Today Chicago Tribune auto columnist Jim Mateja writes about a study by the Ecology Center that will please anyone frustrated with the "keep up with the Joneses" consumerism that encourages Americans to buy new cars frequently. It turns out that "new car smell" isn't so wonderful after all. In fact, it's often toxic. And since it takes about three years for the bad chemicals to work their way out, those status-obsessed neighbors who buy a new car every few years are constantly exposed to the stuff. On the other hand, those of us who squeeze every last mile out of our cars will breathe cleaner air (aside from exhaust emissions) even as our cars become neighborhood eyesores.
This study justifies those dashboard shades that were once so popular. The sun's heat activates the bad chemicals, so keeping your car in the garage or at least shading the windows is good for your health. You should also air out a hot car and regularly clean chemical residue off the windows.
You can read the press release here and get a PDF showing every model's toxic chemical rating here. For what it's worth, our Ford Focus is right in the middle, 2.5 on a 5-point scale. We have only two more years of breathing deadly chemicals. Then we can watch our neighbors buy yet another new vehicle and know that they are only hastening their own deaths.