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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2 of 27 comments
  • 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.

  • Ajla It's weird how surveys comes to conclusions like this when about 100% of the responses then mock the results.
  • Jkross22 It very much depends on the dealer. Just bought a replacement for the CX9. A local dealer gave a $500 discount on a CPO car while another one gave a few thousand dollar discount but was out of the area and we had to drive 5 hours to get. The local dealer still seems to think it's 2022 and cars appreciate when sitting on the lot. I wish them luck.
  • Ajla "and the $34K price doesn't seem too steep." Respectfully disagree. This would be okay at $29K. $34k clangs into way too much.
  • FreedMike i puUut pUniZhR sTikKr oNn mY KoMMpAs aNd nOW i hEeR Eegle SkReem. (And no one knows it's made in Mexico.)
  • SCE to AUX What a farce.Besides, "patriotism" has been redefined a hundred different ways in the last 20+ years. Disagree with one of them, and you're a traitor.And for starters, Jeep is a Stellantis brand with its HQ in the Netherlands. If this persistent myth about patriotism is ever cracked, the brand is doomed.