Many people are familiar with the aroma that only a new car possesses. While some find that it adds to the allure of the new car, others find it offensive or believe the smell is potentially harmful to their health. Some studies have tried to link phthalates in flexible vinyl to this “new car smell.” But phthalates do not likely contribute to this aroma. Phthalates are tightly bound in the structure of the vinyl that is found in automobiles. Also, phthalates have very low volatility, which means they do not tend to evaporate, and have little to no odor.
A report published in 2001 by Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) discussed the “new car smell” and suggested that the sources might present some risks to health. The CSIRO report listed nine substances found in new-car interior air that could be problematic in high concentrations. Neither vinyl nor phthalates are on the CSIRO list.
A German toxicologist, Jeroen Buters, at the Technical University of Munich, also investigated the potential health effects from the smell new cars emit. In the study published in the April 2007 issue of Environmental Science & Technology, Dr. Buters examined the health effects of indoor emissions of new cars in conditions mimicking those parked in sunshine for hours. They found “no apparent health hazard” of indoor air of new vehicles in those conditions.