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March 03, 2014

Does Your Car Smell Funny? Here's What It Can Mean

Car_Care_Council-6_Warning_Smells-Infographic_small-lead2When it comes down to finding trouble in your car, sometimes it's best to trust your nose. While most of us enjoy that “new car smell,” there are other specific odors that motorists should never ignore.

Use this easy-to-understand infographic from the Car Care Council to identify six car smells that could mean trouble for your vehicle. Identifying these suspect smells early on can help car owners be car care aware and avoid the hassle and expense of an unexpected breakdown, says the Car Care Council.

“Unusual smells can be the sign of serious, and potentially costly, trouble for your vehicle. By acting quickly and making necessary repairs, you’ll be able to breathe easy knowing there is no harmful damage to your car,” said Rich White, executive director, Car Care Council.

The Car Care Council recommends a simple non-technical sniff test of your vehicle to identify any unusual smells, including the following six warning signs:


Car_Care_Council-6_Warning_Smells-Infographic1. Burnt Rubber
The smell of burnt rubber could be slipping drive belts or misplaced loose hoses that might be rubbing against rotating accessory drive pulleys. TAKE CARE: Don't reach in if the engine compartment is hot!

2. Hot OIl
The smell of hot oil could mean that oil is leaking onto the exhaust system. To verify the leak, look for oil on the pavement or smoke coming from the engine area.

3. Gasoline
The smell of gasoline is likely the sign of a gas leak in some area of the vehicle such as a fuel injector line or the fuel tank. Any smell of fuel can result in a possible fire hazard, so immediate attention should be given.

4. Syrup
The sweet smell of syrup may be a sign that your car is leaking engine coolant from a leaky component related to the car’s cooling system. DANGER: Do not open the radiator cap when it is hot.

5. Burning Carpet
The smell of burning carpet could be a sign of brake trouble and a safety hazard. Have your brakes checked right away, especially if this smell is happening during normal driving conditions.

6. Rotten Eggs
The smell of rotten eggs is never a good one and, if you smell it coming from your vehicle, it could mean a problem with your catalytic converter not converting the hydrogen sulfide in the exhaust to sulfur dioxide properly. This smell can also be attributed to a poor running engine, causing the catalytic converter to become overloaded and fail due to meltdown.


“When you smell any peculiar odor, you should not ignore it. Instead bring your vehicle to a professional service technician that you trust to get an informed opinion on the nature of the odor,” concluded White.

Remember, once you know what a smell may be, don’t delay in fixing it to ensure you are safe on the road! If you need a local mechanic to help with fixing and identifying a car smell, try their Find A Shop feature.

The Car Care Council is the source of information for the “Be Car Care Aware” consumer education campaign promoting the benefits of regular vehicle care, maintenance and repair to consumers. For a copy of the council’s Car Care Guide or for more information, visit


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