Love That New-Car Smell? Your Body Doesn't

By Jennifer Geiger  on February 16, 2012
An environmental group has released the findings of its annual study on automotive toxic materials, and the news isn't good for 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport owners.

Mitsubishi's compact SUV was rated the worst for toxic materials in the cabin, according to tests by the Ecology Center, a non-profit group based in Ann Arbor, Mich. The center found higher levels of contaminants such as bromine, chromium and lead in the Outlander Sport's seats, plastic parts and center console. Other offenders on the list include the 2011 Chrysler 200 and the 2011 Kia Soul.

The Ecology Center tested more than 200 model-year 2011 and 2012 vehicles and found that chemicals emitted from things like the steering wheel, dashboard and seats contribute to the "new-car smell," but long-term exposure to these chemicals has been linked to major health problems such as allergies, birth defects and cancer. The average American spends more than one-and-a-half hours in a car every day, the group says. 

The Outlander Sport isn't alone. Most automakers use toxins like these because of their flame-retardant qualities, and the goal of the Ecology Center's research is to persuade automakers to explore safer materials.

"Since these chemicals are not regulated, consumers have no way of knowing the dangers they face. Our testing is intended to expose those dangers and encourage manufacturers to use safer alternatives," Jeff Gearhart, the group's research director, said in a statement.

Several automakers have already switched to safer materials, including Honda. The 2012 Honda Civic was rated the least toxic in the study. Overall in the industry, the center found that 17% of the interiors of new vehicles do not contain polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, and 60% are produced without brominated flame retardants, or BFRs.

Affiliate site breaks down the report's findings here.

Honda Rated as Top Manufacturer, Thanks to PVC Reduction Efforts (Ecology Center)

Mitsubishi Outlander Sport Honda Honda Civic Mitsubishi In The News Safety

Assistant Managing Editor Jennifer Geiger is a reviewer, car-seat technician and mom of three. She wears a lot of hats, many of them while driving a minivan.  Email Jennifer