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What’s that smell from my car? Top causes and cures

Many people often know there is something wrong with the engine from the sounds under the hood. However, you can also use your other sensory organ, the nose, to diagnose problems with your engine.

Any smell that is out of the ordinary might indicate that there is something amiss. Whether there is musty air emanating from your air conditioner or the smell of rotten eggs in your vehicle’s interior, something is going on that needs to be rectified.

Read more: Best tips for setting up your own home car workshop

6 common car smells, their causes and how to remove them

1. The vehicle smells of gas.

If you still smell gas, even after you have filled up and left the station, then pay attention; you may have a faulty gas cap, leaky injector or defective fuel tank. When any of these scenarios occur, it will hurt your vehicle’s fuel economy and efficiency. Further, prolonged inhalation of gas could hurt your health.

However, the smell may not be from all these; you may have gotten some gasoline on your clothing while at the fuelling station. It is therefore essential to first check.

Since you cannot fix a faulty gas cap on your own or a defective fuel tank, visit your nearest technician for a proper diagnosis.

2. Exhaust fumes inside the cabin

This is a serious smell you should not ignore even once; exhaust fumes clearly indicate a leak in the vehicle’s exhaust system. It may also indicate poor seals on the doors and windows.

This smell is hazardous, especially when exposed over a long duration and in a confined space. It can be lethal to both humans and animals.

If you have this problem, it is essential to open the windows to get clean air in circulation and take the car to the mechanic for a proper diagnosis and repair.

3. Burning rubber smell

When you notice the smell of burning rubber and are not a race car driver on the track, there is cause for concern. This smell indicates that the rubber hose has loosened. It might also be an indication that the timing belt has also loosened.

When this occurs, the parts attached to these rubber components are in contact with the hot engine parts and hence, the burning smell from under the hood.

On other occasions, a burning rubber smell may be originating from an oil leak or a damaged drive belt.


It is not advisable to wait out the situation because it will not improve with time. Visit your trusted auto repair shop for an accurate diagnosis.

4. Rotten egg smell from the vents

Rotten egg odours are bothersome and very uncomfortable, especially when they come from your vehicle’s vents. This smell signifies that there is a faulty part in the fuel system. Some of the affected parts may include the fuel filters, catalytic converters and fuel pressure sensors.

The smell is often the result of the sulphur gas leaking and finding its way into your cabin or old transmission fluid.

The quickest fix is to replace the transmission fluid. Visit an auto repair shop for a precise diagnosis if the smell persists.

5. Musty air from the a/c

Mildew or mould can build up in your vehicle’s a/c. This causes a musty smell in your cabin. In other scenarios, excessive moisture accumulated in the vehicle’s air filter may be causing musty air. It is dangerous to inhale mouldy air because it can cause problems with your breathing system.

When you further experience the smell of vinegar, it is time to take your car for a/c services. This will keep you from suffering allergies that may damage your health.

To prevent the a/c from sustaining these damages, run it monthly for several minutes. This will lubricate the oil seals and bearings in the compressor.

6. Maple syrup

If there is a sweet smell or something similar to fruity candy, then your engine coolant might be leaking. This often spells disaster for your car as it may overheat.

If the coolant is indeed leaking, do not continue to drive. You may damage the engine even further. It will help if you have the car towed to the nearest repair shop.

7. Burning oil or acrid smoke

An oil leak might cause this smell. An oil leak is a risk because it affects the exhaust and may cause a fire. Additionally, if there is a low oil level, you could severely damage your engine because of insufficient lubrication.

The leak might result from a loose filter or drain plug in other cases. Further, a loose oil cap may be the culprit.

Regardless, do not ignore an oil leak. Take the car to the mechanic and have it checked for any leaks. If any part needs to be replaced, source it from junkyards or for exclusive deals.

8. Burning plastic

A short circuit in the vehicle’s wiring often causes this. When the plastic insulation wears out, the naked wires will rub together, which produces a short, resulting in a fire.

Other variants of short circuits burn the plastic directly hence the smell. However, the smell may be from something else, like a plastic bag, that found its way into the exhaust and was melted.

When you notice this smell, pull over, locate the smell, and take the car for professional care if you cannot fix it yourself.

9. Burnt carpet

This type of smell often denotes an overheated rotor or brake pad. If you are driving down a steep slope and are keeping your foot on the brake, this smell may be the indication that the brake pads are overheating.

On many occasions, this causes premature wear of the brake pads, which results in brake failure.

Have the brake pads inspected often and replaced with original pads if needed.

Wrapping up

Used car parts are better as compared to new parts. When you need to replace faulty parts, ensure you consult reputable car breakers who will furnish you with OEM parts that fit your car. is a reputable original second-hand car parts dealer with years of experience. Check out the website and compare the prices of various car parts you might need.

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