When your car first rolled off the showroom floor, it had what is colloquially known as that new car smell. This new car smell is caused by volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that seep out of plastics, vinyls, and other materials inside your car. Once these materials have more or less finished off gassing, the new car smell is gone, and you're not going to get it back.
That doesn't mean you have to just sit back and take it when your car starts smelling bad. There are a lot of different reasons a car can smell bad, and some of them are pretty easy to deal with. Others are harder to knock out, but even if you're never going to recapture that new car smell, rest assured that there are ways to deal with every bad car smell out there.
Some causes of bad car smells are mechanical in nature, and having the problem fixed will eventually do away with the smell. Other smells can be dealt with by airing your car out, turning to a low tech solution like baking soda or charcoal, or going high tech with an ionizer or air purifier.
Tracking Down Your Bad Car Smell
While there are countless different reasons a car might smell bad, they fall into two basic categories: smells associated with a mechanical issue and smells with an outside cause.
Unpleasant odors associated with mechanical issues can indicate a failing heater core, malfunctioning catalytic converter, leaking oil, and a host of other issues. Outside sources can include everything from cigarette smoke to an orange that rolled under the seat six months ago.
Car air ionizers work by emitting ions, which purportedly results in the molecules that make up allergens and odors stick to surfaces rather than float around in the air. Purifiers actually take in air from your vehicle’s interior, pass it through a filter, and capture impurities that way.
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