Car Air Freshener Challenge: Pura vs. Thymes

We love the idea of a nice car air freshener enveolping our senses while we drive. Whether your favorite scent is fruity, herbal, or earthy, here's the lowdown on some of our favorite car fragrance diffusers.

Pura Car Air Freshener. Photo: Sara Lacey
Pura Car Featured Image. Photo: Sara Lacey Credit: Sara Lacey

Is the Fancy Fragrance You’ve Seen on Instagram Worth the Price?

We’ve written about in-car fragrance before, and some of the most exciting versions are the most expensive. But if you’re on Instagram or Facebook, you’ve probably seen lots of advertisements for the Pura Car Fragrance Diffuser and lots of influencers selling them. As a fragrance junkie, I confess I was intrigued to try one.

To set my baseline, I went down the rabbit hole of car air fresheners. I got a Yankee Candle in-car fragrance jar, I got a Little Trees cardboard pine tree. I got a Febreeze thingamajig that clipped onto my air vent. The scents were super strong, and I couldn’t be in my car with them for very long before getting overwhelmed with the scents. I set them in my garage, and though most of them lightened up over the course of time, it seemed silly to open a car air freshener and have it sit outside for a couple of weeks to tolerate it. 

Related: Can that New Smell Last Forever? Meet the In-Car Fragrance Diffuser

Lafco Champagne Fragrance. Photo: Sara Lacey

LAFCO Champagne fragrance. Photo: Sara Lacey

So I Decided to Try a New Option: Pura Car

And up until recently, that’s been the name of the game in car air fresheners. A clip-on plastic device that houses your scent of choice. But Pura Car promises a customizable amount of fragrance to be dispensed throughout your car, and they say you can adjust it so that it only dispenses your scent of choice when the car is moving. So I dove in, ordering a “Build Your Car” set for $46.98. This set included the diffuser and one scent disc.

After much researching and thinking and rethinking and choosing a scent, and then rethinking it, I settled on Champagne by LAFCO. I was drawn in by the description of grapefruit, ginger, and raspberry. That seemed like a neutral enough choice, good for the car and any passengers I’d have along for the ride.

It should be noted that there were fewer choices in general when looking at the options for the Pura Car versus the Pura home systems. And of the ones listed on the website, many of them were out of stock. But I was happy with my choice and would have selected it even if all the other fragrances shown were available.

Related: 18 Fun Car Accessories Under $20 

Pura Car And Champagne Scent Disc. Photo: Sara Lacey

Pura Car and Champagne scent disc. Photo: Sara Lacey

When the Pura Car Fragrance Diffuser Arrived, I was so Excited

The Champagne scent disc was included, and the packaging for all of it was pretty. I unwrapped it right away. It was a very simple setup though I confess I maybe under-thought it a little. I just plugged it in and drove off. It ran for a minute or so and then stopped. So I got confused because I was still driving, and it turned off. And then I remembered I had to download the Pura App and set the diffuser up that way. I liked the smell right away and was kind of obsessing about it until I could get off the road and into a parking lot to set it up. I also started daydreaming about the other scents I’d like to try.

Related:n  Our Ultimate Gift Guide for Car Lovers 

Naming My Pura Car Diffuser Very Creatively. Photo: Sara Lacey

Naming my Pura Car diffuser very creatively. Photo: Sara Lacey

Slow Your Roll and Download the App Before You Need to go Anywhere

Once I pulled over, I downloaded the app and was worried it was going to take forever to set up. But it was very easy. The app searched for the device via Bluetooth, and it saw mine right away. I gave the diffuser a new name and set how sensitive I wanted it to be to the speed of the car. I wanted that scent coming at me at all times! The app also showed me how much scent was left in the fragrance disc.

The App Reminding Me How To Work The Pura Car. Photo: Sara Lacey

The app reminding me how to work the Pura Car. Photo: Sara Lacey

What I also learned is that the illuminated icon on the top of the diffuser is also a button. You can press the button to select the amount of fragrance to be distributed. There are three options, or you can turn it off altogether using that button as well. As I drove, I could hear and smell the Pura turning on and off. I adjusted the settings and found my happy place, and I wasn’t surprised when I discovered I liked the fragrance to come out at a lower amount. I love fragrance, but I don’t love too much of it. 

The Pura Car diffuser has a strap attached to it, which Pura is quick to say isn’t for hanging your diffuser up. Rather, it’s used to hold the diffuser or, in my case, lift the diffuser out of my cup holder.

Anyway, the Pura Car doesn’t run when the car isn’t on and moving, so if you are looking for an air-freshener to resolve an issue with odor in your car (like spilled milk or vomit), the Pura Car may not be the right choice. I can still smell the Champagne fragrance in the car, but it’s not going to cover up anything gross.

Pura Car In Action.

Pura Car in action, it’s got a fan that cranks out the scent of your choice. Photo: Sara Lacey

Additionally, the most reasonable place to put the diffuser is in a cup holder. I’m almost tempted to put it in the backseat cupholders, so I don’t have to sacrifice one of the two I have in my center console. Also, the Pura Car diffuser has a fan in it, and because my car is an EV and very quiet, I can hear when the diffuser turns on and off. This may or may not bother you, it was fine for me, but it was notable enough to merit a mention.

Frasier Fir Is One Of My Faves. Photo: Sara Lacey

Frasier Fir is one of my faves. Photo: Sara Lacey

What if you want Something Simpler?

If you don’t want to commit to the Pura Car setup, I actually did find a favorite vent-clip solution. It’s the Thymes Frasier Fir Aromatic Car Diffuser & Refill. Thymes currently does not offer any other scents with this diffuser. Frasier Fir is one of my all-time favorite scents, so it made sense that I’d give this car air freshener a shot.

Now, to be clear, you can get the Frasier Fir scent for the Pura Car diffuser. But the diffuser I got is Thymes-branded and is its own thing. It comes with a holder and four scented reeds. You place two reeds in the holder, clip it to a vent, and off you go. It’s a milder scent than any of the first options I tried (Little Trees cardboard tree, Febreeze, and Yankee Candle). 

The Thymes Frasier Fir diffuser isn’t an inexpensive option, it’s $24. It’s a more luxurious scent at a higher price, and it’s a lovely option, especially for gifting. 

The Pura Car Box Labeling Is So Right. Photo: Sara Lacey

The Pura Car air freshener box labeling is so right. Photo: Sara Lacey

Which Car Air Freshener Should you Pick?

As a fragrance lover who likes to customize my space, I find the Pura Car fragrance diffuser fun. I’m excited to try other scents, and the prices range from almost $12 to almost $17 each; if you’re the type who likes to subscribe to things, you can get 20% off if you subscribe to a 1-, 2-, or 3-month setup. Or find your favorite influencer, and I’m sure they’ve got a discount code.

I found both choices good ones for the type of fragrance I like, but I do hope Thymes comes out with some more scents soon. When I get my hands on them, I’ll review those too.

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Sara has written about cars since 2005. She used to beat them up with her kids and write about... More about Sara Lacey