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Benzene vapor

Duped Jim
Unknowingly bought a salvaged 2007 Honda Fit about a year ago that has run fine but recently begun to emit a vapor smell of what my mechanic ids as benzene. His cleaning did not help and a reputable detail outfit passed on the problem, saying if a cleaning didn’t do it their methods won’t either. The scent is not strong - being a geezer I can’t even register it. But it’s my son’s car and he has a 1-year old who I don’t think needs to be inhaling it. I would be interested in any ideas about source or solutions. Cleaner spray by rebuilders? A fuel system problem? Thanks in advance.

Since benzene evaporates rapidly, it’s not the likely source 12 months after purchase. It might be there’s a small gasoline leak somewhere, a good mechanic should be able to trace it down. Perhaps in the evaporative control system, if not in the fuel injection system.

Benzene is used everywhere. I supplied a link that describes it.

I can’t smell what you’re smelling, and I’m not sure that it could be detected categorically without sophisticated labe equipment. Perhaps a local air sampling lab could do so just as a precaution. It might not be too expensive.

This is a shot in the dark here but my wife bought a set of floor mats from a discount store last year. They were okay for a few weeks but they started emitting a terrible chemical odor. The mats were made in China. We threw them away and the smell was gone in a couple of days after driving with the windows down.

@ The same mountain bike.

You can only trust Wikipedia so far. Benzene is NOT used “everywhere”, in fact it is hardly used anywhere anymore due to it being carcinogenic. Check out the last line of the 1st paragraph in the Wiki article “Most non-industrial applications have been limited by benzene’s carcinogenicity.”

It is HIGHLY unlikely that what you smell is benzene. That being said, it could be any number of chemicals that may or may not pose a hazard to those inhaling the fumes. You don’t mention where you live, but environmental factors can affect how long a smell will remain in the car. Do you know WHY the car was originally scrapped and then salvaged? It is most likely, in my opinion, that there was significant staining of some interior components and a naphtha based product was used (such as “tar remover”) too liberally and soaked into some foam component. Have you tried leaving the car window wide open for extended periods of time, perhaps with a fan blowing a high volume of air through the interior? This may help to evaporate whatever is causing the odor.

BTW - I am an organic chemist who has worked with solvent based inks and adhesives for 30+ years. The government authorities made it virtually impossible to economically use benzene in our industrial processes over 20 years ago.

I would also point out, for the future, that a vehicle history report would likely have shown the salvage status of that vehicle. If the vehicle was sold to you as possessing a “clean” title, you should contact the consumer affairs office of your state. You may be able to get some sort of compensation for being “duped”.

Kcurt, welcome to the group. We can certainly use your expertise.

The comment was admittedly mine, and I admit to having misspoke.
Hopefully an air quality lab will be able to identify the odor. The comment about it being a salvaged vehicle sold to the OP without disclosure makes me suspect a flood vehicle, and the comment about there being a one year old child involved makes me nervous. I’m more worried about mold spores than anything.

I expect we’ll see lots of Sandy soaked vehicles on the used market.

Given that gasoline has lots of components that might remind somebody of ‘benzene’, I bet it’s a gas leak.

In a number of languages, including Dutch, the word for gasoline is “benzine”.

"I expect we’ll see lots of Sandy soaked vehicles on the used market."

In fact, given the fact that “tens of thousands of Sandy-damaged vehicles” are being stored at a disused airport in NY by a salvage vehicle auction company, it is a sure thing that many highly questionable vehicles are going to be dumped on the market. While I think that auction vehicles are almost always a risky affair, this situation causes me to think that anyone who buys an auction vehicle over the next year or so is just asking for trouble.

Take a look at:

Thanks New York. We’ll give you the 60 billion but we want those cars crushed on site.

Bing–That is no longer up to the State of NY, unfortunately.

Since these cars were essentially bought by the insurance companies that bought them from the previous owners, and since the insurance companies subsequently sold them to this “salvage vehicle auction company”, it is now beyond the ability of the State of NY to crush them.

Thank “the Free Market” for any abuses that take place with the sale of these vehicles at this point.

@VDCdriver and @Bing the news report I saw clearly stated that those particular vehicles will be sold with a flood and/or salvage title.

That being said, there are probably some Sandy cars out there that have or will fall through the cracks.

Well I think the article said they will be auctioned to various recyclers. Salvage titles maybe, but they can be cleaned. Really how many useful parts could they legitimately get out of these cars except sheet metal and glass? Any electronics, bearings, engines, trans, and so on would be highly suspect but could end up in the local yards bought by unsuspecting people. Someone buying a used transmission in Nebraska probably wouldn’t think to look for flood damage. They should not be moved out of state at the least. I’m sure the folks that can charge a $4.50 per pack cigarette tax, ban large cokes, and ban guns, can figure a way to protect the rest of us from this junk-especially since we’re paying a good portion of the bill. Just IMHO is all.

@Bing how hard is it to wash a salvage title?

Couldn’t that guy in Nebraska check if a car was ever titled and/or registered in New Jersey, for example?

Don’t know how hard it is to wash a title but it appears a lot of them come through New Jersey. Once the parts are off the car though, its pretty hard to trace the parts, and who would normally, with the VIN.

“Couldn’t that guy in Nebraska check if a car was ever titled and/or registered in New Jersey, for example?”


Obscuring the savage title is easier if the vehicles pass through several wholesalers and end up a long distance away. By the time it gets to Phoenix, the car might be priced like any other similar vehicle. I’m glad I’m not in the market for a used car now.

@jtsanders thanks for that link. I’ll check it out next time I’m looking at a used car, which hopefully won’t be soon!

@db4690, it’ll cost you $5 for the history.

If it’s a gasoline smell, here’s a suggestion: we have an old car that developed a gas smell years ago, and a mechanic examined it with a sensor device that samples the air along the fuel system. That did the trick. Our problem was simple – we had recently replaced the fuel tank and the gas filler pipe was pushing against the body just enough to slightly loosen the gas cap. I doubt this is your problem, since your “check engine” light would probably come on, but the sensor device is worth a try. Not all mechanics have this leak detector so you may need to make some phone calls or ask for referrals. Good luck and let us know what works.

BTW VDCDriver – for better or for worse, the “free market system” pretty much gave you automobiles in the first place, and no one should expect a perfect scam-proof system. FWIW, the government makes far more money on a gallon of gas than Exxon does, and I’ll bet they make more “profit” on an automobile sale than the manufacturer does, even though they have far less to do with bringing you the gasoline or the automobile. Don’t look for the blame, look for the one who gave you the blessing.