If your vehicle is giving off an unpleasant or unusual aroma, follow your nose to the source. Bad smells from the vehicle can indicate major problems under the hood. However, it’s not just the foul smells you have to watch out for - even a sweet or unusual smell can mean there’s something going on.
In some cases, the smells can be hazardous to your health. It’s always a good idea to get your car checked out by a certified mechanic if you notice any smell that wasn’t there previously.
Here are some of the most common car smells and what the problem could be:
A musty smell coming from the air-conditioning vents when you turn it on could mean mold or mildew has formed within the system. Since moisture naturally accumulates on the cold air-conditioning evaporator, mold growth isn’t uncommon. Try turning off the air conditioner and running just the fan at high speed. This may help dry the evaporator and get rid of the mildew and the smell that comes along with it.
If the odor reoccurs, it may mean there’s a clog in the tube drain or something else causing it. A mildew smell also can be caused by wet carpets. Check to ensure your windows are fully up and that all seals are in place.
If you suddenly smell something sweet and syrup-like, it can mean antifreeze is leaking somewhere in the car’s cooling system. The leak could stem from a corroded heat exchanger, typically located behind the dashboard. It’s often challenging to identify the source of the leak if you aren’t a professional. The leak could even be in the form of steam entering the cabin. If this happens, your windows may become foggy. Immediately have this addressed because breathing antifreeze is hazardous to your health.
A burning smell could be caused by oil leaking onto the engine or within the exhaust. Overheated brake pads or rotors also cause a burning smell. If your car has a manual transmission, it could be a worn or overheated clutch plate. The smell could even be something minor, such as leaves or other material that crept under your hood.
If your car is producing a scent like rotten eggs or a sulfur-like smell, this can often indicate a problem with your car’s catalytic converter. An engine or emissions system issue can cause the converter to overheat, resulting in the rotten egg odor.
A burning rubber smell can have numerous causes, such as an oil or fluid leak. It could be a damaged or worn-out accessory drive belt. An overheated clutch plate can smell like burning rubber.
A smell similar to burnt toast smell can mean a short circuit in an electrical component. An electrical or burnt wire smell may also indicate an overheated insulation. Electrical odors must be taken seriously. Short circuits and overheated components can start fires, which can be incredibly dangerous or life threatening. Immediately address this for your safety.
It’s common to smell some gasoline if you start a cold engine due to an incomplete combustion. However, if you still smell gas after the engine has warmed up, it could be a loose gas cap. It could also be caused by a leak or clog issue within the evaporation emissions control system. Worst of all, gas could potentially be leaking from the tank or the fuel line. Gas smells should always be investigated. If you smell gas before turning on the vehicle, avoid starting the engine until you’ve identified the problem. If you notice the smell while driving, park and turn off your car before investigating.
This usually means something is actually rotting in your car. Check under the seats for any decomposing fruit. A split drink or juice could be the culprit. Once you locate the source, clean the affected areas with a cleaning solution to get rid of any bacteria.
Car smells - from sweet like maple syrup to sulfur like rotten eggs - are trying to tell you something. The fix could be as simple as cleaning the carpet or could indicate an urgent gas leak. If you're in the Colorado Springs area, Best Western Transmission can evaluate the smells and identify the root cause.