An exhaustive smell or an unpleasant smell emanates from the car, it is not just some leftover rotten food, but something more, and is unhealthy. An unpleasant smell is a clear sign of some major car problems that need to be addressed immediately. At Pitstop, our expert mechanics can diagnose your car’s problems with ease and rectify the same. But to know what kind of smell means what problem, we shall give you a guide on the 9 distinct smells in a car and what they mean. 

1. Sweet Syrup

After the turning off of the engine or some idling, a few minutes post this, one can detect a sweet syrup-smelling odour. The reason for this is a coolant-containing toxic sweet-smelling substance called ethylene glycol which is potentially leaking. The leak could either be from the radiator or the heater hose which is mainly from a malfunctioning of the intake gasket or cylinder head. If the odour is from the outside of the car, the reason is due to a leaky radiator. An odour in the passenger compartment indicates that the car has a faulty heater system. The vehicle may also have a blown head gasket which would result in the coolant mixing with the fuel. If this is the case, a white sweet-smelling smoke from the exhaust is visible.

2. Burnt Toast

Burnt toast smell from your car

Burnt toast smell from your car

An odour smelling like this could either mean a fault in electrical wiring that has been overheated and has burning insulation. It requires immediate fixing as the chances of the short circuit are high. The smell could be primarily due to a loose connection that could have caused the burning insulation and sparks. If not looked into immediately, it can lead to irreparable damage to the circuit or in rare cases spontaneous ignition.

3. Fuel Smell

If you happen to smell the gasoline, which is uncommon in modern cars, it is most likely a fuel leak. Those cars that have an old carburettor, it is common for such a smell to post the shutting down of the engine as the engine is still hot due to fuel after the boil. And if tried to begin the car and failed multiple times, it is due to the petrol flooding the engine. In modern cars, this is not a problem as they have evaporative emissions control systems. But still, a smell is a sign of a problem that could indicate a loose fuel cap or an overfilled tank. But the leak could also be from the fuel injection line. If none of the above is the cause, the car should not be troubled to start as it could be due to a leak in the severed fuel injection system.

4. Burning Rubber

An odour of burning rubber could mean that a loose rubber tube resting on the exhaust body has been shredded by a jammed pulley. If in case the brakes have been overused, it could also be the reason as the pads get overheated and the reason for the burning smell. This is considered normal if the car comes down a steep hill. While coming down the hill, hitting downshift and using engine brakes can be done in order to save the vehicle’s brake pads. If odour persists in normal conditions, either the handbrake is on or the brake is being dragged.

5. Sulphur

Smell Sulphur in your car? Here's what it means

Smell Sulphur in your car? Here’s what it means

This smell of this sort indicates that the catalytic converter is damaged or the air-fuel mixture is not filled with enough air. The smell is that of hydrogen sulphide present in the exhaust, due to the trace quantities of sulphur present in the present. The same is supposed to be converted into sulphur dioxide in the catalytic converter. The reaction also happens if there is not enough air in the fuel mixture to burn all the fuel, especially during climbing a steep hill or hitting sudden brakes. It is important to check for a malfunctioning catalytic converter.

6. Burnt Oil

This smell could mean a problem with the exhaust. The presence of exhaust fumes inside your car could mean a leak in the car’s exhaust system or poor sealing of windows and doors. The smell is more acrid, pungent than that of heated cooking oil. If the leak occurs from the crankshaft seal, the leak transfers to the exhaust and the pavement. If the valve leaks, the drips that fall on the exhaust evaporate immediately, causing fumes from the exhaust. This fume in a confined space is highly dangerous and can be deadly to both people and animals. The vehicle must be taken to the nearest Pitstop service centre and should be diagnosed and repaired immediately.

7. Damp Cloth or Mould

When the air conditioner is turned on and it smells like mould, there is a mildew growth in the vents. This is because the moisture trapped inside the air conditioner did not dry up and hence formed moulds. One solution to this problem is to turn off the air conditioner and running the fan to dry out the moisture in the air conditioner ducts. If the air conditioner when turned on after this smells stale, it is only because of water condensation. Again once the air conditioner is on, the water stays in the core evaporating system and condenses. The best thing to do in this situation is to turn on the fan in order to dry out the air conditioner. You should get your car AC vents cleaned by experts from Pitstop at some intervals.

8. Burnt Paper

Burnt Paper Smell From Your Car

Burnt Paper Smell From Your Car

This smell indicates that could mean a problem in the vehicle’s clutch, which is probably overridden or is noticeable at all speeds when quickly shifting the gear. This is because the clutch plate is getting burnt as the clutch tends to slip. The reason for a burning paper smell is due to the fact that the friction material of the clutch plate is made of a paper composition and hence the smell. This calls for immediate clutch replacement.

9. Burnt Plastic

This smell could cause extensive damage to the vehicle as this is due to the plastic insulation of the wires being worn down. This in turn causes a short circuit which can cause a fire as the exposed wires will rub together. In case of being unable to locate the exact location of the smell, take the vehicle immediately to the nearest garage or service centre to fix it immediately.

Also, read 10 Ways You Can Get Best Mileage Out Of Your Car!

These are some of the smells to look for but it is most important to comply with servicing your car on a regular basis. It is better to prevent and fix issues at the earliest instead of delaying and causing major damage to the car. Pitstop has certified mechanics that will inspect your car for such smells as well as sounds (we’ll discuss this on some other day) and rectify the issue in your car. Car smells can be annoying as well as an indication of some major issue. It’s always safe to get your car inspected for such car smells. 

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