Dear Tom and Ray:
I need your help. My car has an odor that will not go away. The car, now known as “The Farm,” smells like a barn. Basically, my brother’s dog (her name is Drama) squirted her anal gland (yes, it’s disgusting) on my Prius’s fabric back seat. The substance permeated several layers of seat fabric. By the way, this was three years ago. I’ve had the car cleaned many times. They’ve shampooed the seats, done some sort of ozone cleaning, sprayed weird animal-scent removers, etc., and the smell hasn’t gone away. The odor is so horrific that if I roll down the window and stop at a tollbooth or to pay a fast-food worker, the person literally flinches. Have you ever seen that “Seinfeld” episode about the car smell? Well, that’s pretty much the situation I’m in. My mom thinks that if I change out the back seat, it will get rid of the smell. I think it’s too late. Anything that is in the car for more than a few hours takes on that smell. If I’m in the car for several hours, I smell like the car. I think even if the seats are removed, the smell has become part of the interior’s DNA and will never go away. Do you have any advice? Is there any cleaning substance you can recommend? Or should I cut my losses and trade it in, hoping the dealer has no sense of smell? Please help. —Joan
RAY: Wait until your dealer has a terrible cold, then go and trade it in.
TOM: I’ve had several cars like this, although not with this particular odor. Usually, it was mold. I’d have an old convertible, and the top would either leak or stop going up and down altogether. So I’d leave it down all summer (of course). The car would get wet, mold spores would be fruitful and multiply, and before I knew it, I was driving a biohazard level 3 containment zone.
RAY: Didn’t help him much with dates. Although, on the plus side, he never got asked to drive the carpool.
TOM: If you hadn’t waited three years, I think you’d have a better shot at this. We spoke to our Car Talk veterinary consultant, Dr. Linda Siperstein, and she says that for dog anal gland odor, they use a product called A.O.E., made by Thornell.
RAY: Thornell also makes a similar product for carpets and upholstery called Dog Odor-Off.The company claims that it works even after the offending material has dried, but who knows? Or maybe you’ve tried it already and it didn’t help.
TOM: I’d say you’ve got three choices now. One is to replace the back seat with one from a junkyard, and then do your best to treat the rest of the car with one of these dog-gland-specific industrialstrength odor fighters.
RAY: You’re right that the smell is now in the headliner, the other seats, the carpet, and who knows where else? But if that is a secondary odor, you might be able to tamp it down to a merely nauseating level.
TOM: On the other hand, after soaking in this aroma for three years, I’m not optimistic. So the second option is to just trade in the car. Sure, the dealer will notice the smell when he checks it out, but maybe he’ll think he can treat it. Maybe he can. It’s certainly cheaper for him to replace seats, carpets, and headliners than it is for you.
RAY: Your third option is a fire. Even that might not get rid of the smell, but it will at least mix it with some more pleasant smells, like burnt rubber and plastic. Good luck, Joan.