“New Car Smell” Could Be Bad For You: Study

Ecology Center surveyed 200 car brands

"New car smell," a grand perk for first-time car owners, might be harmful, according to a new study

The smell, often thought to be a combination of new leather and "fresh from the showroom" fabric from seats, is in some cases toxic fumes, The Ecology Center's report found. 

The Ann Arbor, Mich.-based group surveyed 200 of the most popular car brands in 2011 and 2012 and tested parts of the car -- the steering wheel, seats, dashboard and arm rest -- that are often the source of "new car smell."

“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. Our testing is intended to expose those dangers and encourage manufacturers to use safer alternatives.”

The group's results also showed that these chemicals can be a major source of indoor air pollution and could pose long-term health concerns, depending on how long you spend in your car.

HealthyStuff.org, the website that initially published the findings, says the average American spends 1.5 hours a day inside their car. One expert says the report isn't reason enough to ditch your new car.

“All they said is that there are these 200-some compounds in the new car – be aware,” Dr. Raed Dweik told Fox News. “Some of them, in other studies, have been linked to thyroid disease, infertility, or others, but these are all hypothetical scenarios because one, we don’t know if that’s true. Two, we don't know what level you need to be exposed to.”

The safest cars on the Ecology Center's list were the 2012 Honda Civic, the 2011 Toyota Prius and the 2011 Honda CR-Z. According to the study, the Civic was free of bromine-based flame retardants in all interior components and used PVC-free (polyvinyl chloride) interior fabrics and interior trim. It also had low levels of heavy metals and other metal allergens. The least safe car on the list was the 2011 Mitisubishi Outlander SP.

Industry group The Vinyl Institute disputed that PVCs were toxic.

"The Ecology Center likes to issue scary reports about materials in cars and homes, but in fact they have no data showing actual injuries, and, in fact, no data showing exposures that would suggest harm," Vinyl Institute head Allen Blakey told USA Today in a statement. "It is not even certain that their analyses are correct, since X-ray fluorescence devices are sensitive tools that must be carefully calibrated."

Contact Us