Diagnosing smells coming from your car engine

By: Kris LeSueur   |   25 Jul 2022

A foul or weird smell is always a warning sign that something may be wrong, even outside the automotive world. These warning signs should never be ignored, especially if they are coming from your car engine.

Sometimes, the smell doesn’t have to be nasty or funky, but any unusual odor you have never encountered before should raise a red flag. Here are tips to know what’s possibly causing the foul smell from your engine and what to do about it.

Burning oil smell

When you smell something like burning oil, there are multiple possible causes. You could be running low on oil. Or your engine is overheating, and your temp gauge doesn't show it. You can check for an oil leak if it's not the two. An oil leak can cause a burning oil smell, too.

The culprit may be a loose drain plug or filter if you have recently changed your car oil. When the oil cap is not properly screwed, it can cause leaks, too.

Oil gaskets or pans at the bottom of the engine are prone to damage because of road debris, even from daily driving. Damaged gaskets or pans can cause oil leaks.

You shouldn’t be nonchalant about oil leaks. They can cause a fire if the leak is close to a hot exhaust pipe. You should bring your car to a mechanic as soon as possible when you confirm there is an oil leak.

Exhaust or fumes

It’s never a good sign to smell fumes inside your car. There can be an exhaust leak which you should immediately address because it can raise the level of carbon monoxide inside your car to a dangerous level.

The first thing you should do is roll your windows down, pull over to the side, turn your engine off, and have your car towed to a mechanic shop.

Maple syrup scent

As sweet as it smells, you shouldn’t shrug it off if you smell a maple syrup scent. This is a sign of a coolant leak. It can be hard to see cracks in your cooler as they can be so small, but driving with a coolant leak is not a good idea. It can damage your car engine due to overheating.

Burnt rubber

It’s not uncommon to smell burnt rubber. One possible reason for the smell is your clutch’s face burning off when you shift gears. To prevent this clutch problem from happening, use the clutch properly.

It could also come from a cooling or power steering system hose. The burnt rubber smell may indicate that the hose came in contact with a belt and is melting. If this is the case, pull over and let the car cool down before checking any belts and hoses. You have to replace the affected hose or belt right away.

You can troubleshoot or diagnose on your own, but remember that the best course of action is to let professionals handle the case to avoid any further damage to the car. Still, it’s a great skill to train yourself to detect these odors.

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