Useful Tips

8 causes of smell in the car interior and how to eliminate it

Things in the car that cause an unpleasant odor.

When your car smells, it is usually trying to tell you something. Like the characteristic sound of a rattling timing chain, the whine of an alternator belt, or the crunch of a failed CV joint, bad smells in a car are often an indication that something is wrong somewhere in your car. Paying close attention to interior and exterior odors can help you find the culprit and fix it.

We at have looked into the common reasons why your car might smell bad and what you need to do about it.

1. Pay attention to the brakes or clutch

What it smells like: It smells burnt and pungent, sometimes like burnt rubber.

When it appears: Usually while the vehicle is moving and sometimes when the brake or clutch pedal is depressed.

Why it smells like this: Pungent, pungent, burnt odors usually mean that either the brakes or clutch materials are burnt. Driving with the brake pedal depressed or driving with the parking brake (handbrake) on – in both cases, your car will smell like burnt brakes or clutch. A stuck brake caliper or a jammed handbrake cable can also cause bad breath.

A burnt clutch smells just like brake pads that are too hot, which can be caused by driving with the clutch pedal depressed. But it can also mean that the clutch in your car has begun to slip because it is worn or needs to be adjusted. In systems with hydraulic clutches, clutch slippage can also indicate a problem with the hydraulic system.

2. Stove radiator: antifreeze leak

What it smells like: Smells sweet, like candy or maple syrup.

When it appears: the heater is on, the engine is warm, or sometimes after you have turned off the engine.

Why it smells like this: Antifreeze has a sweet smell. That is why manufacturers add a bitter chemical agent to it so that animals and children cannot drink something that smells delicious.

If you smell something sickly sweet in your car and you’re sure you didn’t accidentally spill maple syrup in the car, chances are you’re smelling antifreeze. Most likely, the problem is in the heater core. If you smell a strong smell of it in your car and notice that the windshield starts to sweat when the heater is on, this is another hint in favor of an antifreeze leak from the heating system.

Another obvious factor in the depressurization of the heating system is the presence of antifreeze on the floor in the cabin (under the rubber mats). Most often, the reason is the wear of the core of the interior heater radiator. But often the radiator itself flows.

3. Smell from water that goes where it doesn’t belong

What smell smells musty, rotten.

When it appears: constantly or after rain.

Why it smells like this: A musty or moldy smell indicates that water is getting into your car and then accumulating there. Leaking door or window seals can let water through, so if you find wet seats or carpeting, that’s probably the main odor problem.

The air conditioner evaporator is also a common cause of this particular stinky smell. That is why it is advisable to clean the ventilation system before each summer season by treating it with a special cleaner.

4. There is an engine oil leak in the car

Smell: Smells like burnt oil.

When it appears: when the engine is warm, whether you are driving or not.

Why it smells like this: When oil from an engine drips onto any part of the exhaust system, it burns. It smells bad and can create copious amounts of thick blue smoke from under the hood if the leak is strong enough. Fixing the problem is quite simple: you need to get rid of the leak.

5. Failed catalytic converter (catalyst)

What smell: smells of sulfur.

When it appears: with the engine running.

Why it smells like that: Catalytic converters are emission control components that modify exhaust gases to reduce harmful emissions. When the catalyst doesn’t work properly, it can’t clean up the exhaust gases, resulting in a sulfur smell that’s not only disgusting but also hard to breathe. To fix the cause of bad exhaust odor, either the catalytic converter needs to be replaced or repaired to whatever caused it to malfunction, provided the catalytic converter is not worn out and is working properly by itself.

Note that some lubricants used in manual transmissions and transfer cases can also smell like sulfur as they age when they leak out. You can tell if they start to leak by looking at the stains under the car. In this case, change the lubricant and repair the leak.

6. The smell of gasoline because it goes where it shouldn’t.

Smell: Smells like an aromatic hydrocarbon (gasoline).

When it appears: all the time with the engine running or on particularly hot days.

Why it smells like this: If you can smell a strong smell of gasoline coming from your car, there is a good chance that there is a serious malfunction. A slight smell of gasoline is normal, especially if you have an older car with a carburetor. Modern fuel-injected cars should not usually smell strongly of gasoline.

Leaky fuel lines, stuck injectors, faulty fuel pressure regulators, and a host of other problems can cause fuel to leak or large amounts of gasoline to enter the engine, causing a characteristic smell. In any case, it is best to find the source of the leak as soon as possible.

7. The smell of food

What a smell: smells of stench and something rotten.

When it appears: For example, after you get home from the grocery store and notice that a couple of bananas are missing from your bag.

Why it smells like this: Mostly smells in the car appear due to mechanical breakdowns, but there are also external reasons. For example, products rolled under the drivers or front passenger seat.

Before you take your car to your favorite mechanic to ask why it smells, look under the seats. There is a possibility that some food, a dirty diaper, or other smelly object has rolled into it.

8. The smell of smoke in the cabin

Smell: Smells like smoke.

When it appears: constantly.

Why it smells like this: This smell is more obvious than others, and you probably already know why the interior of your car can smell so bad. The smoke from cigars and cigarettes is one of the most persistent unpleasant automotive (and difficult to remove) odors. Even special measures, such as smoking with the windows down, do little to help.

Once your vehicle has been exposed to this source of bad odors, eliminating it becomes a difficult task. Smelly residue from cigarette burns settles on carpet and upholstery, coats windows and dashboard, and no amount of air fresheners usually help. In this case, one cannot do without a comprehensive professional cleaning of the interior from combustion products. And remember that even the pros will not be able to guarantee you the elimination of the smell of cigarettes by 100%.

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