The 7 Most Common Smells Your Car Might Emit – And What They Mean!

Car Maintenance, Tips

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smell inside car

Cars are complicated machines – and when something’s going wrong, it’s often hard to diagnose the problem. However, we have a great diagnostic instrument that can help us – and it’s attached to our faces!

We’re talking about the nose, of course! If you start to smell something funny when driving your car, there’s a good chance that you’re experiencing some mechanical difficulties – and your nose can help you sniff out the issue!

In this article, we’ll discuss the 7 most common smells that your car might be giving off – and what they might mean about the health of your vehicle.

1. Maple Syrup

You’ll usually start to smell this after your engine has warmed up, but the smell could also persist after you shut the car off and it sits for a few minutes.

The culprit of this sweet, sickly smell is ethylene glycol. This toxic compound is used in engine coolant, and if you smell a sweet scent, it’s likely you’ve sprung a leak somewhere.

It could be in your heater hose or radiator, cylinder head, or even a failed gasket in the intake manifold. To trace the source of the leak, you should take your car to a qualified mechanic right away.

2. Sulfur

If you smell a seriously pungent or acrid smell that makes you choke up or gasp for air, it’s likely sulfur leaking from a manual transmission, a differential housing, or a transfer case. You might smell this at any time when driving your car.

The oil used in these extremely high-pressure components contains sulfur compounds, due to its great lubricant qualities. However, after a few years, this compound can start to leak.

If you smell something that is like rotten eggs – but a thousand times worse – check for dribbles of oily, viscous liquid under your car, and take a trip to the repair shop if you find any.

3. Stinky Laundry

You’ll usually catch wind of this scent when turning on your heater or air conditioner. This means you’ve got good ol’ mildew growing somewhere in your A/C system, usually on your A/C evaporator.

If the smell is pretty mild, you can often do a DIY mildew treatment by running your auto fans on high, and turning off your A/C. Then just drive around for a while – this should blast away most of the excess moisture in your A/C system.

However, heavy growth may require professional repair and removal, and may indicate further issues with your A/C system. If the smell doesn’t go away, get your car serviced right away.

4. A Gas Station

You’ll usually notice the smell of gasoline when your car is parked, especially if it’s inside a garage where the scent can build up.

Any kind of gas smell means that gasoline is leaking somewhere within your vehicle – and this is never normal. Your fuel line could be damaged, or a fuel-tank vent hose could be faulty.

If you smell gasoline in your car, take it in for repairs right away, or you risk damaging it further.

5. Burning Engine Oil

Well, the cause of this smell is kind of obvious – your engine oil is leaking, and burning up on the hot engine block or other hot parts of your car. If you are experiencing oil leaks, the telltale indicator is pools of oil on the pavement where you park your car.

Burning engine oil can also be caused by well – burning engine oil. If your car is overheating or lacks appropriate coolant, the oil will overheat and may begin to smell and smoke, even if there are no oil leaks.

6. Rotten Eggs

A mild rotten egg smell is an indicator that your car’s catalytic converter has failed. You may smell this at any time that your engine is running.

Normally, your catalytic converter converts the exhaust gas hydrogen sulfide into sulfur dioxide – which has no scent. So, if you smell rotten eggs, your catalytic converter has failed.

That’s bad news, because replacements are often expensive. However, the good news is that catalytic converters often have a very long warranty – so you may be covered. Check with your auto dealer or repair shop to see if your catalytic converter is still under warranty

7. Burning Carpet

This smell is caused by overheated brake pads, and is not usually a cause for concern if you’ve been hauling a heavy load, driving through a mountainous region, or otherwise been using your brakes quite a bit.


However, if you smell this under normal driving conditions, your brake caliper may be failing and “dragging” your brake pad against your wheel, overheating it. Or, you may have just left your parking brake on!

Use Your Nose – Find Out What’s Wrong With Your Car!

Next time you smell something funny in your car, think about this article! While these nose-based diagnostic techniques aren’t foolproof, they’ll put you on the right track.

And if you do start to smell something funny in your car, don’t risk damaging your vehicle further – take it in for an inspection right away. At Ride Time’s service centre, we can diagnose any issues with your vehicle, provide a reasonable repair estimate, and get you back on the road ASAP!  Schedule your appointment online today.

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