear this yet, but the EV thing is a tsunami (the thing has already done the thing, just hasn't reached you yet). I hesitate to even tell you, but it is the truth.
  • ToolGuy ¶ I have kicked around doing an engine rebuild at some point (I never have on an automobile); right now my interest level in that is pretty low, say 2/5.¶ It could be interesting to do an engine swap at some point (also haven't done that), call that 2/5 as well.¶ Building a kit car would be interesting but a big commitment, let's say 1/5 realistically.¶ Frame-up restoration, very little interest, 1/5.¶ I have repainted a vehicle (down to bare metal) and that was interesting/engaging (didn't have the right facilities, but made it work, sort of lol).¶ Taking a vehicle which I like where the ICE has given out and converting it to EV sounds engaging and appealing. Would not do it anytime soon, maybe 3 to 5 years out. Current interest level 4/5.¶ Building my own car (from scratch) would have some significant hurdles. Unless I started my own car company, which might involve other hurdles. 😉
  • Rover Sig "Value" is what people perceive as its worth. What is the worth or value of an EV somebody creates out of a used car? People value different things, but for a vehicle, people generally ascribe worth in terms of reliability, maintainability, safety, appearance and style, utility (payload, range, etc.), convenience, operating cost, projected life, support network, etc. "Value for money" means how much worth would people think it had compared to competing vehicles on the market, in other words, would it be a good deal to buy one, compared to other vehicles one could get? Consider what price you would have to ask for it, including the parts and labor you put into it, because that would affect the “for the money” part of the “value for money” calculation. An indicator of whether people think an EV-built-in-a-used-car would provide "value for money" is the current level of demand for used cars turned into EVs. Are there a lot of people looking for these on the market? Or would building one just be a hobby? Repairing an existing EV, bringing it back into spec, might create better value for the money. Although demand for EVs is reportedly down recently.
  • ToolGuy Those of you who aren't listening to the TTAC Podcast, you really don't know what you are missing.