What Do those Smells Coming from Your Car Mean?

car smells

An unfamiliar smell coming from your car is certainly a cause for concern. If you ever smell the odor of maple syrup, burnt carpet, or gasoline coming from your vehicle, then you would be wise to investigate where the smell started. Here are some of the most common odors and what they mean for your safety on the road.

Does your car smell like gasoline? If your car smells like a gas station, it could be a sign that there is a gas leak. The leak could be coming from a fuel tank vent hose, the injector line,  or another area of your vehicle. If the weather is warm or your car is parked in closed quarters, the smell could also be coming from raw gasoline. Vehicles manufactured before 1980 may emit the odor of gasoline after a hot shutoff.

If your car smells like rotten eggs while the engine is running, sulfur in the gas could be the culprit. Trace amounts of sulfur in your car’s gasoline can create hydrogen sulfide in the exhaust. The catalytic converter is supposed to convert hydrogen sulfide into sulfur dioxide in the exhaust. If the hydrogen sulfide is not converting properly, then there’s usually a problem with the catalytic converter. A mechanic can tell you if there’s a defect in the catalytic converter, a fuel injector issue, or another problem entirely.

A maple syrup smell in your car likely means that engine coolant is dripping from your vehicle. Specifically, the coolant is probably dripping from a leaky part related to your car’s coolant system. When there’s a problem with the coolant system, the odor typically presents itself after you shut off the car for a bit, or soon after you start the engine.

The odor of burnt carpet is a hint that something is wrong with your brakes. The brake pads become overheated after you have used the brakes hard or often. If you have recently driven down a steep mountain, for example, then you may smell the burnt carpet odor. If you haven’t traveled down a mountain recently, then your brake is likely dragging. Your brake could have a seized-up caliper piston.

When your vehicle has an earthy smell of hot oil, oil is leaking onto your car’s hot exhaust manifold. Your vehicle could have a leaky crankshaft seal. To determine whether or not your car is leaking oil onto the exhaust system, inspect the undercarriage pan underneath the engine. If you have an oil leak, then you will not necessarily see oil on the ground, so it is important to confirm whether or not the undercarriage pan is dry.

You may smell the odor of burnt paper if the clutch facing is burning off at the same time that the clutch is slipping. The smell will remind you of burning a newspaper in the fireplace. If the clutch is slipping, then you’re probably riding the clutch pedal too much.

If you turn on the air conditioner or heater and smell the odor of dirty socks, then your car has mildew growing inside of the air conditioning system’s evaporator. The easiest way to make this smell go away is to shut off the air conditioner about a mile from your destination. Then, turn the fan on the high setting to dry out the system.

If you smell burnt rubber, drive belts could be slipping. Alternatively, hoses may be loose and rubbing against your car’s drive pulleys.

The most important factor for your driving safety is to always be aware of your surroundings. Know what the smell is, find out where it’s coming from, and then decide whether or not you need to have a trained professional resolve the problem. These car smells are warning signs, so never ignore them. Always bring your vehicle to your mechanic if you are unsure of what an unfamiliar smell means. 

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