Woman holding her nose after starting her car

The smell of something burning in your car can be caused by many issues relating to the engine or other systems in some cases. The smell could stem from things as simple as a belt or something more technical like burning oil. When these smells occur, the driver needs to take action right away in order to prevent further damage and potential health risks.

A lot of times ,you are able to correct the problem yourself. However, there will be instances that will require a mechanic to find out the source of the problem. It may seem difficult to tell which problem is the cause, which is why we will take a look at a few causes for the smell and how to fix the issue.

The Smell of Rubber Burning

Smelling rubber burning can be caused by the clutch, drive belt, or even a coolant leak that is pouring into the ac system. Once you begin to smell rubber burning, you will need to check all mechanical parts that are rubber.

Check the Clutch

When the clutch is going out, it will often burn and smell just like rubber. The gears will wear down and start grinding until the car is finally unable to drive. Every time your clutch slips, it will burn the clutch face. The rubber smell stems from the mesh of the clutch, which is a paper material. To decrease the slipping and burning, you need to know how to properly use the clutch. Don’t “ride the clutch,” as it will cause this burning to occur more quickly.

To rectify your clutch problem, you will need to replace the damaged parts before they get worse and require complete replacement.

Check the Drive Belt

If there’s a problem with the drive belt, it can cause a burning smell when other parts that support it remain stationary. These supporting parts include the water pump, the air pump and the compressor for the AC. When this stationary effect occurs, the pulley becomes frozen, but the belt continues to rotate and creates a smell of rubber burning. Besides the burning smell, your car may also develop some weird noises.

To rectify this, the belt will need to be changed out as well as the other belts needing to be inspected.

Check for a Radiator Antifreeze Leak

If your vehicle has a bad heater core, then you may experience antifreeze leaks sneaking into the vehicle’s AC or heating system. This could cause a smell of rubber burning and, if unattended, it may run you hundreds of dollars to repair.

To rectify this, it is imperative that you inspect your radiator for any leaks or cracks. Although a leak can seem like nothing, it can become worse over time and cause other issues if left alone.

A Stinky Gas Smell

Smelling gas is never a good thing, especially when it has been a while since your last fill-up. However, if it is a recent smell, then you likely stepped in some gasoline at the station and tracked it into your car. In this case, it should clear out naturally. If the smell is lingering though, then you may need to repair the issue. There may be a leak, an issue with an injector, or loose cap.

Having problems like these may decrease the fuel economy of the car and cause health issues if prolonged exposure continues. Getting this gas smell fixed needs to be done immediately and should be taken care of by a trained technician.

The Smell of Rotten Eggs Coming from the AC Vents

Having a smell of rotten eggs could be from a few issues within your fuel system, which is likely due to a part malfunctioning. A few parts causing it may be the sensors for the fuel pressure, catalytic converter, or fuel filters. If any of these are unable to function properly, then a sulfur smell could saturate the cabin of the car.

Besides being a foul smell, it can also cause health issues if the problem is not corrected. If anything, the problem could be an easy fix such as needing fresh fluid for the transmission, as the old fluid is capable of producing the rotten smell.

A Sour Smell Caused by Burning Oil

If your vehicle’s cabin suddenly has a strange, sour sort of smell in the air, it’s likely caused by burning oil. There are a few things you can check that might be causing your oil to burn off.

Improper Oil Changes

Having your oil changed improperly can cause oil to overflow into different areas including your exhaust. As you start your car and let it idle, the leaked oil will start to burn off and produce a sour smell.

In order to fix this, you need to ensure that the proper oil level is maintained and that there is a complete seal to prevent future leaks. Having your oil changed by a trusted professional will prevent these issues from happening.

Unsecured Oil Filter

Having an unsecured oil filter can also cause oil to spill out onto the hot parts of the engine, causing the smell to permeate the cabin. Getting the filter tightened properly will prevent oil from leaking continuously. If left unchecked, this will eventually cause the engine pistons to make a clicking noise.

Closing Thoughts

At the end of the day, having any type of unusual smell should warrant you to take your car to a shop. A trusted automotive mechanic can properly inspect and trace where the issue originated so it can be rectified completely. In the case of many of the possible hazards mentioned above, your health may become affected directly if the issues are never taken care of.

For bad smells that are unrelated to mechanical issues, you can easily invest in a system that deodorizes the air. Although they may be a little bit on the pricey side, these systems are perfect for eliminating smells and odors. It may be worth the investment to eliminate these smells if it means you will be able to drive more comfortably.

If none of the solutions mentioned above seem to explain what you’re smelling in your vehicle, it might be easier if you take a look in this video about fixing burning smells coming from a car. You might find some insight to deal with this situation for yourself.

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