Smells that Signal Something’s Wrong with Your Car (and What to Do About It)

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Your car communicates with you in unexpected ways, and one of those ways is through unusual smells. These scents can be indicators of potential issues under the hood, and paying attention to them can help you catch problems early.

In this guide, we’ll explore various smells that might signal trouble and what you can do to address them.

1. Burning Rubber Smell

If you notice a distinct burning rubber smell coming from your car, it’s a sign that something is amiss with the drive belts or accessory belts.

These belts play a crucial role in various engine components’ functioning, such as the alternator, power steering pump, and air conditioner. When belts slip or malfunction, friction occurs, leading to the burning rubber odor.

Inspect the belts for wear, cracks, or misalignment. If you spot any issues, it’s imperative to replace the belts promptly to prevent overheating and potential engine damage.

2. General Burning Smell

A general burning smell could be linked to an overheating engine or malfunctioning brakes.

If you detect this distinctive odor, start by checking your car’s temperature gauge for signs of engine overheating. Low coolant levels may contribute to this issue, so inspect the coolant reservoir and radiator for any leaks or damage. Top up coolant levels if necessary, and address visible issues in the cooling system.

Additionally, examine your brake system if the burning smell is accompanied by reduced braking performance. Swiftly replace or repair any damaged components as needed. If you’re unable to pinpoint the source of the smell or if issues persist after visible problems are addressed, consult a professional mechanic for a thorough inspection.

3. Sweet, Syrupy Smell

A sweet, syrupy smell is good for anything except for cars and other vehicles. In this case, this often signals a coolant leak.

The coolant is a fluid that circulates through your engine to regulate temperature. Thus, a leak in the cooling system can lead to overheating and potential engine damage.

Check for visible coolant leaks under the car, inspect hoses, the radiator, and the water pump for any signs of damage. If you detect a leak, replace or repair the affected components immediately to maintain your engine’s optimal operating temperature.

4. Burning Paper Smell (Clutch)

The scent of burning paper is a sign of an issue with your transmission. More specifically, your clutch.

The clutch is what connects your engine to the rest of your drivetrain. The burning paper smell is the clutch slipping and burning the paper disks due to being on and off the throttle too much or riding within the clutch in a stick-shift car.

This can lead to your clutch failing and your car no longer driving. It’s best to have a professional check this out so you won’t have failure in the future.

5. Burning Plastic Smell

A burning plastic smell often points to issues within the electrical system. It could be anything from a malfunctioning component to a short circuit.

In this case, it’s best to leave electrical problems to a professional. Otherwise, you’re risking damaging other vehicle functions and setting your engine on fire.

6. Rotten Eggs Smell

The unmistakable odor of rotten eggs is a clear indication of a malfunctioning catalytic converter—the component that helps reduce harmful emissions.

A faulty catalytic converter not only affects your vehicle’s environmental impact but also its overall performance. Consult a professional mechanic to inspect and replace the catalytic converter if necessary.

7. Fusty, Mildew Smell

Clogged air conditioning systems or water leaks can create a breeding ground for mold and mildew. Not only do these issues result in fusty, mildew odors, but they can also pose health risks. To remedy this, address the source of moisture, clean affected areas thoroughly, and consider using mold and mildew cleaner to maintain a healthy interior.

8. Fumes/Exhaust Smell

If you’re smelling fumes or exhaust inside your car, stay away from your vehicle and seek help from an expert immediately. A leaking exhaust system affects your vehicle’s performance and puts you at risk due to exposure to toxic gasses like carbon monoxide.

9. Petrol or Diesel Smell

The smell of petrol or diesel outside the car is a sign of a fuel leak that poses a significant fire hazard. Check for visible fuel leaks, inspect fuel lines, and ensure the fuel cap is tightly sealed. Refrain from driving the vehicle until the fuel leak is resolved.

Not sure how? Learn how to fix engine oil leaks with Shield Oil.

10. Burning Carpet Smell

Your brake system is crucial for ensuring your safety on the road, and overheating can compromise its effectiveness.

If you notice a burning smell accompanied by reduced braking performance or squeaking noises, inspect your brake system for issues such as worn brake pads or malfunctioning calipers. Replace or repair these components as needed to maintain the efficiency of your brakes.

Take Better Care of Your Car with Shield Lubricants

Regular maintenance, including oil changes, is essential to keep your car running smoothly and prevent many of the issues associated with unusual smells. So, the next time you catch a whiff of something unusual, don’t ignore it—sniff out the problem and take action!Shield Oil offers high-quality engine oils designed to protect and enhance your vehicle’s performance. Contact us now to learn more.


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