What’s That Smell? 7 Odors That Could Mean Car Trouble

Uh-oh. You're on your third pine-tree-shaped air freshener in a week. After removing sardine cans, fast food wrappers, all hippies, and your gym shorts, your car still smells rank. Could this mean ultimate vehicular demise, or merely a simple problem with your brake pads? Educate yourself a bit before you head to the mechanic: these seven odors could mean car trouble, and everything will (hopefully) be coming up roses soon.

  1. Rotten Eggs

    Remove the two-week-old deviled egg tray from your backseat — and take a little more pride in your vehicle (not to mention your hors d'oeuvres). Next, have your catalytic converter checked. A clogged one of these can contribute to poor gas mileage, so consider paying the mechanic's bill now to achieve fuel efficiency later.

  2. Butterscotch

    If your car smells deliciously sweet — that is, like maple syrup or butterscotch — you've likely got a sour problem on your hands. The odor may indicate a coolant or antifreeze leak, which could lead to severe auto issues, including engine lock-up and failure, if left unchecked.

  3. Gas

    Is a scorned lover or a member of the mafia out to exact revenge? Think hard: are you sure? If your car hasn't recently been doused with gasoline in an attempt to firebomb you, you may have some pretty serious car problems. A gasoline odor in a car less than 30 years old should be a maintenance red flag. The evaporative emissions systems in newer cars are much more secure than their antiquated counterparts, and a smell of gasoline could indicate several problems — fuel injection leaks, fuel pressure problems, or bad ignition timing among them.

  4. Burning Paper

    You're probably burning off your clutch facing. The face of the clutch is formed from a paper composite, contributing to the smell of smoldering newspaper when you engage the clutch to shift gears. Several options here: replace it, take your car into a mechanic, or maybe just learn how to drive a stick.

  5. Burnt Carpet or Burnt Hair

    You're riding the brakes! The smell of burnt carpet or bad perm are a clear indication that your brake pads have gotten too hot. Possible remedies include learning how to downshift, not leaving your emergency brake engaged while you motor, and replacing old, burned-out brake pads before the problem escalates.

  6. Smoke

    If your car smells like smoke (not cigarette smoke), you've got big problems. Your vehicle should never be emitting smoke or its odors, whether through the engine or through the air vents. If your car smells like burning, it's time to take it in — posthaste!

  7. New Car Smell

    This odor might not mean car trouble, but it could mean you're in trouble in your car. According to a study released from The Ecology Center, the often imitated "new car smell" is the result of an amalgam of toxic chemicals that emit gases inside your vehicle. This source of indoor pollution, and its pleasant smell, emits most prominently from the seats, dash, and steering wheel. Try opening your windows for some fresh air and slightly less chemical peace of mind.

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