The high cost of smoking in your car


(NerdWallet) – Smoking in your car is harmful to you and your passengers, but it also hurts the resale value of your car.

Smoking can reduce a car’s trade-in value by at least $500, according to Richard Arca, director of vehicle appraisal and analysis for automotive website Edmunds. Other sources put the cost even higher.

A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, or NCBI, estimates that smoking in a car reduces its resale value by 7.7%. So, for example, a car with a trade-in value of $20,000 would instead sell for $18,460, or $1,540 less.

Most online used car shopping sites, which allow you sell your car online sight unseen based on a questionnaire – ask at least about “sticky odors”, if not specifically about smoking.

By appraising the same car two different ways (smoked and never smoked), online used car retailer Vroom’s appraisal tool reduced the company’s offer to buy by $1,000. Carvana’s discount was less for the same car, reducing its offer price by just $289.

Why smoke depreciates the value of your car

When cars are appraised for trade-in, a number of factors affect their value, such as mechanical condition and number of miles driven. The condition of the interior is another important factor: the smell of smoke makes a vehicle harder to sell and expensive to repair.

Smoke “permeates the entire interior of the vehicle,” says Michael Stoops, senior global product and training specialist for Meguiar’s automotive care products. The smell persists stubbornly – even in “areas you can’t see or reach, like inside the air conditioning system”.

In addition to reducing a car’s value, it can be a deal breaker if you’re trying to sell your smoky car and a potential buyer sniffs the telltale smoke smell, Arca says. There could also be visible signs of damage that potential buyers may notice. For example, smokers sometimes drop ash on car seats, leaving burn marks on the upholstery that would be expensive to repair.

Much more than a lingering bad smell

Lighting a cigarette in a car is unhealthy, even for non-smoking passengers, and the threat persists long after the cigarette is extinguished. “Third-hand smoke” refers to gases and particles absorbed by the interior of the car and then re-emitted over time.

This second-hand and third-hand smoke can be dangerous for the new car owner, but it is especially dangerous for young people.

“Several studies show that children, cars and cigarettes are a particularly dangerous combination,” according to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation.

In fact, smoking in a car with a young person is illegal in nine states and Puerto Rico: anyone driving with a passenger under a certain age is prohibited.

Even more serious is the NCBI warning: “Second-hand smoke (SHS) causes premature death and disease in children and adults, and scientific evidence indicates that there is no level of exposure without risk to the SHS.”

Can you get rid of the tobacco smell in your car?

If you buy a used car and later smell smoke, or sell a car you smoked in and don’t want to affect its resale value, all is not lost.

It’s possible to eliminate tobacco odors almost entirely “in all but the worst cases, but it takes a concerted effort,” says Mark Holthoff, content editor at Carvana. But he says ready-made solutions and home remedies, like leaving coffee grounds in the car, often mask the smell temporarily.

Stoops says that ridding a car of smoke smell requires thorough cleaning of all surfaces inside the vehicle, especially soft surfaces which “tend to retain smoke smell more tenaciously than hard surfaces. “.

There is no shortage of products to treat or eliminate smoke odors. For example, Meguiar’s Air Re-Fresher cartridge dispenses while the engine is running and the air conditioning is in high and recirculation mode. It and similar products sell for around $10 for a single cartridge.

Is ozone the magic smoke eraser?

Cleaning services have had success using ozone generators to extract cigarette odor. Mike Lightman, owner of Odor Removal Experts of OC, says the treatment costs $169 for a midsize sedan. The car is left running during the process so that the ventilation system can circulate.

“I never say it completely removes the smell because people remember smells and expect them,” Lightman says. “But it will remove the smell to the point that you will be satisfied.”

Once the treatment is complete, Stoops recommends airing out the car to remove any traces of ozone, as it can cause eye, nose, throat and lung irritation.

Ozone generators are available for home use, ranging from $70 to over $3,000.

DIY smoke extraction

A professional car service professional may be able to remove most smoke odors, but if you want to try and remove cigarette smell yourself, here are the main issues to address, Stoops says:

  • Remove all objects and debris from the car, including the glove box.
  • Shampoo the upholstery with an auto care product designed for this purpose.
  • Thoroughly vacuum, wash and shampoo floor mats.
  • Use all-purpose cleaners and vinyl cleaners for all other surfaces, such as the dashboard and door panels.
  • Use a solution of vinegar and water to remove nicotine film from windows.
  • Steam clean the headliner – the material of the ceiling – or replace it if the smell persists.
  • Replace cabin air filters.


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