Car Smells: What They Mean

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This is the companion article to Car Sounds: What They Mean. Your car is powered by a series of chemical reactions that require several elements to function properly: gasoline, oil, water, antifreeze and fluids of various kinds. Thanks to these chemicals, when something goes wrong you can usually smell it. Unfortunately, when a problem gets so bad that you can smell it, it means you’re overdue at the mechanic’s. If you notice any of the smells or symptoms mentioned in this article, drive over to the auto professionals at ACA and we will diagnose your issue honestly and efficiently.

A Sweet Smell

This means you have a coolant issue. The sweet smell – and taste – of antifreeze is due to its ethelyne glycol solution. This is why dogs and other pets so commonly ingest it. (Antifreeze is extremely poisonous, so if you or a pet have ingested it, seek medical attention at once.)

The smell may be due to a punctured radiator hose or water pump. Antifreeze color varies and a green, orange or yellow puddle underneath your car is a visible sign of the issue that demands immediate attention. If not repaired soon it can lead to an overheated engine and a cracked engine block.

A Burning Smell

If the burning is crisp and sharp, maybe like burned toast, there’s probably an electrical issue. A wire may have shorted or you may be smelling burning insulation. Electrical issues can be tricky, so try not to drive your car until it’s properly diagnosed.

If you smell burning rubber this could be a drive or accessory belt that has been damaged or loosened. It could also be that a hose is pressing against something it shouldn’t be. This in turn can lead to fluid leaks.

A Gasoline Smell

If this smell arises after you’ve tried and failed to start your car, it’s possible that you’ve flooded your engine. Wait a minute or two and then try to start the car again. If the gasoline smell persists, you may have a leak somewhere in your fuel system.

A Rotten Egg Smell

This one, as you can imagine, is pretty foul. A sulphuric smell usually accompanies a malfunction in your catalytic converter or emission controllers. These devices convert the harmful gases inside your car into exhaust. If something has broken in this system, you need to drive to your mechanic right away – with the windows down.

The Smell of Exhaust

The same goes for when you smell exhaust inside the car. This is usually the result of a carbon monoxide leak. Carbon monoxide is poisonous and will cause drowsiness and eventually death. Roll the windows all the way down and get your car checked immediately.