analysis of vocs in carWhen I am fortunate enough to buy a new car, one of my pleasures in the new car is the pure joy of sitting inside it and smelling that lovely mix of luxury and brand-new materials. Have you ever wondered what that new car smell is actually? Well, you’re in luck, as in this post, I will present a recently released thermal desorption GC-MS method for the analysis of air in new cars but also talk a little about legislation around the globe to monitor and control the air quality inside a new car plus if these emissions are safe.

When I say global legislation, one would expect that there is one single set of rules that all manufacturers and material suppliers follow but this is not the case at all at the moment. There are car interior air quality guidelines from China, legislation for organic emissions of non-metallic materials in automobiles from Germany, and the company General Motors in the U.S. has its own standards for vehicle interior materials emissions. Oh, and I am forgetting Japanese manufacturers who have their own set of rules as well as South Korea. (All links to news stories or standards pages.)

Besides all the above regulations, there are also seven different ISO standards, the ISO 12219 series, which range from putting a complete car in a chamber and measuring the emitted volatiles, to sampling the air inside a vehicle to taking some parts, for example, the leather or carpets and measuring the emissions from those materials. It appears to me that the rules and regulations are more complex than the actual analysis itself; typically, all those measurements are performed with thermal desorption GC-MS consisting of the following steps:

  1. The volatile compounds are absorbed in a tube which is packed with material such as tenax to contain the compounds.
  2. The tubes are then desorbed using heat and a carrier gas transports the volatile compounds towards a trapping device where they are focused, the trap is again heated and the compounds travel towards the GC-MS system.
  3. The GC-MS system separates and identifies the compounds and then all the compounds are quantified using a toluene equivalent.

For details on the method, check out Application Note 10363, Determination of Volatile Compounds in Automotive Interior Materials by Thermal Desorption GC-MS, (downloadable PDF), developed by our application chemists and scientists in our Singapore and Beijing Application Labs. The method follows the international recognized method VDA 278 for the analysis of volatiles for the automotive industry.

So your next question probably is: Is it safe? Can we inhale that great smell of newness without worrying? Or, should we all start buying second-hand cars only?

Like what you are learning?

Sign up to stay connected with all Thermo Scientific resources, applications, blog posts and promotions.
Keep Me Informed!

It is relatively safe to enjoy your new car: All cars are tested according to the regulations of the region and, typically, the emissions should be lower as stated in the rules and regulations. The overall trend is decreasing the emissions from all products and improving the indoor air quality of vehicles. It is possible that, in the future, the new car smell might be so faint that only our dogs can detect it and thermal desorption GC-MS of course.

Additional Resources

Check out these articles on the screening of VOCs in new automobiles:

And, you might also be interested in this previous blog post, titled, HPLC Analysis of Carbonyl Compounds in Vehicle Passenger Cabins (3) (link to post).

Are you interested in analysis of VOC, fragrances or material emissions? If so, please use the Comments box below to let me know your questions.