What’s that weird smell in my car?

With the weather in Vancouver going through its typical Spring inconsistencies, you may find yourself using the A/C this week and the heater the next. Standard functioning vehicles will be odorless when air flows through the vents, but what happens with the air smells unusual? 

 

Any smell other than an odorless smell can leave room for concern, below is an outline of potential odors and the culprit to the problem: 

 

 A rubber smell in a car cabin: The smell of burning rubber can indicate an overheated clutch plate. It could also point to an issue with your accessory drive belt slipping. If your car accessory drive belt is not moving, it could be getting chewed by a broken pulley or a hose rubbing against a moving part. 

                

The smell of gas: While It’s normal to smell a little gasoline when turning on a cold engine due to incomplete combustion, if you smell gas after the car is already warm, the gas cap could be loose. If your gas cap is fully secured, the evaporative emissions control system — which contains your vehicle’s fuel vapors and recycles it through the engine — could be leaking or clogged. In the worst-case scenario, gas could be leaking from the tank or another part of the fuel system. If this is the case, investigate with the engine turned off and consult your automotive technician. 

 

A musty smell in your car cabin: If you turn on your air conditioner and notice a musty scent from the vents, there could be mold or mildew formed in your vehicle’s air-conditioning system. The air conditioning evaporator is similar to a small radiator that carries refrigerant into your vehicle’s dashboard, and can sometimes accumulate mold. 

 

It smells like rotten eggs: If there is a rotten eggs smell or sulfur, your catalytic converter may have started to deteriorate. The root of the issue could be an engine or emissions system problem that resulted in the converter overheating.

 

A sweet smell: A sweet smell may indicate an antifreeze leak in the cooling system. Antifreeze has a bit of a syrupy smell and may not be easy to see. The hole could be from a corroded heat exchanger, which is difficult to see due to it being behind your car’s dashboard. The leak could result in the steam that enters the car cabin, and it’s vital to have this problem addressed by an automotive technician due to the dangers of breathing antifreeze.

 

A burning smell: Oil is the usual culprit for a burning smell. A burning smell can occur if the oil has leaked into the exhaust or just a hot surface of the engine. The scent could also come from the brake pads or rotors overheating. Brake pads and rotors can overheat due to either too aggressive braking, brake pads that don’t retract after releasing the brake pedal or leaving on the emergency brake. On a vehicle with a manual transmission, the clutch plate could be worn or overheating from riding the clutch pedal. In rare cases, tree leaves or other material in the engine compartment can also produce a burning smell. 

 

An electrical smell: Electrical smells are quite severe as they are familiar sources of fires. An electrical type of smell may be due to a short circuit in an electrical component or overheated insulation. 

 

 Staying informed about the odors of your vehicle is a necessary safety measure for you and your vehicle. If you cannot distinguish between odors and are concerned, always consult a trained automotive specialist. 

 

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