Why Does My Car Smell? What These 5 Common Car Odors Mean

Is the interior of your car emitting a funky smell? Are you having trouble locating where and what it is? Fortunately, it could be something as simple as having to vacuum your car and clean the floor mats. However, it could also be something else and you’ll have to have your car professionally cleaned. Here are five common odors and what to do about them.

The gray-leather front seats and dashboard of a 2005 7th-gen Honda Accord Hybrid
2005 7th-gen Honda Accord Hybrid leather interior | Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

If your car smells like burnt carpet, it could be a mechanical issue

Close-up shot of a Tesla wheel, showing a red EV brake caliper
Tesla EV brakes | Christian Charisius/picture alliance via Getty Images

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Does the interior of your car smell like a burnt carpet? According to Family Handyman, that burning smell could mean that there’s an issue with the car’s brakes. If the car smells like burning rubber, then it could be an issue with the engine’s belts or hoses. And if the car smells like burnt metal, then it could be the clutch. In any of these cases, you may need to replace the broken parts or have a qualified mechanic do it for you.

If your car smells like a deep fryer, then there may be an oil leak

A man refills the engine's oil with a funnel and the proper oil
A man refills an engine’s oil | Tim Mossholder via Unsplash

If your car smells like burnt oil, then the car could be leaking or burning oil. In this case, you should check the car’s oil level via the dipstick and check underneath the car for any oil leaks. It’s possible that the oil crankshaft or valve cover is leaking as well due to old gaskets.

If your car smells like gas, then there could be a fuel leak

pumping gas
A customer pumps gasoline into his car at an Arco gas station | Getty

If the car’s interior smells like gasoline, then there could be an issue with the car’s fuel lines, fuel vent hose, or even the gas cap. Be sure to check around the gas tank and cap area for any leaks.

If your car smells like maple syrup, then there might be a coolant issue

A close-up picture of a Hyundai radiator coolant cap.
A close-up picture of a Hyundai radiator coolant cap. | Getty Images

If your car smells like maple syrup, then you either spilled some while eating pancakes in your car or it has a coolant leak. As weird as it sounds, the green stuff that you put in your radiator smells a lot like the brown stuff you put on your waffles. In that case, be sure to check the radiator hoses and around the engine compartment for any coolant leaks.

The worst-case scenario is that the car has a blown head gasket. In order to check, look under the engine oil cap for a milky white substance – sometimes referred to as “milkshake.” If you find any milkshake underneath the cap, that means the coolant is leaking into the engine’s combustion chambers and the head gasket needs to be replaced.

If your car smells like rotten eggs, then it is most likely the catalytic converter

An automotive technician etches a catalytic converter with the cars license plate number.
A mechanic etches a catalytic converter with the car’s license plate number. | Mindy Schauer/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images

If your car smells like rotten eggs, then it could be time to change out the catalytic converter. That rotten egg smells is due to too much fuel entering the exhaust system, so it’s a good idea to get it fixed as soon as possible.

Your car smells, but there is always a solution

If your car smells like one of the aforementioned five odors, then there could be a fix. It could be something as innocuous as having clean the carpets and replace the cabin filter or it could be something more serious like a blown head gasket. Either way, be prepared to hunt down some mechanical issues, but hopefully, the issue is something as simple as spilled maple syrup.

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