The stench of a dead human body was one of the most unsettling smells Frank Simmons has had to remove from a used car.
It "was only one time," he said, but "it was a real different odor."
Simmons, 64, a former new-car dealer and founder of Odor Doctors, specializes in helping customers out of smelly situations, often clearing the air inside used cars and trucks so dealers can sell them.
Cigarette smoke. Pet urine. Skunks. Vomit. Gas-oline spills. Rat and roach droppings. Rotten food. Sour milk. Roadkill stuck in a car's undercarriage so that the stink came through the vents. A spilled container of coyote urine that was supposed to keep skunks out of the garage.
Those are just some of the smelly facts of life that can lead to odoriferous cars or trucks. Dealership salespeople and consumers avoid these stinkers, causing the vehicles to languish on the lot and lose value or get sent to the nearest auction.
Simmons, sole owner of Odor Doctors, of Houston, has four employees -- including his son -- and 25 independent contractors that service about 500 dealerships in 25 cities around the country. Most of his customers are concentrated in Texas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
Simmons would not divulge Odor Doctors' revenues but said he expects to expand into an additional 125 cities within three to five years.
Getting rid of odors in vehicles is big business for companies of all sizes. An online search for car odor remedies yields a vast selection of do-it-yourself products and methods to neutralize, control, remove, freshen and get rid of vehicle odors.
Joy Fisher worked for two years developing what she described as an environmentally benign odor neutralizer in a jar for stinky vehicles. She tested it in dealerships and elsewhere. But she folded the tent of her Clodico Inc., of Knoxville, Tenn., at the beginning of the year.
It wasn't that the product didn't work, she said. It was because a "major disagreement" erupted with the licensor of the technology that was to go into her product.
Fisher believed in her product, but noted that there are "hundreds" of competitors.
"We were actually ready to go to market. We decided to shut the company down," she said. "It is very difficult for anybody to break into this market unless they have something that is exceptional."