happy young woman holding car keys For many drivers, the “new car smell” is pure perfection, before the interior gets stained or absorbs any outside odors. Unfortunately, reports in recent years indicate it’s a blend of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that could negatively affect your health through long-term exposure. Before you buy a new vehicle and inhale that new car smell, here’s what you should know.

Impact of VOCs

VOCs are present in plenty of products, from household cleaners to vehicle paint. In all formulations, VOCs are released into the air through a process called off-gassing. Ozone-damaging reactions occur when VOCs come in contact with nitrogen oxide and sunlight. As such, they are particularly toxic for the environment.

For people, long-term VOC exposure has been associated with brain damage, as well as kidney, liver and nervous system issues, cancer, potential birth defects and blindness. As a result, multiple industries – including automotive – have enacted various measures in recent years to reduce VOC content.

Where VOCs Are Present

When it comes to your car, VOCs are often used to make or treat fabrics, plastics and adhesives. Your car’s interior may be home to as many as 200 chemicals! Unfortunately, exposure is not once or twice and done. Studies have found a car’s interior parts still release VOCs about six months after purchase.

Aside from the car itself, the products you use to take care of it may contain high percentages of VOCs. You may encounter them in waxes, polishes, cleaners, paint strippers, paint, adhesives and air fresheners. As such, be mindful of how you clean spills and what you spray inside your car.

Identifying VOCs

The dashboard, carpeting and foam molding inside the door are often your car’s biggest sources of VOCs. These materials include:

  • Ethylbenzene
  • Formaldehyde
  • Toluene
  • Benzene
  • Phthalates
  • Trichlorophenyl phosphate (TCPP)

These chemicals are frequently part of your car’s various safety measures. For instance, TCPP acts as a flame retardant in polyurethane foam. Without it, your car’s body would ignite in the event of an accident. As such, it offers a necessary element of safety.

VOCs Can Accumulate In Your Car

Past the six-month period, several factors may cause VOCs to build up in your car’s interior. The small, minimally vented space often keeps the chemicals confined. During the summer months, parking your car in the sun results in a reaction that releases several chemicals, which you then breathe in. Until recently, researchers examined this phenomenon more extensively in buildings, but have found cars may equally be susceptible. Individuals spend an average of 90 minutes per day in their cars, increasing their chances of VOC exposure.

VOCs may accumulate in the car’s dust, gathering in the air filters until cleaned. Particularly, a 2012 study conducted by the Ecology Center found noticeable levels of phthalates and PBDEs in the air filter. For cars manufactured after 2008, deca-bromodiphenyl ethers – a common flame retardant – had a greater presence. The study also found that some models have more VOCs than others by default.

On the other hand, not everyone is convinced. A 2007 study conducted by the Technical University of Munich attempted to simulate a chemical reaction by leaving new and three-year-old cars out in the sun and exposed the samples to various human, hamster and mouse cells. While toxicity tests did not produce clear results, researchers found that the concentration could aggravate allergies.

How the Auto Industry is Responding

Before long-term health effects surface, concentrations of VOCs have been known to cause headaches, dizziness and nausea. To reduce exposure, the auto industry has taken multiple measures in recent years:

  • Fewer vehicles use polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a common sourse of VOCs. Certain manufacturers, including Honda, avoid it entirely.
  • More manufacturers have started using soy-based materials for coatings, cushioning and adhesives and improving both ventilation and filtration systems. Filters may use natural fibers to catch and remove VOC-containing particles.
  • Using low-VOC or VOC-free paint for the interior. DaSilva’s has implemented this in our shop over the past few years.

Car owners also need to be mindful of this hazard and react accordingly:

  • During the first few months of ownership, make sure you keep the interior ventilated.
  • Clean up any dust with a microfiber rag, so it doesn’t accumulate.
  • Avoid parking your car in the sun. If you need to, keep the windows cracked.
  • Use a windshield solar shade to reduce heat buildup.
  • Always use non-toxic, low-solvent cleaners on the interior.

From low-VOC paints to solar energy, DaSilva’s Auto Body strives to incorporate green and eco-friendly initiatives throughout our shop. Contact us to learn more about our services or to make an appointment.