Blog Car Care Advice 8 Types of Burning Smells From a Car (and Their Causes)
Car Care Advice

8 Types of Burning Smells From a Car (and Their Causes)

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Notice a burning smell from your car? 
That’s a surefire sign that something’s off.

But did you get whiff of rubber or did it smell like a burning carpet
Different burning smells can mean different things.

The bottom line is — you shouldn’t ignore it.

In this article, we’ll dig deeper into the different types of burning smells you can get from a car and what each indicates. We’ll then answer some questions related to the burning smells from a car. 

This Article Contains: 

Let’s get to it.

8 Types Of Burning Smell From Car (And Reasons)

When you get a burning smell from your car, it’ll be one of the following types: 

1. Burnt Rubber

A pretty familiar smell you’ll get from your vehicle is that of burning rubber. 
Here are the five reasons that could cause it: 

A. Slipping Belts 

Several components in your vehicle are rubber belt driven. For example, the drive belt (serpentine belt) transfers the power from the engine to other crucial components. Likewise, a timing belt synchronizes the rotation of the camshaft and crankshaft. 

If these belts are loose, misaligned, or damaged, they could slip off, resulting in high friction and a strong burning rubber smell. The rubber hoses from nearby systems could also rub against the belt and produce a burning smell. 

B. Faulty AC Compressor

The air conditioning or AC compressor is also a belt-driven component. When the compressor gets stuck, its belt continues to run and heat up, resulting in a burning rubber smell. 

But that’s not all. 

Fault in any of the internal components of the air conditioning compressor can also give off a burning rubber odor. This strange smell could come from the AC compressor clutch or a misaligned pulley. 

C. Tire Rubbing

No matter how hot your car gets, your tires should never emit a burning odor or rubber smell. 

If they do, you’ll want to look for any damage to your suspension system or possible wheel misalignment, resulting in the burnt rubber smell. 

2. Burnt Hair Or Carpet

Driving in stop-and-go traffic or pressing brakes very hard on a steep slope can give off burnt hair or carpet smell. Another reason for getting a burning odor is keeping your parking brake engaged while driving. 

Brake pads or a brake rotor can also smell like burnt carpets, especially in a new car. This is from the resin coated on new brake pads. However, this smell goes away once you’ve crossed 200 miles. 

But, if your brakes are not new and you get a burning smell during regular driving, it calls for an inspection. 

A brake caliper piston can sometimes seize and cause the brake pads to rub against the rotor constantly. An overheated brake pad or brake rotor could also result in a burning smell and indicate a mechanical problem in your brakes. 

Pro tip: Keeping your brake fluid topped up as a part of car maintenance can make your brakes last longer. 

3. Burning Plastic

Your car can give off a burning plastic smell for two reasons: 

A. Electrical Short

A blown fuse, wiring short, or a malfunctioning electrical component could be why you smell burning plastic inside your car. 

Rats or other small rodents could sometimes enter your engine bay and chew off a wire, leading to an electrical short. When that happens, the insulation of your wires can give off a burning plastic smell. And if the rodent got shorted along with the wire, you might get a rotten egg smell too, as the body decomposes. 

Whatever the reason may be, it’s best to have a mechanic look at your car and figure out where the electrical problem is.

B. Blown Blower Motor Or Resistor

Sometimes, an overheated blower motor can cause its housing to melt and produce a burning plastic smell. 

In extreme cases, when the blower is running (but the engine is off), you may even see white smoke coming out of AC vents. This usually happens when your blower motor fuse has an incorrect amp rating or is low quality. 

4. Burning Oil

Most of the time, an engine oil leak is the reason behind the burning oil smell from your car. When the leaking engine oil comes in contact with a hot vehicle part, it burns.

This burning oil odor can originate from different sources like the valve cover, drain plugs, seals, oil pan gasket, oil filter housing, etc. Sometimes, an improper oil change can cause it too. 

The good part? 
An oil leak is easy to diagnose. Start by inspecting the undercarriage for oil spots. You should check the valve cover gasket first, as it’s one of the common places for an oil leak and the resulting burnt oil smell. 

The bad part?
Ignoring the burning oil smell can lead to your car overheating and can damage critical engine components. An oil leak can also enter the exhaust and result in a fire.

5. Burning Exhaust Or Fumes

If you notice exhaust smells from your car (especially while idling or slow driving), roll down your windows, pull over, and exit the vehicle immediately!

A leaking exhaust can cause carbon monoxide to enter your car’s interior.

Warning: Carbon monoxide can cause severe injury or even death.

One of the common reasons for exhaust leaks is a failing exhaust manifold gasket or the exhaust manifold can crack too. 

Other reasons that can result in a burning exhaust smell include: 

Any type of oil leak can affect your fuel economy and damage the catalytic converter, which is a costly repair. 

Is there a way to diagnose it earlier? 
Look for a tapping or ticking noise from the hood when you accelerate. You’ll also have an illuminated Check Engine Light. Bring your vehicle to a repair shop when that happens.

6. Acrid Smell

Getting a strong and unpleasant burning smell from your car? 
Here’s what may be causing it: 

A. Seized Brake Caliper Or Pinched Brake Hose

When a brake caliper seizes, it can’t release its clamp from the brake rotor. This causes the caliper to heat up and create an acrid smell. The intense heat can also cause a small fire or smoke on the affected wheel of your vehicle. 

B. Smell From The Clutch 

Sometimes, you can get a burning newspaper-like smell from the clutch while changing gears. That’s because the surface of the clutch is a paper-based material that burns when the clutch slips and may even lead to smoke from the engine compartment. 

You can suspect a clutch slippage if you experience a delay in clutch engagement or have a soft clutch pedal. 

Clutch slippage can be caused by: 

7. Burnt Marshmallows, Tart, Or Sweet Smell

Different fluid leaks could represent themselves as a tart, sweet, or marshmallow-like smell in your cabin.

Here’s what these smells mean: 

While these smells may remind you of your camping days, it’s not something you should enjoy or ignore. 

A coolant leak can cause your engine to overheat and seize. On the other hand, a transmission fluid leak could increase friction in your transmission system or cause it to break down completely. 

But that’s not all. 

Inhaling leaking fluid fumes could pose serious health risks and can even lead to death.  
You should get such leaks fixed at the earliest. 

8. Rotten Egg Smell

Though this smell is hard to miss, some car owners can confuse the rotten egg smell with a burning smell. The unusual smell is that of hydrogen sulfide coming from a failing catalytic converter. 

This bad smell is often accompanied by a scorching exhaust system (giving off a smoky odor.)

Now you know what each type of burning smell from your car means.
Let’s also address some related questions you might have. 

2 FAQs Related To Burning Smell From Car

Here are answers to two burning questions: 

1. Why Does My Car Smell Like It’s Overheating, But It’s Not?

When you get a burning smell, even when your car isn’t overheating, it could mean you have a coolant leak. The leak could occur from a loose or faulty coolant reservoir cap or a more serious fault. 

You could also get a burning smell from a defective heater. 

2. Can I Drive My Car If It Smells Like It’s Burning? 

Technically, you can drive your car with a burning smell, but you shouldn’t!

No matter how small, any cause of a burning smell can potentially turn into something serious. More often than not, the burning smell, when ignored, could even start a fire, which can be pretty dangerous.   

It’s best to call a mechanic to inspect your car as soon as you spot any unusual smell. 

Wrapping Up 

Whether it’s pre owned vehicles or a new car, a burning smell from your vehicle is never a good sign. The bad smell could be caused by several things, including a worn-out brake pad, a faulty electrical component, an overheating AC compressor, or a coolant leak. 

If you need an expert to figure out what’s causing that strange smell, contact AutoNation Mobile Service.

AutoNation Mobile Service offers you: 

Contact us, and our mechanics will drop by to diagnose the burning smell and fix it right in your driveway!