Using a combination of tandem mass spectrometric experiments (ion-molecule reactions, collisional activation, neutralization-reionization, MS/MS/MS) and theoretical calculations, protonated substituted benzenes are demonstrated to readily react with neutral t-butyl nitrite by the formation of stable complexes linking ionized nitric oxide to the benzene derivatives. The overall process is proposed to involve the concomitant elimination of neutral 2-methyl-2-propanol. Proton-bound dimers are proposed to intervene as the key-intermediates in these reactions, which also competitively produce protonated t-butyl nitrite. All the experiments were performed in a single hybrid tandem mass spectrometer of sector-quadrupole-sector configuration. (C) 2003 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.