Skip to main content

Something every car owner worries about is whether or not they’ll be able to handle a problem that unexpectedly arises. If you’re not a car expert, how do you even know when something is wrong? Luckily, our vehicles show symptoms just like we do. One easy symptom to be on the lookout for is the smell in and around your car. That new-car smell doesn’t stick around forever, but what smells should you take as a red flag?

Sweet smells in your car aren’t such a sweet thing

One type of smell you always want to take seriously is a sweet smell. Some people describe it as smelling like maple syrup and others insist it smells like butterscotch or cinnamon. Regardless of what description you use, a sweet smell usually means that your coolant is leaking.

Coolant, also known as antifreeze, is the fluid in your car that regulates the temperature of the systems in your car. It keeps things from getting too hot inside your vehicle and keeps things from getting frozen in winter.

When your coolant system is working correctly, there is no smell attached. But when you begin to notice the sweet coolant smell in or around your vehicle, that’s a sign that coolant is leaking.

This can lead to your engine overheating. It’s important to take coolant leaks seriously because overheating can ultimately lead to catastrophic engine failure. Depending on how serious the leak is, this can happen over time or it can happen very quickly. Either way, engine failure will cause your engine to seize while you’re driving, which could cause an accident and lead to serious injury.

Should you call in the professionals?

Absolutely. Coolant leaks are a serious problem and there are, unfortunately, many different causes that could be behind it. Unless you really know your stuff, take your vehicle to a shop right away so a professional can figure out what’s going on. They’ll locate where the leak is, and from there figure out if another problem caused the leak in the first place.

The good news is that knowing that a sweet smell around your car is a bad sign could end up saving you big time in the long run. Catching a coolant leak early is essential in saving your car from engine failure. You never know how quickly a leak will become more serious, so take it to a mechanic as soon as you start suspecting you have one. Early detection is a much cheaper fix in the shop than a late one. Let the problem go on too long and a coolant leak could actually total an older vehicle.

Additional dangers

If the prospect of engine failure isn’t scary enough, coolant/antifreeze is extremely toxic; it contains the compound ethylene glycol, which is poisonous. While it’s unlikely that an adult could ingest enough through a leak to cause too much damage, small children and animals are also susceptible and that amount could extremely injure them, even leading to death. As much as a tablespoon could shut down a dog’s kidneys.

Because of the sweet smell of coolant, animals and children may be attracted to it. Always keep antifreeze containers tightly closed and stored where kids and pets can’t reach it. If some is spilled, ensure that it gets thoroughly cleaned with soapy water and any paper towels used get safely disposed of.

Be mindful of any smells around your car and take it into the shop as soon as you suspect a coolant leak, for the safety of yourself and the little ones around you!