The New-Car Smell: Happy or Hazardous?

Ah. Eau de new car. For some, it’s a smell that’s as delicious and indefinable as the feeling of driving off in a brand new automobile. For others, the overpowering scent raises some health and safety concerns.

But what causes that new-car smell exactly? Is it a cologne manufactured by automakers to entice would-be car buyers? How long does it last? Can you get rid of it?

The intoxicating facts about the new-car smell

Well, it turns out that the enticing new-car smell actually comes from the materials used in the car’s interior — paint, upholstery, plastic, adhesives, sealers, etc. These new materials, while pleasing to the eyes, release (or off-gas, if you want the technical term) a cocktail of chemicals such as bromine, chlorine, formaldehyde, and phthalates (we can’t say that last one either).

These carbon-based chemicals, known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), can be toxic to human health. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) exposure to VOCs can aggravate allergy and asthma symptoms; cause eye, nose, and throat irritation; and induce headaches. It’s uncertain, however, whether or not the chemicals off-gassed in new cars’ interiors can cause long-term health-effects (or what these health-effects may be) as no published research exists on the subject.

Detox your car

The new-car smell will fade over time and with it the level of potentially harmful chemicals. But if you’d prefer to take matters into your own hands, here are a few tips to detox your car:

  • Air it out. During the first 6 months of ownership, when the new-car smell is strongest, ventilate your car whenever possible. When you drive with your windows open, you allow the accumulated contaminants to circulate (and leave your vehicle), leading to a drop in VOC levels.
  • Seek out shade. Since heat and ultraviolet light can cause VOCs to break down and become airborne, keep your car cool by parking it in the shade, using reflective sun shades, or tinting your windows.
  • Keep your car clean. When researchers tested the level of VOCs in autos (PDF), they collected dust and residue from windshields for their sample — which means that the dust in your car contains many chemicals. Weekly vacuuming and dusting will go a long way toward keeping you and your car healthy.
  • Invest in a good air filter. HEPA air filters with activated charcoal membranes can help reduce your exposure and keep your cabin air fresh and clean.

Then again, if you love that scintillating new-car smell, no need to do anything at all. Keep your windows rolled tight and your heater on for maximized new-car smell enjoyment.

Weigh in. Do you love or loath the new-car smell?



How to Avoid a Hurricane

If you’re on the Eastern Seaboard, there’s a good chance you’re tracking Hurricane Irene right now. And if you’re one of the thousands of people evacuating the area, keep these tips from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in mind:

Don’t wait.

If you know the storm’s heading your way, don’t wait for an official evacuation order. Leave as soon as possible to get a jumpstart on both traffic and worsening weather.

Stay close.

To minimize the amount of time you spend traveling, select the evacuation destination that’s nearest to your home.

Be patient.

You’re probably not the only one trying to get out of Dodge, so plan for traffic and congestion on your exit route. Be patient and remember that everyone has the same goal you do: safety.

Make reservations.

If you’re headed to a hotel, be aware that inland hotels could book up fast. Make a reservation before you hit the road.

Use a shelter as a last resort.

Because shelters are uncomfortable and usually don’t take pets, check in only as a last resort. If at all possible, stay with family, friends, or at a hotel.

And if you’re driving when the storm hits, read our insight on how to keep yourself and your car safe.

More hurricane preparedness tips

NHC’s guide for building a disaster supply kit
NHC’s guide for securing your home
FEMA’s hurricane tips

The History of the Car Radio: From Morse Code to Mixtapes

Compared to iPods, satellite radio, and Pandora mobile, AM/FM radio may seem as technologically hip as a Victrola. But when the car radio made its debut in the 1920s, it was the hottest thing to hit the streets, blending 2 of the nation’s great loves: music and cars.

To honor our beloved car radio, the invention that made road trips more fun, and long, straight stretches of blacktop more bearable, we unearthed a bit of car radio history.

1906: Music is heard on air

In the early days of radio, only Morse code could be transmitted through the airwaves. But that changed on Christmas Eve 1906, when Reginald Aubrey Fessenden spoke into a microphone from Brant Rock, Massachusetts, to ships at sea. Shocked shipboard operators on the Atlantic heard Fessenden read a passage from the Bible, play a recording of Handel’s “Largo,” and fiddle “O Holy Night” (which, incidentally, makes these the first songs to be broadcast on the radio.)

1920: The first U.S. radio broadcast license granted

Though Fessenden’s broadcast caused a wave of excitement, it took 14 more years for the first commercial radio station to be born. On October 27, 1920, KDKA in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, obtained the first broadcast license. About a week later, on November 2, they aired the results of the Harding-Cox presidential election.

The nation was enchanted, radio stations proliferated, and radio became America’s new favorite form of entertainment.

1922(ish): The first car radio debuts

Naturally, entranced listeners wanted to take this new form of entertainment with them on the road. So not long after commercial radio broadcasting was born, the first car radios began to appear.

The early history of the car radio, however, is a little unclear. Legend has it that George Frost, an 18-year-old radio enthusiast from Chicago, was the first person to attach a portable radio to the passenger door of his Ford Model T. No one knows if it’s actually true, but it makes for a good story anyway.

1930: Car radios go commercial

Although commercial car radios hit the market in the late 1920s, it wasn’t until Galvin Manufacturing Company (now known as Motorola) introduced the Motorola 5T71 radio that commercial car radios really became popular. (In fact, the name “Motorola” is a combination of the words “motor” and “Victrola.”)

The first Motorola radios were expensive (estimated by some to cost around $130) and wildly popular. Sales of the Motorola 5T71 reached all the way across the border into Mexico.

1952: FM car radio

Edwin Howard Armstrong invented FM radio in 1933, but in the early days, people preferred AM radio for its top 40 hits. It wasn’t until 1979 that FM audience levels finally surpassed AM.

1953: The search function

Widely considered by many to be the first luxury car radio, the Mexico by German manufacturer Becker featured both AM/FM and the first fully automated “seek” feature!

Radio and beyond

Though the radio is still alive and well today, new technologies introduced over the years gave drivers more options to rock out while on the road. Here are some notables:

1965: The 8-track

8-tracks may seem like a throwback, but in 1965 they represented the culmination of hard work and ingenuity. Developed by Learjet Corporation, the 8-track tape housed in its plastic cartridge a continuous loop of magnetic tape that held a total of — you guessed it — 8 tracks.

1970s: Cassette players, mixtapes, and cars

Though Phillips introduced the cassette in 1964, it was in the 1970s that car cassette players became a standard feature, putting Americans and mixtapes on the open road.

1980 to 2011: The death of the cassette and the birth of rocking technology

The cassette player, now defunct in all new cars, revolutionized the way drivers listened to music, enabling them to rock out to their favorite songs at the push of the button. But, alas, revolutions come and go. In 1982, Sony released the CD…and the rest, you know, is history.

Related resources

MTV’s history of mixtapes

Young Drivers and Car Insurance

Nothing’s quite as exciting as getting the keys to the car and heading out on your own for the very first time. But if you’re a parent with young drivers in the house, you probably know how nerve-wracking this can be as well. Amidst the driver tests and practice runs, it can be easy to forget about car insurance. That’s to be expected — the thought of coverages, limits, and deductibles is likely the last thing on your mind as you watch your child get behind the wheel and drive off to … wherever it is teens drive to these days.

But before you hand over the keys to the station wagon, you need to talk car insurance. And car insurance for teens is not exactly the same as car insurance for grown ups. You might think you know everything you need to know, but do you really? Take our short quiz to find out.

1. A 17-year-old pizza delivery driver comes to a stop … halfway through his customer’s garage door. Will his personal car insurance policy cover the damages?

a) Yes.
b) No, he needs a commercial policy to cover incidents that happen while delivering.
c) No, the employer’s insurance will cover the damages.

Find out.

2. How much more likely are 16-year-old drivers to be involved in a fatal accident than 20- to 24-year-olds?

a) 2.5 times more likely.
b) 50 times more likely.
c) No more likely.

Find out.

3. You live in Nevada, and your scholarly daughter is off to the Ivy League. She’s taking her car to college and is currently covered on your car insurance policy. Will she:

a) Still be covered by your policy?
b) Need to get a new policy all her own?
c) Stop driving altogether after joining a radical movement?

Find out.

If you answered these correctly, then bravo. You’re probably in good shape to make sure your young driver has the coverage he or she needs. If not, then you may want to check out our Young driver FAQs.

In addition to the above, you’ll also find info on:

  • Why young drivers pay more on average
  • How to save on young driver car insurance
  • Graduated licensing laws, parent-driver contracts, and cutting-edge technology to keep young drivers safer on the road

Check out our Young driver FAQs for everything you need to know about car insurance for your teen. And good luck!

Did the AMC Gremlin Kill the Drive-In Movie Theater?

With so much technology available nowadays and instant access to just about everything (movies included), it’s hard to imagine a time when going to a “show” was an event. When seeing a movie meant getting dolled up and washing the T-bird. When the local drive-in movie theater was the most popular destination on a Saturday night. But there was a time…

A guy in Jersey has a screen

It all started at 212 Thomas Avenue in Camden, New Jersey. That’s right, Jersey. Long before our foray into American living rooms through the phenomenon of reality TV, Richard M. Hollingshead Jr. was experimenting with backyard TV.

In 1932, the industrious Hollingshead nailed a screen to a few trees in his yard. He then propped a 1928 Kodak projector on the hood of his car, placed a radio behind his makeshift screen, cranked up the volume (one assumes), and voilà : the world’s first outdoor movie theater!

After fiddling with his creation a while longer, the movie- and car-loving Hollingshead applied for a patent, which he received on May 16, 1933. He wasted no time sharing his invention with the world, and less than a month later, the first drive-in movie theater opened on Admiral Wilson Boulevard in Pennsauken, New Jersey. (Where?)

A car-crazed nation falls in love

Sadly, Hollingshead’s 400-slot drive-in theater operated for just 3 years, but during that time the fire had been lit and drive-in movies were hot! Over the next few years, drive-ins opened in Pennsylvania, Texas, California, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New York, and Virginia — and the nation was bewitched.

As drive-ins became more and more popular, drive-in technology also improved. The speakers, which started out in the screen tower itself (causing a sound delay for cars in the back), were eventually placed in rows in front of the cars (with one for each car). Then finally in 1941, RCA introduced in-car speakers…and things really got good.

Beware the passion pit

During the 1950s and ’60s — around the time of Packards, Fairlanes, and Studebakers — drive-in movie theaters really took off. Coincidence? Doubtful.

With the ’50s and ’60s came great big cars with great big front windshields and great big back seats…perfect for the drive-in experience. And with an estimated 4,000 drive-ins from coast to coast, an exuberant generation made the most of both the theaters and the cars.

Due to increased privacy and their reputation for being make-out havens, drive-in movie theaters were dubbed “passion pits” in the 1950s and considered (by some) to be immoral. Nonetheless, for nearly 2 decades Americans flocked to drive-ins for fun, romance, socializing — and even occasionally to watch a movie.

The last outdoor picture show

Like poodle skirts and greasers, however, even the drive-in had its time. By the ’70s, as real-estate values continued to rise and the coolness of cars debatably began to decline (AMC Gremlin, anyone?), drive-in theaters were on their way out. And over the next 40 years, color TVs, VCRs, DVD players, and streaming technology through companies like Netflix and Vudu made drive-ins essentially a thing of the past.

But take heart, romantics, movie-buffs, and purists. While it’s estimated that there are only about 371 drive-in theaters left in the U.S., there are still 371 drive-ins left in the US! Meaning that, unless you live in Louisiana, Alaska, or Hawaii, there’s likely still a drive-in somewhere in your neck of the woods.

So next time you’re feeling a little nostalgic, grab your steady, load your friends in the trunk, and head to your nearest drive-in for a malt and a trip down memory lane. (Of course, we don’t actually recommend putting your friends in the trunk.)

Related links

Find drive-ins in your state
Wish there were still more drive-ins?