The organic compounds that give new cars their distinctive smell, and older cars theirs, are at levels too low to pose any health threat--although some individuals could have a slight allergic reaction to the stuff in new cars.
Ahhh, that new car smell. Or, eww, that old car smell. Either way, ever wonder if the stuff you inhale while sitting in a closed car might be bad for you? Researchers in Germany did. They sampled the air from new cars and three year old cars, and tested for many of the volatile organic compounds that get emitted from the various synthetic materials in the interior. The types of organic compounds changed somewhat between the new cars and the older models. For example, only new cars had appreciable amounts of certain species of benzenes, while only older cars had toluene and acetone—ya know, nail polish remover. More important, the researchers tested the toxicity of the compounds at the low levels found on various human and animal cell lines, results that appear in the current issue of the journal Environmental Science and Technology. The good news: they found no apparent health hazard from car indoor air. However, they did note a slight immune response to new vehicle air that could affect some individuals. Of course, the bigger new car health threat remains sticker shock.