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Ooooh That Smell – Common Car Odors and Their Causes

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Common Car Odors and Their Causes

We all want our cars to have that new-car smell, but what does it mean when you are smelling something other than what you usually smell? Unusual and/or bad smells in your car often means there is trouble, and can lead to expensive repairs or even possible health hazards. One Temecula, California Hyundai dealership advises that if you notice an unfamiliar odor, follow your nose and find the source. Then have it taken care of immediately. Here are some of the most common car odors and their possible causes:

common-car-odors-and-their-causes-mainImage via Pixabay

A Musty Odor

Have you ever got in your car, turned on the AC and smelled a musty, dank odor? Easily one of the most common car odors, this smell is often caused by mold and/or mildew forming in the air-conditioning system. This occurs when moisture, which naturally collects on the cold air-conditioning evaporator, begins to harbor mold. One simple trick to help prevent this is running only the fan at high-speed (with the air conditioning off) in order to dry the evaporator.
However, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee the problem won’t re-occur — especially if it’s being caused by a clog in the drain tube that allows water to drip out under the car. A musty smell can also can be caused by carpets and upholstery that get wet due to water leaking into the interior. 

An Odor Like Melting Plastic

Another of the common car odors, melting plastic is often exactly what it smells like – melting plastic. Most often the cause is a plastic bag stuck to the underside of your exhaust. While it is rare for a plastic bag to catch fire, it can stay stuck under there for weeks and stink, so your best is to have your mechanic remove the bag and any melted plastic that remains stuck to the car.

A Burning Odor

A burning smell can be caused by a few different things. One such cause is from oil leaking onto a hot part of the engine or exhaust system. A burning smell could also come from overheated brake pads or rotors, either due to aggressive braking, pads that don’t retract when you release the brake pedal, or even your emergency brake being inadvertently left on while you are driving. Another cause, if you drive a manual transmission, could be from the clutch. This is often caused either by “riding the clutch” and not allowing it to fully disengage, or from the clutch plate overheating due to a worn out clutch. All of these possible causes need to be checked by a mechanic. Lastly, leaves or other material in the engine compartment can also burn on hot surfaces. This can be caused by small rodents building their nests near the warmth from the engine, especially during the winter.

Burning Rubber

Another of the common car odors is the smell of burning rubber. Again, this can be caused by several different things ranging from an accessory belt that’s slipping to a hose rubbing against a moving part. Additionally, it could be the clutch plate or even from your tires due to abrupt braking. 

A Sweet, Candy-Like Odor

Coolant, or antifreeze, has a sweet, syrupy, candy-like odor. If you notice this odor, it is most often caused by some type of antifreeze leak. Unfortunately, the source may not be easy to see. It could be a leak somewhere inside the antifreeze systems, or a cracked radiator or even a cracked heater coil. Whatever the cause, breathing antifreeze is not good for you, and the problem should be addressed immediately.

A Rotten Egg Odor

If your car has a smell that reminds you of rotten eggs or sulfur, it’s a sign that your emission system is not working properly. It’s possible you will notice the check engine light come on as well. This is usually indicative that your catalytic converter is not working properly due to an engine or emissions problem. 



An Electrical Odor

If you ever encounter an electrical odor similar to burnt toast, you need to have it investigated immediately. The cause could be anything from a short circuit in an electrical component to overheated insulation. However, since short circuits and overheated components are often common sources of vehicle fires, do not wait to have it checked.  

A Gas Odor

While it is normal to smell a little bit of gas when a cold car engine is first started, it is not normal to smell it after the engine is warm. Possible causes include everything from a loose gas cap to a leaking or clogged evaporative emissions control system. Worse, you could have a gas leak located in the tank or from another part of the fuel system. Always investigate any gasoline smells you notice when your car is parked before you start the engine. This could potentially ignite the fuel. 

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