BRAKEmax Blog
Do you smell trouble? Common car smells, explained

Published on October 13, 2016 by

Brace yourselves – winter is coming.  As Tucson begins to cool down, drivers will start to use their heating systems more and this can help magnify smells developing in the car.  Below are some common types of smells and their possible causes.

Sweet odors are often caused by leaking antifreeze/coolant.  If the smell is stronger in the cabin of the vehicle, you may have a leaking heater core.  A heater core is a tiny heat exchanger usually located under the dash on the passenger’s side.  Another tell-tale sign of a heater core leak is a sweet, steamy smell that comes from the vents and usually leaves a film on the interior of the windshield.

The unmistakable unpleasant smell of decomposition is possibly just that.  In Tucson, our furry little packrat neighbors seek out warm places to nest and gather materials.  Unfortunately for us, this leads to unwanted tenants in the engine compartment of our cars.  These critters chew up wires and sometimes make their home in the blower motor which helps circulate the air in your car.  When they die, their bodies decompose and generate an obvious foul smell.  Since this can be hazardous to your health, be sure to have a smell like that checked out.

Burning rubber smells can be caused by the melting/rubbing of a rubber component like hoses and belts.  In many cases, this smell can be caused by a belt or belt pulley issue.  If the belt is too loose, it can slide across the pulley surface and create a lot of friction, causing that burning rubber smell.  In other cases the bearings inside the belt pulleys fail, causing the pulley to seize up and not rotate as the belt is rubbed on it.

Burning smells are not to be taken lightly and are a little trickier to diagnose.  The burning smell can happen due to oil leaks, worn clutch components (on manual transmission vehicles), burning brakes, electronic shorts or more.  Since they might be dangerous, make sure you let your trusted mechanic know about any burning smells while you drive.


This article was written by . Jeffry has worked with internet technology and graphic design for most of his life. He came to BRAKEmax in May of 2012 after a 7-year stint operating a local automotive service center. He married his wife Kerri in 2006; they have a son, Maxwell, and a daughter, Abby. When he's not at work, Jeffry enjoys cheering for the greatest sports team in the world, the Denver Broncos.

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