My inbox resounded this week with another of those pathetic PR 'surveys' announcing how important smell is to potential car buyers. This important piece of 'science' was from, funnily-enough, a scent marketing company. They ended up suggesting that car showrooms should start installing scent delivery systems to seduce their customers into a buying mood.
The accompanying photo of a pretty blonde sniffing a white dahlia was so little to do with the stench of my own cars that I felt incensed (hahaha) enough to write about it.
Car smells? In my experience new ones smell of plastic and aerosols, old ones smell of oil and mud. Nice ones have a whiff of leather; horrible ones, like my mate's transit, smell of horse manure. If you smell rubber or something burning you've got problems. Up till now, that was about the total of my interest in car smells.
It's not the same for everyone. There are those who worry about every aspect of their car; the sort who dress their pride and joy with new seat covers, replacement carpets and spangly wheel trims. I found an online forum full of daft Americans stressing about the aroma of their Oldsmobiles and Buiks. They were advising each other to sew up little bags of spices to hang in their cars, leave roast coffee beans in the cup holders or even, in one incredible message from Illinois, leave a whole branch of an evergreen pine tree on the parcel shelf.
Of course we've all had to suffer a ride in a stench-wagon at least once. You know the bloke who smokes, never washes his socks and has ankle-deep take-away wrappers in the footwell. I wasn't surprised when the BBC Top Gear trio all bought old BMW 325s and got a forensic expert to check the interiors. Clarkson's car was the cleanest, but had traces of crisps, leaves and his own dried skin on the seats. May's car yielded evidence of picked scabs, balls of mucus in the footwell and a steering wheel covered in saliva. And after they found traces of blood, faeces and even pubic hair in the upholstery of Hammond's car, he switched to driving it in a full-body chemical protection suit. You can see the video here.
Then there's all this palava about 'new car smells'. That mix of drying glues, new exhausts and cleaning fluids characterise a brand-spanking-new vehicle. Some scientists say these toxic smells are very short lived, others say it's quite nice and does you no harm.
Or does it? American campaigning website HealthyStuff.org published its fourth annual test of car smells this year. It's the first time I've seen it and it's a uniquely rigorous scientific survey. Hondas were the least smelly, with the Civic and CR-Z taking first and third spot. The most smelly and downright toxic car interiors were found in the Kia Sportage, VW Eos and, pongiest of all, Mini Cooper Clubman. Find the full very detailed report here.
It opened my eyes, or should I say nostrils, to the seriousness of car smells. There's some serious work to be done by car companies in this area. As they say in the report: "There's more to green vehicles than just fuel economy."
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