(ANN ARBOR, Mich.) -- When car buyers pull out of a dealer's lot with the latest models, there's almost nothing more indicative of their brand new purchases than that "new car smell." But what many drivers may not know is that the appealing aroma is actually a blend of toxic chemicals that could make you sick.
"What people don't realize is the new car smell is actually the smell of chemicals. These are chemicals that are in the interior of vehicles -- plastics, adhesives and fabrics," said Jeff Gearhart, the research director at the Ecology Center, which released its fourth annual consumer guide to toxic chemicals in cars on Wednesday.
After testing over 200 of the most popular 2011-2012 models, the report found that the Honda Civic scored the best in ranking this year.
"This year Honda was our best performing company in terms of their vehicles. Honda led the pack in terms of PVC reduction. They phased out the use of PVC in almost their entire fleet of vehicles," Gearhart said.
Honda's CR-Z also placed in the top three. The Toyota Prius came in second.
Among the worst offenders were the Chrysler 200 SC, the Kia Soul and the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, which came in last. The Ecology Center said the Outlander "contained bromine and antimony-based flame retardants in the seating and center console; chromium treated leather on several components; and over 400 ppm lead in seating materials."
As Gearhart explained, "These chemicals can have a wide range of impacts. Liver toxicity, hormone disruption, reproductive impacts as well as cancer."
So how can new car drivers reduce their exposure to these chemicals?
"They should ventilate the car frequently before they enter it. Using a solar shade on the windshield to help minimize the heat and solar exposure in the vehicle," he said.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio