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6 Vehicle Warning Smells

Woman Worried About Car Smells

Our senses are there for us to observe and understand the environment around us. They're also there to protect us from danger. When operating a vehicle, it's really important to stay alert and a pay attention to the warning sings it's giving you. When your car begins to smell, it could mean your safety is at risk. Below are some warning signs to look out for when on the road. 

Burnt Rubber 

The smell could mean slipping drive belts or misplaced loose hoses that might be rubbing against rotating accessory drive pulleys. The engine of your car contains a lot of drive belts and rubber hoses that can eventually work loose or lose their securing clips and pins through vibrations. If they slip out of place, they can rub against the hot part of the engine and produce a burnt rubber smell. Make sure to rescue it before it melts through!

Caution: Do not reach in to check when the engine is hot. Make sure the engine is cool before popping the hood and looking for the culprit.

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. There could also possibly be fumes as a result of the burning oil. If this is the case, make sure to take your vehicle to an auto repair shop as soon as possible. If you wait, your car will likely suffer more damage.

Caution: Turn the engine off before checking for a leak.

Rotten Eggs

This smell could mean you left a few groceries in the trunk and they went bad. Or, it could mean the catalytic converter is not converting hydrogen sulfide in the exhaust to sulfur dioxide properly. It is not a normal smell to have in the car either way!

Caution: A poor running engine can cause the catalytic converter to become overloaded and fail due to meltdown. Make sure to visit an auto repair shop as quickly as possible because this could be a very costly repair.

 Catalytic Converter

a device attached to the exhaust system of an auto or other engine to eliminate or substantially reduce polluting emissions


 The sweet smell of syrup may be a sign that someone spilled breakfast all over themselves. Or, it could be that the car is leaking engine coolant from a component related to the car's cooling system. The scent is usually faint at first, but it progressively gets worse the longer you wait. It's key to check the coolant level directly after the first whiff of syrup scent. You can then accurately assess the severity of the leak and see if you need immediate help.

Caution: Do not open the radiator cap when it is hot.

Burning Carpet 

This smell could be a sign of brake trouble. It usually means your brakes are overheated, or that the brake pad material is being worn down at a much higher rate than normal. Have your brakes checked right away, especially if this smell is happening during normal driving conditions.

Caution: Brake trouble is always a safety hazard.


This smell is likely the sign of a gas leak, possibly a fuel injector line or the fuel tank. This isn't a quick fix and will require a trip to the auto repair shop.

Caution: Any smell of fuel is a possible fire hazard, so immediate attention should be given. If you've seen a car engulfed in flames on the side of a freeway, it was likely a gasoline leak.

If you detect one of these vehicle warning smells, make sure to proceed with caution. These problems could be potentially dangerous, so make sure to talk with a professional auto repair technician.

This article was written with the help and resources from the non-profit Car Care Council. The "Be Car Care Aware" campaign is a consumer education program about the benefits of regular vehicle care, maintenance and repair, designed to provide knowledge from all segments of the automotive aftermarket industry.

The non-profit 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. To view the Car Care Council's consumer education website, visit www.carcare.org

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