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What’s That Smell And What’s Wrong With My Car?

Posted on Saturday, January 29th, 2022 | 948 views

Vehicle air ventsYou get into your car, turn the engine on and something doesn’t smell right. You’re not alone so we’ve listed what the problem could be. This happens all the time and worries a lot of drivers, especially if the smell is bad and the car doesn’t seem to be working properly.

Before you make an appointment with your mechanic, use the following information to troubleshoot the odours and get an idea of what you’re up against. Sometimes the issues are big, and sometimes they’re nothing but either way there’s no doubt your car has to be looked at by a mechanic.

What’s That Smell In My Car Mean?

There are several odours that could be coming from your engine or be caused by other issues with your car. They include:

Mildew and mold

  • If you smell this it could mean there’s mildew and mold growing somewhere in your air conditioning system. If moisture is collecting and not drying up properly, mold and mildew could accumulate and eventually make the vehicle cabin smell bad. If this is the case, your mechanic could easily remove the cause for you, but if you want to try doing it yourself first, you can buy a mold removal spray specifically for this type of vehicle problem.

Should you see your mechanic? We’ll always advise that you do because there could be an underlying issue with your air conditioning system that you may want to get rectified before it gets worse.

Exhaust and/or gas fumes

  • An uncommon reason you could be smelling exhaust fumes in your vehicle is because of minor leaks in your window and door seals. The exhaust coming out of the car’s engine pipes sometimes lingers around the vehicle and gets into the cabin especially when your car is stopped. This is rarely the case but only your mechanic would be able to know for sure.
  • The common reason you smell exhaust fumes within your cabin is because of an actual exhaust leak. This type of odour is usually from a leak somewhere in your exhaust system, e.g. one of the exhaust pipes is cracked or there’s a leak in one of your engine gaskets.
  • You may also have an issue with an air-to-fuel ratio where either too much fuel or too little air is getting into the vehicle’s combustion chambers. There may also be a problem with your fuel injectors or a clogged air filter.

Should you see your mechanic? Yes. Exhaust fumes permeating the car cabin is bad news and dangerous. Regardless of the cause, the problem needs to be looked at, diagnosed and rectified immediately.

Rotten eggs, sewer or sulfur smell

  • Sometimes the exhaust odour smells a bit like rotten eggs or sulfur which generally means you have a problem with your catalytic converter clogging up and not breaking down sulfur properly. The function of the catalytic converter is to convert certain gases into harmless ones. A damaged catalytic converter usually produces this odour, can reduce your car’s performance and even make it fail an emissions test.

Should you see your mechanic? Absolutely. Issues with a catalytic converter should be fixed as soon as possible. A bad catalytic converter because a range of issues including reduced engine performance and eventually engine failure.

Burning rubber

  • You may have a burnt out clutch.
  • Your engine could be burning oil.
  • Your drive-belts may be overheating.
  • Your brakes could be overheating.
  • There may be an electrical short.
  • Your radiator could be leaking fluid.
  • Your tires could be on improperly.

Should you see your mechanic? It would be a good idea. Most of the issues above are serious enough to be dangerous situations if your mechanic doesn’t look at it and find out what’s going on rather quickly.

A sweet syrup odour

  • Usually a sweet smelling type of smell coming from your engine means there’s antifreeze/coolant leaking into your engine cylinders.  with your head gasket. Sometimes there is no smell, and only the sight of white smoke clouds coming from the engine. If this is the case, your engine is highly susceptible to overheating.
  • If the leak is slow, you can drive for a while and make sure to continue re-filling the radiator with coolant until you can get to a mechanic but you can’t ignore the problem for long.

Should you see your mechanic? Of course. You’re not going to get away or be able to drive too far if your engine coolant is leaking. In a short time your engine will overheat and become damaged. Depending on the amount of damage, your engine may need to be replaced.

Burning oil

  • If you smell burning oil within the cab of your vehicle your engine could be burning oil or you could have an oil leak. The leak could be coming from the oil drain plug. It could also stem from the oil filter not being placed on tightly enough. Also, the oil cap on your engine may not have been properly screwed on.
  • Burning oil could also be a sign that your oil levels are low, and that you need an oil change or oil flush.
  • Slow oil leak. You may have noticed that your oil levels get too low between oil changes.

Should you see your mechanic? It’s highly important to. Burning oil could ignite and cause a fire around your engine and spread into the cabin. A fire could also completely destroy your engine and force you to get it replaced. Simply take your vehicle back to where you had your oil change done, and have them check everything. A lot of the time the leak is minor but there’s no reason to ignore it.

Burning carpet

  • If you smell a burning carpet type of smell, your brake pads or your car’s rotors are overheating. It may also mean your brake pads are too thin or your brake-calipers are sticking. If  smell the odour the smell even though you’re not braking a lot or you’re not on a hill with a steep incline, your brakes are susceptible to failing.

Should you see your mechanic? This smell can indicate imminent brake failure and you may need brake repairs. For more information you can read the signs you need new brake pads.

Burning hair

  • If you smell burning hair while you’re driving it could mean that an animal like a cat, or raccoon or squirrel has made a nest in the engine block of your vehicle. It’s quite common that wild animals take up residence in engine blocks because they can sense the heat while they try to shelter from the cold. The problem is sometimes they don’t make it out in time and do get injured or killed, or the heat from the engine heats up or burns their nest. Animal nests are usually made with hair and/or fur which is where the burning hair smell comes from.

Should you see your mechanic? Not necessarily but if an animal made a nest in your vehicle, it could have damaged other parts of the engine like chewing through wires or rubber tubes in order to create nesting. Since that is quite likely, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have your mechanic examine your engine for any damage.

Take Your Vehicle to Your Mechanic

It should be pretty clear that smelling any odd odour while you are driving or idling, means there could be a serious problem. At least now you’re equipped with some general knowledge of what the problem could be and what may need to be done to fix it.

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