Is that ‘new car smell’ killing you softly?

The dangers of the new car smell

Many of us love the smell of a new car’s interior. But have you ever stopped to consider what that smell actually is?

More importantly, does the ‘new car smell’ pose a risk to your health?

Worryingly, the answer to that question is ‘yes’, according to the emissions and efficiency specialists at Emissions Analytics.

The British firm argues that a car’s interior has the capacity to emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) over the life of the vehicle. The ‘new car smell‘ has ‘typically been ignored, partly because it has been difficulty to measure’, it says.

Until now. Thanks to recent advances in technology, it’s now possible to measure the effects of VOCs in a car’s interior over the lifetime of the vehicle. There are dozens of VOCs to consider, including:

  • Residual compounds from the manufacturing process and material treatment of different interior compounds and textiles
  • Adhesives and carrier solvents that will de-gas – as much as 2kg of adhesives can be found in a modern car
  • Degradation of cabin materials as a result of oxidation, ultraviolet light and heat

Acetaldehyde is a particular problem. Exposure can cause ‘flush reactions’, such as itchiness, blotchiness and a flushed complexion. Asian people possess less functional acetaldehyde dehydrogenase enzyme, which is responsible for breaking it down.

What’s in that ‘new car smell’?

New car smell

This is why cars sold in China, Japan and Korea are the subject of strict VOC regulations. Consider the substances outlined in the following table and you might not look at your car’s interior the same way again. The majority are regulated in Asian countries.

Analyte Symptoms
FormaldehydeRespiratory irritant and a contributory factor in asthma and cancer
AcetaldehydeFlush reaction (as outlined above)
AcroleinHighly toxic and severely irritating to the eyes, mucous membranes, respiratory tract, and skin
BenzeneKnown carcinogen
EthylbenzeneCan cause throat irritation and dizziness
XyleneCauses headaches, dizziness, drowsiness and nausea
StyreneCauses headaches
TolueneCommonly known as nail polish remover – can cause headaches and nausea
TetradecaneIrritating to the eyes, mucous membrane and upper respiratory tract

In partnership with Anatune, Emissions Analytics tested a nearly-new Hyundai i10. The car was tested every 15 minutes for 60 seconds over five hours on an early summer’s day.

There were two principle outcomes: a steady accumulations of ten VOCs as temperatures rose, and the unexpected dynamic of emissions during the final 15 minutes.

In particular, methanol and acetone rose from very low base points to more significant levels. While methanol is a common solvent and not directly regulated, it is toxic and could be an irritant.

Of even greater concern is the concentration of acetaldehyde, which rose to more than 10 TIMES the regulated limit in China and Japan.

‘Market failure’

Testing new car interior

Emissions Analytics is calling for more research: ‘From a vehicle testing perspective, the ability to detect and speciate different analytes in real time opens up the possibility for more extensive research of exposure and the potential for regulation to reduce detrimental health exposures.

‘It could also assist driver education in respect of ‘VOC build-up’ when a vehicle is parked in hot weather.’ 

The company is calling for regulations to reflect where there is ‘market failure’, and for greater consumer awareness. Whether or not you like the ‘new car smell’, it looks like we’re set to learn more about its effects on our health.

California will no longer buy gasoline-only cars

California will no longer buy petrol-only cars

The State of California will no longer buy vehicles solely powered by internal combustion engines, says the California Department of General Services (DGS).

State agencies will also avoid buying vehicles from a company that doesn’t adhere to California’s upcoming strict new rules on fuel economy. 

The specifics don’t mean that California is necessarily going all-electric. Looking in finer detail, ‘solely-powered’ basically means conventional non-hybrid automobiles. So-called ‘electrified’ gasoline cars, such as plug-ins and hybrids, will still be allowed.

Exceptions will also be made for some public safety vehicles – where suitable electrified alternatives aren’t available for the specific use case.

California will no longer buy petrol-only cars

The ‘no non-hybrids’ rule is effective now. As for compliance with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) rules, that will come in on January 1, 2020.

California has its own standards for fuel economy, that are more strict by comparison with the rest of the United States. Only Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW are on board with these fleet-average standards, over and above the more relaxed national rules.

California’s fleet rules: money to gainCalifornia will no longer buy petrol-only cars

It’s estimated that around $74 million was spent on fleet purchases in 2018 by the state of California. Of that, ‘non-compliant’ marques like Chevrolet, Fiat-Chrysler and Toyota made up over $40 million.

Even though all of these marques will have low and zero-emission / fuel consumption vehicles under their umbrellas, they won’t be part of the Californian new car fleet next year. Why? Because they’ve chosen to follow nationwide standards, not California’s – a move for which all have been criticised.

Compliant Ford, meanwhile, made up $18 million of that California state spend. It could stand to win big, as a vacuum of sorts opens for 2020 and beyond.

Indeed, could the state of California be the first big buyer of the new all-electric Ford Mustang Mach-E? It looks possible.

In 2018, the Californian fleet had a six percent figure for fleet BEVs and plug-in hybrids. Big changes are to come, then – and fast… 

Nissan slammed by DVSA for failing to fix Qashqai diesel

Nissan criticised over dirty diesel response

Nissan has come under fire from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) for its reluctance to tackle excessive exhaust emissions from Qashqai dCi diesel models.

Nitrogen oxide (NOX) emissions were found to be well above what prior testing had established in new WLTP tests – and beyond acceptable standards.

The WLTP fuel economy test was introduced last year and includes RDE (Real Driving Emissions) measurements. It replaces the old NEDC test, which was less realistic in ‘real world’ driving.

Nissan criticised over dirty diesel response

The DVSA’s findings have so far failed to prompt any action from Nissan. It says the Qashqai meets all current standards, and that its priority is future product – rather than re-calibration of existing diesel vehicles.

“All Nissan vehicles fully comply with today’s emissions legislation,” the company’s response reads. “We support the new RDE tests that have now been adopted and have introduced a range of drivetrains to meet them.

“We will continue to develop affordable and innovative solutions to reduce our impact on the environment, such as our Nissan Leaf and e-NV200 electric vehicles.”

Nissan criticised over dirty diesel response

Nissan’s sister company, Renault, has taken a more pro-active approach – something the DVSA highlights in its latest Vehicle Market Surveillance Unit report. Renault, which uses the same engine, has ‘issued a voluntary offer to customers visiting a Renault dealer to implement a NOx upgrade’.

The kicker is that if Renault offers it, then a diesel fix exists that could pertain to affected Nissan models.

The Nissan Qashqai is built at the marque’s Sunderland plant in the UK. It has been one of the UK’s best-selling cars for more than a decade.


Idling drivers to face bigger fines under new government crackdown

Idling fines could go up soon

The government wants to come down hard on drivers who leave their cars idling unnecessarily, the Department for Transport has warned. Tougher penalties have been announced under new proposals, with Transport Secretary Chris Grayling preparing to launch a public consultation.

Can I get fined now?

Yes. At present, you can be fined between £20 and £80 for unnecessarily idling. Offenders also have to be warned twice, and get a minute’s grace in between, before a fine can be issued.

Harsher fines are being considered, with especially punitive measures planned for repeat offenders.

Where are idling drivers a problem?

Idling fines could go up soon

It’s in a bid to improve air quality, with specific problem areas being the primary focus. Schools, taxi ranks and bus stations are among them, where high concentrations of cars can often be found running at a standstill and for no reason.

Most worrying of those should be schools. The microscopic pollutants in exhaust gases have been shown to be particularly damaging to children.

How much of an issue is it?

Strict fines on idling engines could seem a little harsh until you consider the numbers. A car idling for a minute produces enough gases to fill 150 balloons with chemicals like NOx and cyanide.

Taking the school example, that’s ten vehicles at any one time, making for 1,500 balloons’ worth of gas. We’d say that level is maintained consistently for between 30 and 45 minutes for your average school pick-up and drop-off spell.

Apply at will to the other scenarios, with more cars and more consistent emissions. It’s no small pickings.

Idling fines could go up soon

“We are determined to crack down on drivers who pollute our communities by leaving their engines running, particularly outside school gates where our children are breathing in this toxic air,” said Chris Grayling.

“Putting a stop to idling is an easy way to drive down dangerously high levels of pollution, reducing its impact on the environment and our health.”

This new calculator reveals your real-world CO2 emissions

 CO2 emissions

Car leasing specialist AMT has created a new calculator that lets motorists work out how much CO2 emissions their cars are pumping out over the course of their usage. 

The calculator uses AMT’s in-house data on 15,000 different cars to provide an estimate on daily driving emissions, as well as for longer periods. Put your miles in, both per day and over the course of its life, and you’ll get daily and lifetime emissions calculations.

A diesel Renault Megane, for example, will emit 3,443,988 grams (yes, that’s over 3.4 million grams) of CO2 over the course of 20,000 miles. Over a day of doing 100 miles, it’ll emit 17,220 grams.

emissions calculator

There’s also a league table of 51 different manufacturers in order of which is most and least polluting based on cumulative emissions from across the range.

Predictably, Tesla tops the table for the least-polluting. You don’t need a calculator to work out an electric car produces no emissions, both on paper and in the real world. City car manufacturer Smart and DS Automobiles follow it.

At the bottom of the table, no surprises here, none other than the Raging Bull Lamborghini, which on average produces 347g/km, followed closely by Bentley and Rolls-Royce. McLaren in 46th and Aston Martin in 47th lead Ferrari, Bentley, Rolls and Lambo, impressively, with 252g/km and 272g/km respectively.

Of the main trio of German executive manufacturers, BMW and Audi jointly lead in 16th and 17th with 133g/km. Mercedes is all the way down in 36th, with 174g/km.

CO2 emissions ‘pooling’ could make Tesla millions

Emissions pooling

Car manufacturers such as Tesla and Fiat are said to be considering ‘pooling’ their fleet emissions, in an effort to meet upcoming stringent European average CO2 targets.

The practice is legal under EU rules, and could help car companies avoid punitive fines from 2021.

What is emissions pooling?

Pooling is when two manufacturers combine their sales fleets in order to dip below the required emissions target. In this case, the target is 95 g/km of CO2 in 2021.

The fine for not doing so is £82 (€95) for every gram per kilometre of CO2 over the target, for every one of those cars sold. The costs to volume manufacturers who do not get their average emissions down to the target figure is therefore potentially enormous.

This is where ‘pooling’ comes in, something that under current EU rules, is perfectly legal. At present, it is understood Tesla will be partnering with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) in order to gain credits.

Obviously, Teslas are all-electric vehicles and, as such, are zero-emissions. Paying Tesla a handsome fee to help out would be expensive, but could cost FCA a great deal less than the fines it may have to pay come 2021.

According to the Financial Times, that fee could be in the “hundreds of millions”. That might just be the easiest chunk of money ever made in the automotive industry.

What exactly are carmakers up against?

diesel filler cap

At present, manufacturers are fighting a losing battle to lower CO2 emissions. Everything was going smoothly before diesel took a dive post-2015. Diesel was the backbone of the CO2-lowering cause for the better part of 15 years before NOx emissions scandals knocked the wind out of sales.

The diesel market share has fallen to just 1 in 4 new car sales, compared to more than 1 in 2 in 2015.

Higher-CO2 petrol sales have filled the gap, despite commendable advances in technology, thus increasing fleet CO2 averages.

What’s more, the unstoppable popularity of heavy, un-aerodynamic and inefficient (by comparison to conventional cars) SUVs is another factor that’s fanned the flames.

The net result is that figures actually increased from 2017’s 118 g/km average, to 120 g/km in 2018. As they are now moving in the wrong direction, cue investigations into alternative plans – such as emissions pooling…

German carmakers may be fined 1bn Euro EACH for emissions collusion

BMW Mercedes Volkswagen

Daimler, BMW and Volkswagen face fines of up to €1 billion EACH for colluding on reducing the effectiveness of exhaust filtering systems. That’s according to German weekly magazine Der Spiegel.

The German carmakers collaborated to reduce the size of AdBlue tanks and agreed not to include filters on petrol engine vehicles to reduce fine particulate matter, the influential German publication said.

European antitrust authorities are planning to impose heavy fines on the carmakers.

AdBlue is a liquid solution of urea and de-ionised water designed to keep harmful nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions in check.  It’s injected into the exhaust system to convert NOx into harmless elements before they’re released into the air.

‘Statement of objections’

Following a four-year investigation, the companies involved will receive a formal ‘statement of objections’, detailing the specific complaints and the alleged breaches of EU competition law. The alleged activities date back more than a decade. 

Reuters said that BMW and the European Commission have declined to comment. Daimler and Volkswagen said they are cooperating with authorities.

As a result of their cooperation, Daimler and Volkswagen are likely to face smaller fines. The EU’s ‘leniency policy’ encourages companies to hand over inside evidence, and the first company to do so will not have to pay a fine.

Companies found guilty of breaching EU cartel rules face fines of up 10 percent of their global revenues. Cartels are illegal under EU competition law and the European Commission takes a strong stance against companies found guilty of collusion.


Car CO2 emissions at new five-year high

JATO CO2 emissions

CO2 emissions are at a new five-year high as the popularity of carbon-heavy petrols over diesels increased in the wake of NOx emissions scandals, according to JATO Dynamics.

JATO recorded a rise in 20 of the 23 markets analysed across Europe, observing an average of 120g/km of CO2. For reference, 2015 and 2016 saw drops down from 2014’s 123g/km figure to 119g/km and 117g/km respectively. Once the market shift away from diesel took effect, the change is obvious. A rise to 118g/km in 2017 was followed by a jump to 120.5g/km last year.

Of the 23 markets analysed, only three show an improvement in their CO2 figures in 2018 compared with 2017. Congratulations Norway, the Netherlands and Finland… Norway’s dropped an incredible 11.4g/km, from an already low 83.7g/km to 72.4g/km. The large-scale adoption of electric and other alternative fuel vehicles has had a considerable effect in these regions.

“The introduction of WLTP in September 2018 has been a challenge for the market, as a large number of available vehicles had not been homologated yet,” said Felipe Munoz, JATO’s global analyst.

“The increase in CO2 is certainly worrying and bad news for governments and most carmakers. Instead of moving forwards, the industry is regressing at a time when emissions targets are getting tougher”.

The demonisation of diesel to blame

JATO CO2 emissions

Demand for diesel is recorded as being down by 18 percent in 2018, following the scrutiny of the fuel after scandals such as dieselgate and a focus on nitrogen oxide emissions.

“The positive effect of diesel cars on emissions has faded away as their demand has dropped dramatically during the last year,” follows Munoz.

“If this trend continues and the adoption of alternative fuelled vehicles doesn’t accelerate, the industry will need to take more drastic measures in order to meet the short-term targets.”

SUV popularity not helping

It’s not all to do with the drop in diesel sales, though. JATO is suggesting that the rise in popularity of SUVs has contributed to the jump in CO2 figures. As many as 16 new models debuted in the SUV segment, while SUV CO2 numbers worsened by 1.4g/km on average.

Remember that when you consider that the SUV segment was the only to register an overall positive change last year. SUVs accounted for 35 percent of passenger car sales, as city cars and subcompacts reduced in sales by 1.5 percent.

New diesel cars that emit almost ZERO NOx

ADAC emissions testing

It’s a breath of fresh air, if you will, to report some positive news about diesel. ADAC, the German equivalent of the RAC, has uncovered just how clean new clean diesels can be.

The answer? They’re all but NOx-free, with results indicating new Euro 6d diesels are, on average, over eight-times cleaner than the on-road standard, as recorded over a variety of tests.

ADAC has been stringently testing some modern diesels for emissions, using new test conditions and methodology, as well as real-world testing, to yield results that better represent what these cars are actually emitting. They’re promising, with NOx and CO2 readings coming back well within mandated limits.

Putting diesel to the test

On top of the new testing procedures, ADAC added an extra level of difficulty. The cars tested, which included a BMW X2, Peugeot 308, Volvo XC60 and more, were loaded up with 200kg of weight, had the air-con put on full blast and were subjected to a highway cycle. Included in testing was a measurement of exhaust gases during average on-road driving. No cheating the system here…

Not that it would be necessary. As above, the new clean diesels flew through without a hitch. For reference, the regulatory high standard (on a test bench) we’re looking for is below an average of 80mg/km. For road testing, it’s 168 mg/km.

The latest cleaning technology, including selective catalytic reduction and on-demand urea injection, kept the cars comfortably within nitrogen oxide standards. The BMW and Peugeot, running the 20d diesel engine and 2.0 BlueHDi engine respectively, both Euro 6d standard, were particular star performers.

The Peugeot in the WLTC test, Real Drive Emission (RDE), ADAC Ecotest and Autobahn test, got a high recording of 45 mg/km. The BMW got a high of 84 mg/km during the Autobahn testing but massively excelled in the other tests, with a low of just 13 mg/km in the WLTC test.

Both the Peugeot and the BMW produce averages well under 80 over the course of a strong variety of tests, including on-road testing. The Volvo didn’t have it quite so easily. The first three tests saw it perform adequately, but the Autobahn test saw a spike, at 239mg/km. The cause? Good old consumption of fuel – the Volvo used over a litre/100km more than the Peugeot and the X2 during the ADAC Ecotest.

Cold weather NOx testing – almost ZERO?

ADAC diesel emissions testing

Cold weather is generally considered to worsen NOx emissions. Tests that included a BMW 520d touring, Citroen Berlingo BlueHDi and an Opel Astra 1.6 D yielded some incredible results.

All three scored under 10mg/km of NOx. The BMW and the Astra registered just one mg/km. The Citroen scored seven mg/km. The highest score out of seven cars tested, by 16mg/km, was the Volvo, with 56 mg/km.

So what’s the overall result?

Overall, the average NOx recording for Euro 6d TEMP-standard diesel cars, over the course of a variety of tests including lab conditions, the real world and cold-weather, was 20mg/km. The real world standard is 168 mg/km. There you have it. An on-average standard that’s 8.4-times lower than the real world standard.

Europe warns reducing car emissions won’t be easy

EU Auditors emissions

In the four years since the Volkswagen ‘Dieselgate’ scandal, legislation has tightened around car exhaust emissions.

The changes are positive, so says the European Court of Auditors, but challenges remain in the implementation and enforcement of these rules.

Dieselgate response

After Dieselgate, the European Parliament set up an inquiry into emissions data acquisition, while the European Commission said it was going to shore up emissions data banks and resources

Emissions checks were changed, too, with reviews now possible into type-approval authorities as well as test vehicles. There are also now powers to withdraw or suspend type-approvals and impose penalties.

Testing is mandatory for all cars sold in EU counties and they must be available for third-party testing at any time. CO2 and NOx-focused emissions tests have also been introduced.

New rules, new challenges

EU Auditors emissions

The European Court of Auditors admits these changes are still fresh and says trying to measure their efficacy so soon would be unfair. 

Nevertheless, its urges vigilance to avoid a repeat of the same mistakes and/or deception, saying all countries in the EU must be united in their approach.

It adds that while third-party testing should be another level of scrutiny for the car industry, we won’t know its efficacy until such tests are realised. 

EU Auditors emissions

“We welcome the fact that the actions have been taken, but it may take many years to improve inner-city air quality, given the large number of highly-polluting cars already on the roads,” said Samo Jereb of the European Court of Auditors.

“Even though more than 10 million vehicles have been recalled so far, the limited data available indicates that the impact on NOx emissions has been small.”

The Motoring Research view

The spotlight the Volkswagen Group’s transgressions brought on the motor industry isn’t going away. Dieselgate was a scandal and it may not be the last. The ECA is right to highlight that regulatory bodies should remain vigilant.

We suspect that in 15 years, when the car market is dominated by EVs, this will seem like the distant past. For now, though, legislators and manufacturers can’t be too careful.