7 Car Odors You Should Never Ignore

Sometimes spotting car trouble is as simple as using your nose. When you are inside of your vehicle, the only odors that you come across should be from things that you’ve put into it yourself. If you are noticing strange odors coming from your car, it may indicate that there is some kind problem. Some odors may only be noticeable when the car is running, and other smells become apparent only when the car is sitting, or when it is hot.
Here are some common car odors that you should be aware of.


Syrup- If you are smelling something sweet and syrup-like, then your car may be leaking coolant. The leak could be coming from something as simple as a loose hose clamp, a weeping thermostat gasket, or something more complex like a weeping intake manifold or head gasket. Other possible locations for a leak would be from the radiator cap, or even the radiator itself (this is most likely if you smell it outside of the car).

If the odor is particularly strong inside the passenger compartment, then your heater core has probably gone bad. When you notice this particular scent and it is accompanied by a temperature gauge light, check engine light, or a coolant level warning light on your dashboard you need to pull over at once as this indicates your car is overheating. If the lights are not on, but you see steam coming from under the hood and the scent is accompanied by a hot, metallic odor you need to pull over immediately as this also means that your car is overheating. If you continue to drive while your vehicle is overheating, it can cause very expensive and serious damage to the engine. If syrup is what you smell, then you should take your vehicle to your shop right away.

Rotten Eggs- If you are continuously catching a whiff of rotten eggs while your engine is running, then chances are there is something wrong affecting your catalytic converter. The odor can be attributed to the catalytic converter failing to convert the hydrogen sulfide in exhaust into sulfur dioxide as it should be. Sometimes the odor is caused by the catalytic converter becoming overloaded and failing due to a poorly running engine. This can smell can also indicate a fuel-injection problem, an issue easily fixed by a good mechanic. Replacing a catalytic converter can be costly, but they are covered by the manufacturer’s warranty up to 80,000 miles in most cases. You can continue to drive your car in this condition for a little while if the smell isn’t to bothersome, but if the “Check Engine” light happens to come on you should take it to your mechanic.

Gasoline- When you smell gasoline, the first thing to do is determine if the problem is serious, or not so much. When did you notice the fumes? If you have just filled your car with gas, it is possible the smell is simply coming from your hands. Roll down your window and wash your hands as soon as you can. If you left your door open or a window rolled down while you filled up, you may just have some lingering gas vapors that made their way into your car. Roll your window down as you drive for a bit and the smell will dissipate in a little bit. However, if you haven’t just filled your tank with gasoline, you may have a fuel vapor leak, or an active fuel leak. Make sure that you have your fuel cap on securely. Inspect under your vehicle for liquid or gasoline stains on the ground. Bring your vehicle into a repair shop right away as these types of leaks are a potentially dangerous problem that need repaired right away. Any smell of fuel coming from your vehicle can be a fire hazard. Do not smoke near your vehicle.

Exhaust Fumes- Smelling exhaust fumes inside the passenger compartment could be from a defective exhaust pipe that allows the exhaust gases to leak into your car through the floorboards. As carbon monoxide is found in exhaust fumes this can become a dangerous situation. Keep your windows open and get your vehicle looked at as fast as you can. No matter how cold, never idle a vehicle with an exhaust leak to keep yourself warm.

Hot Oil (thick, acrid odor)- The first thing you should do if you smell hot or burning oil, is check the oil dipstick. You could be low on oil. If you find that you are low on oil, it means you either don’t check your fluids regularly enough, or you have a leak. Check underneath your car, if there is a drop or two make an appointment to get that checked before it gets worse Smelling hot oil when there is nothing on the ground indicates a minor leak, possibly a valve cover gasket. If there is smoke coming from the exhaust your vehicle is leaking oil internally, burning it and sending it out the tail pipe. With any leak you need to be sure you are checking the car’s fluid levels before you operate it.

Burnt Toast- A light yet bitter scent, much like that of burnt toast could indicate that there is a problem within the electrical system. What this smell would usually suggests is that there is an electrical short in the system or that there is burning insulation. These are serious problems. If you notice this smell, you should only drive the car if you are heading straight into your trusted auto shop to have the problem diagnosed and repaired. If at any time you notice smoke along with this scent, immediately shut off the car and call for help.

Burnt Carpet- If you have been using your brakes hard or a lot or both, then you might notice an odor similar to that of burning carpet which indicates that your brake pads are overheating. This is most common on winding and steep mountain roads when drivers tend to ride their brakes. To help prevent this, you should downshift on such roads. If you should notice the smell when you are driving normally on a flat road, then you either a.) left the handbrake on, or b.) have a dragging brake, and should bring your car in to have your brakes looked at right away.

If you are ever unsure about a smell that is coming from your vehicle, give us a call to get it inspected. Left untreated, you could end up with an even more dangerous or costly problem.

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