Auto Service World
Feature   September 1, 2007   by Nestor Gula

The smell of a car might be a problem

There are now efficient ways of tackling potential problem smells in a vehicle


Smells are a powerful phenomenon. Smells can trigger memories of long forgotten events or signal danger.

The problem is many smells are quite benign and we get used to them. It is only when an outsider enters the space that they will be able to sense the presence of a smell.

We all know the sweet smell of a new car. For most this is a pleasant smell, signifying the purchase of a brand new automobile. Several companies even market an aerosol product that is purported to replicate this smell.

In a 1995 study conducted by Santford V. Overton & John J. Manura and published by Scientific Instruments Services, Inc. about 100 volatile organic compounds were detected in a brand new (1995) Lincoln Continental with over 50 being specifically identified. The smell was found to be a toxic soup of lubricants, solvents, adhesives, gasoline, and other chemicals. An Australian study, new car drivers exposed to toxic emissions, published in 2001 by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization found carcinogen benzene and cyclohexanone and styrene, possible carcinogens, in cars. The two-year long study found anecdotal evidence that some new car drivers experienced disorientation, headaches, and irritation. Sort of takes the shine off the “new car smell.”

Although the researchers have found that these noxious odours do dissipate over time, new odours and toxic elements, like mould, mildew and smoke are introduced by the drivers and passengers. Decaying bits of food under the seats, spilled coffee congealing in the cup holders, pet odours, residue of smoke (if you do so in your car), dust, fumes from the exhaust and other flotsam of the daily activity provides a new level of odour in your vehicle.

For sure, your vehicle might not be as foul smelling as Jerry Seinfeld’s car in the episode “The Smelly Car” which led him to exclaim, “You don’t understand what I’m up against. This is a force more powerful than anything you can imagine! Even Superman would be helpless against this kind of stench!” (Incidentally, this is from episode 21 in season four for those who care.) Given the fact that the average driver spends about one-and-a-half hours a day in his vehicle this leads to a great exposure level for the drivers and passengers. This is doubly true for babies, toddlers and young children who are often shuttled to-and-fro in vehicles.

If you think a simple air freshener will eliminate the pollutants you are mistaken. These, like aerosol disinfectants only mask these odours and do not deal with the root cause — mould and mildew in the car’s HVAC ?system.

Two products aim to eliminate the cause of odours and to freshen a car’s air to a healthy status.

The Aircomatic Ultrasonic A/C Cleaning System is designed to eliminate unpleasant odours associated with mold, mildew, fungus and bacteria in a vehicles HVAC system. It will also help to eliminate tobacco odours and other smells from spilled food and beverages.

Manufactured and distributed by Wynn’s Canada Ltd. in Mississauga, Ont., “It was developed in Europe at the request of some of the OEMs that identified air quality as one of the concerns,” according to Ross Ayrhart, the Consumer Marketing Manager for Wynn’s Canada. “Our office in Belgium actually did the R&D and design and we transferred that technology to North America.”

The system consists of a small portable unit powered by 110 volt AC via an inline transformer and the service is performed in 30 minutes or less.

“Primarily the dealerships are using the system, especially when they change the cabin air filters that are found on newer cars,” Ayrhart said. A lot of vehicles that have been made since 2000 come with built in cabin air cleaners that need periodic replacement.

“It takes out the bad odours out of the ducts and even out of the seats and carpets,” he added. “It will get rid of smoking smell, in most cases — if you start smoking again the odour will return. The main attribute of this system is to get that musty smell, the bacteria, out of the HVAC, ducts of the system.”

Ayrhart agreed this service is analogous to cleaning the ducts in a forced air furnace. “It would be very useful for auto detailers,” he added.

A sealed car is a perfect environment for the growth of fungus, bacteria, mold and mildew said Saj Jamal, director of marketing at UView Ultra?violet Systems Inc. in Mississauga, Ont. “More and more people are driving with their windows closed in summer with the air conditioner on and in winter with the heat on. It is similar to what happens in our homes now,” he added. “At the first sign of a strange musty odour when you turn the car’s heater or air conditioner on, this is a sign that there is mould in the system and it should be eliminated.”

UView has the MiST In-Car Air Quality Service system that uses a portable 12-volt ultrasonic unit that atomizes a specially formulated solution. These micro-droplets, about a tenth of a size of an aerosol droplet, are drawn into an automobile’s vents, and the entire ventilation system, including evaporator, air ducts and passenger compartment surfaces are treated.

The service takes 15 minutes and can be performed by anyone in the garage. Jamal said that a great feature of this system is that it is a stand-alone product that operates on the power provided by the car’s cigarette lighter.

If your vehicle or a customer’s vehicle is exhibiting a pungent aroma it is best not to avoid it, or try to solve it by driving on the highway with the windows open. Have it looked at just like you would a warning light on the dashboard.

Reference List

UView Ultraviolet Systems Inc. www.uview.com/homepage.html

Wynn’s Canada Ltd. www.wynns.ca


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