Wondering why your car smells? It could be the gym bag you forgot in your back seat or the partially eaten egg salad sandwich that fell under your seat. But it could also be a mechanical issue with your car. If your car is giving off one of the following odors, you might need more than a deodorizer… visit a mechanic.

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11 Car Smells That Might Mean Stinky Repairs

Has your car been banned from the car pool list because your passengers can’t stand the smell? Maybe it’s time to take the gym bag out of your back seat or really search for that meatball that fell under your seat two or three months ago. That smell might also be an issue with your car ranging from bad brakes to mildew in your A/C. If your car is giving off one of the odors below, it might be time to stop buying air fresheners and schedule an appointment with a mechanic instead.

1. Burning Carpet

When would a burning carpet smell ever be considered normal? Believe it or not, a burning carpet smell is deemed normal if you just drove down a long mountain pass. However, if your car has that smell during normal driving conditions, it could mean brake issues. Schedule a brake inspection as soon as possible, especially before driving down a mountain pass of any length.

2. Rotten Eggs

A rotten egg smell brings to mind several sources, like an old lunch left under the seat or flatulence. If that’s the case, it’s an easy fix. Otherwise, it likely means a poorly running engine and/or catalytic converter issues. The poor running engine might be causing the catalytic converter to become overloaded. If this isn’t checked, your catalytic converter might breakdown. Repairing a catalytic converter can cost between $543 to $875.

3. Burning Rubber

If you smell burning rubber and you didn’t just squeal your tires, your drive belts might be slipping or a loose hose might be rubbing against rotating accessory-drive pulleys. Let your engine cool off before you examine it.

A plastic bag lodged underneath your engine or on your exhaust pipe could also be the culprit. A quick walk around your car and a look under the car will answer that question. Luckily, removing a lodged bag is an easy fix, but be careful as exhaust pipes may be hot!

If your inspection under the hood and engine yields nothing, take the vehicle to a trusted mechanic and relay as much detail as possible to help him pinpoint and fix the problem.

4. Hot or Burning Oil

This pungent smell may remind you of burnt dirt if you ever sat around an outdoor campfire. If your car smells like hot oil, the cause could be one of four reasons. Your vehicle may:

  • Need an oil change
  • Be leaking oil onto your exhaust manifold
  • Have an overheated engine and a broken temperature gauge
  • Have a faulty vacuum modulator which may erroneously feed transmission fluid to the engine. The fluid will burn when it comes in contact with the engine.

You can detect an oil leak by checking for spots on the ground under your car. You may fix this leak yourself or find a trusted mechanic. Auto parts stores sell “stop leak” additives that can help seal leaks. Check also for loose bolts, starting with the oil pan.

5. Car Smells like Gasoline

If your car was built before 1980, a gasoline odor after shutting off is normal and occurs from boiled fuel in the carburetor float bowl, also called float chamber. If you drive a car built after 1980, a gasoline smell could mean something problematic, such as:

  1. Fuel Tank Leak
  2. Fuel Line Leak
  3. Faulty Charcoal Canister
  4. Fuel Injector Leak
  5. Missing Gas Cap
  6. Fuel Pressure Regulator

If your car smells like gasoline and you aren’t missing your gas cap, do not start the car. Consult a mechanic as soon as possible.

6. Musty Gym Locker

If you turn on the heater/air-conditioner and start smelling something similar to your old gym socks, odds are you have mildew growing in the moisture condensing inside the evaporator of your air conditioner. You may consult a professional to fix the issue, or try the following: turn off the a/c and run the fan on high for at least a mile of driving to dry the system out.

If this doesn’t do the trick, look under your seat or in your trunk for a pair of gym socks that might have escaped your gym bag. You might even find your lunch from two months ago!

7. Sweet Syrup

If your car smells like maple syrup it might mean a coolant leak. The smell of leaking fluid attracts wild animals and is very poisonous, so make an appointment with your auto shop as soon as possible to take care of the issue.

It might also mean you missed your pancakes when you were pouring syrup. Check your clothes and consider stopping at a dry cleaner later in the day.

8. Burnt Toast

If your car smells like burnt toast and you didn’t accidentally scorch your breakfast, there might be an electrical short circuit or the insulation around certain wires might be burning or melting. Driving a car with wiring issues can be risky, even leading to fire. If your car consistently smells like a charred breakfast, take it to a mechanic to get inspected.

9. Exhaust from the Passenger or Glove Compartment

If the smell of exhaust is coming from the passenger compartment, your vehicle may have a faulty exhaust pipe causing a little exhaust to leak into the passenger compartment. Take your car to a mechanic immediately after noticing an exhaust smell. Breathing noxious exhaust can impair or kill you.

10. Burning Hair

If your car smells like burning hair and you didn’t scorch your own hair with a heated hair styler that morning, a rodent or piece of road kill might be near your engine. Examine the engine and see if something tried to make your car its new home or if you picked up some road kill along the way.

If this continues to be a problem, consider parking your car somewhere else. Cars parked next to trash bins or food sources are more likely to attract and house wildlife.

11. Moldy Car Smells

Spilled drinks and food stains might be causing your moldy car smell if it was left. Visit a professional cleaning service to have them clean the scent away or try removing it yourself.

Avoid food and drink stains smelling up your car by placing liners over your seats. If there is a spill, a quick wash can take care of the problem.

Not all car smells can be sprayed away. If your car smells like one of the above, consider visiting a mechanic or cleaning expert to breathe happy in your car again. Your nose, and your passengers will thank you.