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How “Approved Odor Assessors” Guard Your New Car’s Smell

At Ford, more than 100 parts make up a vehicle’s unique bouquet.

In the video above, Ford offers an entertaining and informative glimpse at how its engineers guarantee their cars don’t stink. Literally. Many people cherish that “new-car smell” without realizing it’s actually a complex bouquet of more than 100 different materials in a new car—even one off note, or part, could kill the scent.

Linda Schmalz, a supervisor of body interior materials engineering at Ford, helps manage the company’s “approved odor assessors,” who evaluate how heat and wear affect the odor of a car’s parts. She told Slate everything should simply smell like what it is. “Leather,” Schmalz offered as an example, “shouldn’t smell like rotten meat, or a dirty gym bag, or a wet dog.”


The assessors’ job isn’t to find great smells, but to make sure bad smells stay out. A team prepares a new car’s materials to simulate real-life conditions, and then the parts are subjected to a sniff test. If assessors rate a part as having a “disturbing” odor, it’s eliminated, replaced, or its formula is modified to fix the problem.

What qualifies someone as an “approved odor assessor”? Schmalz said they look for people from other Ford labs with a “normal” sense of smell, not souls graced with super-sensitive schnozzes. “They can’t have allergies; they can’t be smokers,” she said. “They also can’t wear perfumes, colognes, or anything that would interfere with the odor rating.”

And what’s the best-smelling car at Ford? According to Schmalz, that’s probably the Lincoln series, “because they have those very nice leather and wood products.” Naturally.