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Kill the Smell to Close the Sale

Scented sprays are a fast, inexpensive method of masking odor, but carpeting, upholstery, seat belts and headliners trap and hold odor, which is still there when the perfume wears off.

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Looks and features go a long way toward selling a car, but even the most sought-after model at the best price won’t move if the interior smells like an ashtray. But before you reach for a big can of “New Car Smell,” consider two things: Spray scents are a temporary solution, and recent studies indicate the best way to make a car smell like new is to remove all odor.

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Research by Ford Motor Company and others suggest the best smell is none at all; a neutral scent is most often associated with “newness.” Smell is an issue with pre-owned vehicles driven by smokers or owned by families with children and pets, but it can affect every car on your lot. A study conducted by Manheim, the nation’s largest auto-auction company, found that smoke or other foul odors reduced the wholesale price by an average of $300 compared to sales of similar vehicles. The report found that dealers sometimes spent more money trying to remove or disguise the odor. With odor remediation services costing up to $500, that’s easy to believe. Beyond the odor itself, there is also a health concern: Breathing mold spores or other air contaminants can lead to respiratory issues.

Scented sprays are a fast, inexpensive method of masking odor, but carpeting, upholstery, seat belts and headliners trap and hold odor, which is still there when the perfume wears off.

The first step is to find and address the cause of the odor: cigarette smoke clinging to upholstery, headliners, cupholders, dashboards and seatbelts, spilled drinks, spoiled food, vomit and sweat.

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Other sources of foul odors include mold caused by leaks or flooding, dirty cabin filters or fungus on the A/C evaporator core. Odor-causing bacteria and mold are tough to eradicate because they thrive in dark, moist environments found under seats, beneath consoles or deep inside ventilation systems. Even the most well-maintained cars are full of bacteria left by drivers and passengers who have spilled food or tracked mud or bits of vegetation inside; this material quickly becomes a breeding ground for colonies of odor-causing bacteria. The smell issue goes beyond cars for sale; your loaner fleet needs to be maintained, too. The standard $250 charge for smoking in a loaner underscores the time and effort needed to deodorize cars.

High Cost or High Tech?

The traditional method to remove mild odor is an intensive interior detailing: shampooing carpeting, deodorizing headliners, cleaning in, under and around seats and consoles. Tougher odors may require an odor remediation service working on the car with steam cleaners or other equipment at costs ranging from $150 to $500.

A more cost-effective and permanent solution is to combine a basic interior detailing with a ClO2 deep-penetrating vapor odor removal treatment. ClO2 (chlorine dioxide) is new to the automotive industry, but is widely used by hotels, food processing plants, hospitals, animal clinics, public transportation and sports facilities to disinfect and completely remove odor. In simple terms, ClO2 is an oxidizing agent that uses oxygen to quickly and permanently neutralize odor.

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For best results, choose a system that is EPA-registered, having undergone rigorous testing to confirm its ability to kill odor-causing bacteria. These systems are safe, do not produce residue so there is no cleanup required and can be used by virtually anyone, with no special training or equipment needed. As an added bonus, ClO2 also leaves the treated interior completely sanitized; the best systems will kill MRSA, H1N1, Influenza A and other common viruses.

The toughest odors are often tucked away far from reach of sponges, aerosols or sprays, which is why the best ClO2 systems utilize a deep-penetrating vapor system to permeate completely into all nooks and crannies of the interior and the ventilation system. The most effective systems utilize a moisture-activated sachet secured in a small dispenser. The system is placed on an armrest of the vehicle to allow the vapor to thoroughly permeate the interior. After use, the vehicle interior is ventilated and is ready for sale. If the unit is deployed in the car at the close of the business day, it will be odor-free in the morning at a price of less than $20 per vehicle.

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By eliminating odor, cars sell faster, reducing floorplan costs. Odor removal can also be a profit point when added to the list of services by bodyshop and service departments.

For 10 free tips on how you can boost your profit by removing odors, email me at the address above.

Bill Lindsey

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