5 Types of Burning Smell from Cars: Causes and Solutions

Types of Burning Smell from Cars: Causes and Solutions – A burning smell exuding from any component or area of your car is a sign that there is a serious problem with your vehicle that needs to be addressed quickly. 

There are different types of burning smells and each points to a different problem in your car. Apart from the dangers this burning smell must have posed on your car, it is also hazardous to human health because some of these odors are very unpleasant and detrimental to your health as the driver and other occupants of your car (if any).

When your car smells like something is burning, literally something is burning and such the vehicle needs to be stopped and assessed immediately. 

There are several types of burning smells from cars that are caused by different factors, which is what we will be looking at in this article.

What’s that Burning Smell from a Car?

A burning smell from your car could mean different things. Most burning smells are usually from an electrical component in your car, other times it can be beyond that. It could be a burning clutch, overheating A/C compressor, stuck brakes, etc.

Common Areas that can cause Burning Smell from Cars

1. Electrical short

When plastic around the wires, connections or fuses melt or burn, they will produce a burning smell. This is a result of an electrical short circuit. 

A short circuit causes damage to electrical components of your car and if not fixed on time will cause further damage. 

This is best handled by a professional because they will have to connect your car to a computer to decipher where the problem is. 

2. Exhaust

When you drive up large hills or in rocky areas, your exhaust gets very hot. Sometimes, there might be oil leaking from your engine and when this oil drops on the hot exhaust, it emits a burning smell. 

This is usually very noticeable when you go out of your car because of the location of the exhaust.

3. Clutch

Burning smells can sometimes emanate from your clutch. 

This smells like a burning newspaper and occurs when you are changing gears. 

The surface of the clutch has a paper composition which is the reason it smells like burning newspaper when it burns as the clutch slips. 

4. Brakes

Brakes can also emit a burning smell if the driver is breaking very hard or leaves the hand raised while driving.  

When the friction becomes so much, it causes smoke to come out of the brake which leads to a burning smell. If this happens once in a while, it is not a problem but if it occurs regularly, then there is certainly a problem. 

5. Heater

If you have debris, dust, plastics, or other materials stuck in the heater vent, you will perceive a burning smell from your car. 

The heater too could be melted or broken and when the antifreeze leaks on the heater vent, it will cause a burning smell.

Types of Burning Smell from Cars, Its Causes, and Solutions

1. Burning rubber smell

Burning rubber smell from a car is a common problem.

There are different reasons your car will emit a burning rubber smell and it is important to address it as soon as possible. 

Some of these reasons are:

Dragged or broken belt

A dragged, stuck, or completely damaged belt will cause a burning rubber smell.

This is because a car’s cooling system uses a water pump that is connected to the serpentine belt. So, if the belt isn’t working as it should, your engine will overheat and your car will smell of rubber. 

Also, if the A/C compressor, clutch, water pump, or air pump which is usually connected to the serpentine belt is locked, the belt will rotate on a pulley causing the belt to drag. The friction on the belt and the misaligned pulley is the source of the burning rubber smell.

Solution

The best solution to this is to check your belt and replace the faulty ones.

2. Burning oil smell

The cause of a burning oil smell might be difficult to diagnose on your own, so it is advisable to take it for a proper check by a professional. 

Different factors can cause a burning oil smell in your car. This includes;

Old engine oil

When the engine oil and other fluids get old, it can no longer lubricate certain components effectively and will lose the ability to absorb heat and minimize wear and tear due to friction. 

When the oil is old, it will heat up, causing other components to heat up as well which will cause a burning oil smell.

Solution

Endeavor to change your engine oil and oil filter as recommended.

Slipping clutch

A slipping clutch is one of the causes of the burning rubber smell from your car. This problem affects manual transmissions only.

The clutch is a mechanical component of your car that transfers rotational power from the engine to the wheels. 

The clutch facilitates the speeding up, slowing down, and halting of your car without turning off the engine. The clutch pedal needs to be released as quickly as possible when switching gears. 

However, if the clutch is released too slowly, it will slip against the flywheel and this friction causes the clutch’s surface to burn or overheat which emits a smell similar to burning rubber.

Solution

The simple solution to this problem is to take it easy on your clutch else you will have to replace it more often.

It is important to learn good shifting and clutching techniques and also to adjust your driving position such that you rest your foot on the floor of the car other than the clutch to avoid too much pressure on it.

Again, avoid unnecessarily keeping the clutch pedal pressed down and disengaging it when changing gear by pressing the clutch pedal to the floor with your left foot and re-engaging the clutch by lifting off the pedal to release it fully. 

Disengaging and re-engaging properly will prevent the clutch from crashing into each other.

Leaking engine oil

There is always a tendency for oil to leak from the engine through cracked hoses, gaskets, or the oil filter. 

If this oil leaks on your hot engine, exhaust pipe, or other heated components under the hood of your car, it will cause a burning oil smell. Your engine is bound to develop a crack due to the normal heating and cooling process that takes place in the engine.

Solution

Getting this done might be quite tedious and expensive because it will require disassembling and dismantling several components before having access to this area. Getting this done can cost as little as $150 to as huge as $2000 depending on the model of your vehicle and what component is being affected.

Damaged oil plug or loose oil filter

The oil plug is connected to the oil pan and if it is damaged, it will allow oil to leak into the exhaust, causing the burning oil smell. 

The oil filter, on the other hand, will become loose over time or if you drive frequently on rough roads. This will cause oil to spill on the hot engine, which eventually burns to emit a burning oil smell.

Solution

Inspect the oil filter to see if it needs to be tightened up or replaced. If the oil plug is bad, you should replace it.

3. Burning plastic smell

If your car smells of burning plastic, it could be a fault from the heater, fan, resistors, or other electrical components of your car. 

Factors relating to the burning plastic smell are;

Electrical short circuit

Electricity generates a lot of heat which is usually contained in the wires and other components. 

When there is a short circuit, all the heat is trapped in one place and this affects the plastic coating on the fuse, wires, and other components of the circuit. When this happens, you will perceive a burning plastic smell from your car. 

This can be very serious if the electrical short gets to a more flammable component of your car, it will ignite and damage the wiring of your car leading to a more complicated issue.

Solution

In this case, you will need to take your car to an automobile repair shop. The car will be scanned using an OBD 2 scanner to identify the source of the problem.

Clogged heater

Accumulation of dust or debris in the heater can cause a burning plastic smell. 

If you have not used your heater for a long time, dust will accumulate on the heater and when it is hot it will emit the smell of burning plastic. 

Other times, even when you use your heater frequently, debris or some other objects might get clogged in there and when it heats up, it emits a burning plastic smell.

Also, the heat itself might be broken or melted and when the antifreeze leaks into the vents, it will cause the smell of burning plastic in your car.

Solution

If there is debris stuck in the vent, you need to take them off and have the air filters cleaned or replaced. If the problem is not about a clogged heater but leakage, you need to take your vehicle to a mechanic to have it checked.

4. Burning coolant smell

If you perceive a kind of sweet smell from your A/C, it is mostly that of a burning coolant that occurs as a result of a leaked coolant burning off. 

If the cooling system of your car is damaged, it can leak the coolant on the air conditioning system of your car which burns off and smells.  

The ethylene and glycol added during the production of the antifreeze to lower the freezing temperature of the fluid is what usually causes the sweet smell, although they are still harmful to human health.

Solution

Coolants usually leak and get burned off on a hot engine component as a result of a cracked head gasket or leaking coolant hose. If this is the case, the head gasket and coolant hose need to be repaired or replaced. 

5. Burning carpet smell

The smell of burning carpet usually comes from the brake and not from the car components made of the rug as one might be tricked to think. 

If you ride the brakes very hard, excessive pressure on the brake will cause a burning carpet smell. Also, if the caliper piston had seized, it would cause the brake to drag and emit the burning carpet smell.

Solution

Brakes are very important components of your vehicle. As such, you should check it regularly to ensure it is working properly to avoid suddenly slamming on it or putting too much pressure on it when trying to avoid or keep a distance from another vehicle in your lane. 

Also, if your car is old, it is necessary to flush old brake fluids more frequently to improve the longevity of your brakes.

How to Get Rid of Burning Smell from a Car

The different types of burning smell that emanates from a car are usually caused by different factors as a result of this, it requires different methods to eliminate them.

If your car smells like burning plastic, it might be an electrical short circuit problem or a plastic trapped in your engine. To get rid of this smell, you can try taking off the plastic but not with your hands because it might be hot. If you can’t identify where the smell is coming from, then you should visit an automobile shop for a proper inspection and repairs.

If your car smells like rubber, inspect the belt and hoses in the hood, if it has been burnt, you take it to an automobile shop for a replacement. 

When your car smells like a burnt carpet, it is usually associated with a brake problem. To get rid of this smell, you need to pump your brakes on and off when going down hills and have your brakes inspected to ensure there is no other problem.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will a dirty car heater core lead to a burning smell?

If your heater core is filled with debris, there is every possibility for it to lead to a burning smell. Although it takes time to get to this point, when it happens, you will perceive a burning smell from your heater core because it is dirty.

Why does my new car smell like burning plastic?

A burning plastic smell could mean that another part of your car is having contact with the exhaust and is melting on it. The major cause of a burning plastic smell is an electrical short circuit problem where the plastic coating on wires or fuse burns off or melts leading to the smell. This smell can also be caused by a clogged heater. If your heater is clogged with debris, objects, or dust, while using your vehicle, it might begin to smell like burning plastic.

Does the fuel smell in my car indicate a serious problem?

The fuel smell in your car indicates a very serious problem and you should inspect your vehicle or take it to a mechanic immediately. Fuel is highly inflammable and is often the cause of fire accidents in vehicles. So, if you perceive it, you need to act quickly. If you perceive fuel smell in your car, several factors can be attributed to it, which include a hole in the fuel tank, the engine not burning fuel correctly, a leaking fuel hose, and damaged O-rings.

Why does my engine burn frequently?

Your engine burns frequently because it is burning some oil that had entered the combustion chamber of the engine where it is not supposed to be and gets burned with the air/fuel mixture during combustion. The valve seal and piston rings are designed to prevent oil from getting into the combustion chamber of your engine. So, if this component is damaged or worn out, the oil will get into this area and it will cause your engine to burn frequently.

How long will it take to get that burning smell off my car?

To get a burning smell off your car, you need to consider the cause of the smell first then act accordingly. Different types of burning smells and ways to get rid of them had been highlighted earlier in the article. All you need to do is to follow the procedures. Once the root of the problem is removed, the smell would naturally die off.

Can I still drive my car if it has a burning smell?

Some burning smells pose a dangerous threat to your car and human life. Burning oil or burning carpet smell can indicate a very serious problem in your car. Due to this, if your car has a burning smell, you should not drive it but rather get it checked at an automobile repair shop.

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