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Your Car Smells Funny – Is It Trying to Tell You Something?

Thoughtful young man observes car's engine without knowing what to do

Some of us take our own health for granted; therefore, we tend to treat our cars the same way. If you have a headache – you can take two aspirin, and if your car has an unpleasant smell, there’s a good chance that you are just covering it with a deodorizer.

Well, we recommend you to not stop there, but find the cause of it, because your car might be trying to tell you something depending on the way it smells.

Different odors indicate several things that can be going wrong mechanically with your vehicle, whether it is a burning smell, a sweet smell, or even an oil smell. Of course, the smell of fast food can also cause you to cover your nose.

Today we’ll share with you the most common causes of these scents, so you can recognize those particular odors at the first sign. This will save you money or may even prevent a crash.

1. Rotten Egg Smell

If your engine is running poorly and you smell something similar to rotten eggs, a malfunction in the fuel system might be the reason.

Maybe your vehicle’s catalytic converter is not converting the hydrogen sulfide in the exhaust to sulfur dioxide properly, the fuel pressure sensors might be worn out, or the fuel filters could be damaged– whichever is the reason, it can be dangerous if unaddressed. You’ll want to have it checked right away before it has a “meltdown” and so does your wallet.

2. Burning Smells

A burnt type of smell is the most clear indicator of a problem, so if you have one of the following odors in your car, we strongly recommend you to take your car to the mechanic right away in order to keep you safe.

Burnt Hair or Carpet

This particular burning odor could mean brake trouble. The most common reasons for this is keeping your parking brake engaged while driving, pressing brakes hard on a steep slope, or driving through stop-and-go traffic.

It’s important to mention that if your car is new, it is common that brake pads or brake rotors smell like burnt carpet, since they are coated with resin, but don’t worry, this scent will disappear after you cross the 200 mile mark. However, if your car or brakes aren’t new and you have this odor, it is better to take it for an inspection.

Because your brakes are a vital safety issue, you want to address the odor as soon as possible. It could be something minor or something that can put you at risk of an accident.

Burnt Rubber

A burning rubber smell could be several things from a slipping drive belt, to leaving the parking brake on. Other reasons include a fault in the air conditioning compressor clutch, a damage in the suspension system, or a possible wheel misalignment.

If you smell burning rubber, pull over where it is safe, turn off the engine, and check when the engine has cooled. Note: Do not open the hood if what appears to be steam is visible.

Burning Plastic Smell

If your car smells like a plastic bag, or has a burnt plastic odor, it could be caused by an electrical problem, from wire short circuit, electrical components malfunction, to a blown fuse. It can also be a blown blower motor or resistor that is melting its housing which can lead to some white smoke coming from the AC vents.

To prevent this, we recommend you to clean your car air filter, and your car’s engine on a regular basis.

Burning Exhaust Or Fumes

This particular odor can be an indicator of a leak in the exhaust system, which could allow carbon monoxide (CO) to seep into the inside of your car. Although carbon monoxide is odorless by itself, a leak in the exhaust system does emit a fumes scent, so if you notice even a really subtle smell, the chances of CO entering your car at that moment are pretty high, since this gas is produced from the vehicle’s combustion engine.

The best advice for this situation is to ventilate your car by rolling down the windows, pull over, and exit from it immediately. 

A failing exhaust manifold gasket or a cracked exhaust manifold are two common causes of exhaust leaks. Additionally, certain events like an accidental oil spill on the exhaust pipe during an oil change or residual oil from removing the oil filter can also result in a burning exhaust odor.

We recommend being cautious with oil leaks, since they can negatively impact your vehicle’s fuel efficiency and potentially harm the expensive catalytic converter. In the worst-case scenario they can cause anything from an injury to even death, so it’s better to be protected.

Burnt Marshmallows

Burnt marshmallows, maple syrup, tar, or any burnt sugar smell could be pleasant, but you shouldn’t enjoy it. These are most likely to indicate a fluid leak in which fumes can be toxic.

If you are smelling maple syrup in your car, you may have a cooling system leak involving the water pump, a radiator hose or the radiator itself. On the other hand, the smell of burnt marshmallows indicates a potential steering fluid leak, while tar smell is related to a transmission fluid leak.

One of the most neglected items under the hood is the coolant level, which when left unchecked could cause a leak that results in the engine overheating and a catastrophic breakdown that will make you wish you had checked it sooner.

Note: Never remove the radiator cap unless necessary and only when the car has cooled down, advises the Car Care Council (CCC).

Burning Oil

If you notice a burning oil smell, the source of the problem could be an engine oil leak that originated from the valve cover, drain plugs, seals, oil pan gasket, or oil filter housing. 

When you find a safe place to stop, check for oil drops on the pavement or small amounts of smoke from the engine compartment. If you just had the oil changed, the odor can occur if the mechanic was messy and spilled oil on the engine while removing the oil filter.

Failing to address the scent of burning oil can result in overheating of your vehicle and harm crucial engine components. Moreover, an oil leak that reaches the exhaust system could also lead to a fire hazard.

3. Gasoline

This is a common smell while filling up at the gas station. If there is spillage on the ground and you step in it, you might smell it in your car. However, should you smell it constantly, especially when not pumping gas, it may mean that there is a gas leak. This could possibly be the fuel injector line or gas tank. You shouldn’t ignore the smell of fuel as it can result in a fire.

4. Musty gym locker

While some describe it as a gym locker smell, it is far from hazardous. It’s usually associated with turning on the air conditioner or the heater, and is often the probable result of mildew/mold growing inside the a/c evaporator from moisture condensation. 

An easy fix to get rid of this smell is to shut off your a/c and then run the fan on high for a couple of minutes. This will dry the system out and lead to a less musty smell. However, we recommend you do an in-depth cleaning focused on mold removal to avoid getting ill from breathing in spores.

5. Smoke Smell

While this isn’t an indicator of a car malfunction, removing this odor can be extremely difficult because it tends to linger days and days later. This is because smoke is heavier than the air, so it sinks on the surface of the car’s interior. The AC system is circulating the air around the interior of a car and eventually through a cabin air filter, meaning it is sticking to every surface in your car. Yuck. After a period, this filter can get saturated with smoke and the particles that it leaves behind. 

Here are some tips on how to get rid of the smoke smell of your car, and other unpleasant odors, in case you need them.

As you can see, many of these smells are related to parts of your car that are often covered by your vehicle’s extended warranty. If your car or truck is still under warranty, stop by your dealer and have them check the problem before it gets worse.

And, when it comes to insurance, the worst thing you can do is pay higher car insurance rates than you should. Why not make sure that’s not happening by getting a free auto insurance rate comparison today?

Find Affordable Car Insurance Online Today

The best way to save money on costly repairs is to follow these tips. The best way to save money on car insurance is to get a free quote from Freeway Insurance. Freeway Insurance can help you shop for the best auto insurance you can get at a price you can afford. Call (800) 777-5620 today to speak to a live agent.

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