A Guide to Car Smells & What they say about your Engine

Mar 04, 2019

04 Mar
Keeping your Rates Low, Tips & Ideas

A Guide to Car Smells & What they say about your Engine

by Rosa Parsons

If there’s a strange odor coming from your car, it could be something you spilled or something you drove over, but it also could be that something is wrong with your car. Part of being a responsible driver is knowing what to look for and knowing when your car needs to be checked out by a professional.

That’s why we’re sharing common smells that may signify there’s a problem with your vehicle.

Odd Smells and What Your Car is Trying to Tell You

  • Fumes or Exhaust

An exhaust leak is potentially fatal as it quickly raises the carbon monoxide levels in the car to dangerous levels. Roll down the windows, pull over as soon as possible. Turn your car off and have it towed to a repair ship.

  • Gas

If you smell gas, your car may have a gas leak in the engine or in the fuel line. Pull over immediately and turn your car off. Have it towed to a repair shop.

  • Rotten Eggs

A sulphuric, rotten egg smell may mean there’s a problem with your car’s catalytic converter. Fuel injection problems can clog your catalytic converter. If you catch it soon enough, your catalytic converter can be saved. Have it checked out as soon as possible.

  • Burnt Rubber

A burnt rubber smell may mean an engine belt has slipped or a hose from the power steering or cooling systems may be rubbing on the engine belt and melting. Pull over and wait for your car to cool down. See if your belts and hoses are out of place. If the problem continues, have it checked out by a professional.

  • Mold or Mildew

Smells of mold or mildew tell you that there may be a problem with your air-conditioning unit. The drain in the unit is likely blocked and will need to be emptied, ideally before it starts spilling onto your carpets and floor mats.

  • Fruity or Sweet

These smells tell you that coolant may be escaping from the cooling system. If your coolant is leaking, you may be doing damage to your engine by driving. Pull over and have your car towed to the nearest repair shop.

  • Burning Plastic

There’s a lot of plastic in cars these days, so diagnosing a burning plastic smell can be difficult. It may be wiring, which would be serious, or it could be a plastic bag that’s caught on your exhaust system. Check out the exhaust system, removing any plastic stuck to it once it has cooled down. Take it to a repair shop if you can’t figure out where the smell is coming from.

  • Burning Oil

The smell of burning oil is a sign of an oil leak. If oil hits the exhaust, it could start a fire. If your oil is leaking and the oil levels drop, you may be damaging your engine. Both bad things. Check and see if a drain plug is loose or if the filter wasn’t properly attached after a recent oil change. If it is an oil leak, either from a bad gasket or seal, it will need to be repaired by a professional.

  • Burnt Carpet

A burnt carpet smell tells you your brake pads or rotors may be overheating. This is common if you’re driving for an extended period of time in hilly or mountainous country. Too much overheating and you can damage your brakes or even cause them to fail. Try pumping on your brakes rather than “sitting” on them. If the smell persists, pull over and have your car towed.

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