What’s That Smell? The 7 Deadly Car Smells And How To Fix Them…

Imagine this: You wake up to a perfect morning. Coffee’s already brewing, you’ve had the perfect breakfast, and you’re feeling pretty great. You head out of your house, feeling ready to tackle your day. Until your car just ruins it.

You step into your car and find it smells absolutely putrid. Not only is the rest of your day ruined, but now you also have a smelly car on your hands that you don’t even know what to do with.

Maybe this has never happened to you, or maybe as you’re reading this, you’re in your car right now nodding and curled up in corner of the backseat – crying at the pain you’ve had to endure from those smells.

Either way, these smells are not good.

Young driver is depressed because of his problems

Now, don’t misunderstand me. The point of today’s blog post is not ‘How To Make Your Car Smell Awesome.’ If that’s what you’re interested in, you probably should not even be reading this. But to save you time, just buy an air freshener. There you go. Done. Problem solved.

What this blog post is for however, is how to identify 7 unusual smells that tend to pop up in your car that should raise an alarm and let you be alert to the potential dangers your car faces. Whether or not the smell is rotten is beside the point, although some of them may truly be horrid-smelling. However, you have to admit, who wants to have a smelly car?

If you are a mother or father, would you want your baby to have poop in his diaper the whole day as you’re out and about? Of course not.

Well, since your car probably is your ‘baby’ as well, you’d want it to radiate a scent of excellence and purity – just like a fresh, spongy, pale white baby’s butt after cleaning his diaper.

Simply put: if you do not know the cause of your problems (aka the smells and what they represent), you will not be able to solve them. These 7 Deadly Car Smells will help shed light on some of the potential doom your car might be facing.

Every car has a certain smell. From ones that are brand new and smell nice, to ones that have been used by everyone and their cousin and smell like a barnyard. But while these are usually scents that persist, often times a certain smell can only appear in some situations. And no, i’m not talking about the smell that comes from a burnout. Although every car enthusiast loves the smell of burning tires, what this article is here to discuss are the smells that indicate something is clearly wrong with your vehicle.


The classic smell of petrol or that of a petrol station can indicate that there is a fuel leak somewhere in the system. Old cars are much more prone to this sort of problem because they use carburetors, a dated piece of technology that was replaced by fuel injection some 20 odd years ago. Talk about development. Make sure to check all fuel hoses and vents in your fuel system and replace any bad ones that are leaking or may have gone brittle.


Alright explosions doesn’t typically have a ‘smell’ per se, but just imagine for a second how a gas station would smell like if it were about to explode (you’ve probably seen it in the movies). This kind of ‘smell’ usually means that gear fluid is leaking from

CHIANG MAI THAILAND - JANUARY 1 : Car fire due to a gas explosion. While driving up to the hill. This makes all the damaged on car but driver is safe on January 1 2015 in Chiang Mai Thailand.

the transmission case, transfer case or even from the differential housing. Expect the smell to be sulfur-y, because nearly every oil on sale uses sulfur compounds as a lube for the gears.

As with anything else, the compound can get old and tired and won’t be able to do its job properly, except instead of taking it to an old people’s retirement home, you’ll simply have to switch it for a new one.

Sweaty Socks

Sweaty socks only belong in 2 places: the gym and your laundry. If you smell it in your car, then scenario 1 is to check your backseat to see if you have a bunch of dirty laundry there. If you’re in the clear, then you most likely belong to scenario 2 where you have an AC problem.

You can test this out by simply turning off the air-conditioning fan. If it is turned off and your car is suddenly filled with the smell of sweaty socks, you’re probably looking at a wet AC system with mildew in it. You could take it to a dealer and have it cleaned out, but a much less expensive solution is to run the fan on high for a little while to see if that fixes it. After all, you’ve got nothing to lose. If it doesn’t work you’ll just have to take it to your dealer and fork out for a fix.

rotten egg in white plate on wood background.

Rotten Eggs

Remember those days back in college where you were too lazy to even check your fridge from time to time, and realize that your eggs had rot, giving off a horrible smell? Side note: if you still have that problem even though you’re not in college anymore, stop nervously laughing as you’re reading this and get your house in order before worrying about your car. But anyway, if your car smell does bring you back to those college days with the smell of rotten eggs in it, be wary. This problem is often a biggie, because it could either be a problem with the fuel-injection system (expensive), or your catalytic converter (a small fortune). A lot of the time the car is covered with a warranty so be sure to see if yours is before you decide to order a new one yourself.

Burning Paper

old paper with burnt edges isolated on white

An odor giving off the impression of burning paper means that you’re either wasting your clutch completely by not taking your foot off of the clutch pedal and should probably stop riding it, or it was simply time to go. Either way, if the friction plate is worn out to the point that it needs to stop and have a breather, you’ll probably have to replace the entire thing. Unfortunately, that’s not going to be your cheapest fix – but it’s better than smelling burning paper every single day.

Burning Oil

Quite often users report they can smell oil burning after their engine gets hot. This problem is as self-explanatory as it gets – your engine is actually burning oil; although not in the way you might think. Oil could be dripping down to the heated Burning of associated gas at oil production.manifold giving off the strong nose-pinching smell. Again, you’re dealing with a leak somewhere and you’ll have to stem it. Because it’s oil however, it should be pretty easy to spot as some of it will inevitably drop down to the ground. Unless of course it’s coming from the valve cover, in which case you’ll have to visually inspect the engine bay.

Burning Carpet

Brakes can be a major issue when not looked out for properly. They are not just an inconvenience but a safety threat when they’re not working as they should be. If you don’t do regular maintenance to your brakes (not the smartest thing to do) and smell something that resembles that of a burning carpet or fabric, it’s possible that the brakes might be causing the problem. This mostly happens when going downhill and heating the brakes up a lot, at which point a lot of people discover they should have changed the brake pads sooner. There’s nothing worse than going downhill and smelling a carpet burning. It’ll not only leave you confused, but you’ll be fighting in an uphill battle of having to fork out money to repair one of the most crucial components of your car, while in the meantime making sure you’re still driving safely – kind of ironic, but pretty symbolic if you ask me.


So there you have it – the 7 Deadly Car Smells And How To Fix Them. With all the burning smells talked about in this post, its no wonder that they might lead you to some form of metaphorical hell if not properly kept in check. You may not be a believer in religion or scripture, but if you’re reading this you’re sure as hell a believer in your car. Identify these 7 ‘sins’ as soon as they pop into your radar, and eliminate them ruthlessly before you’re left repenting for a second chance at redemption for your car.

About Chad Ina

Chad Ina

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