When your car smells a little, it’s trying to tell you something. Like the characteristic sound of a rattling timing chain or the clicking sound of a bad CV connection, bad car odors often indicate that something is wrong somewhere in your machine. And like other little clues, paying close attention to how your car smells can help you track down the culprit and even eliminate it.

Here are the top seven reasons why your car stinks and what you need to do about it.

from 08

Your brakes or clutch need attention

The smoke comes from a car tire.
Joseph O. Holmes / Moment / Getty

Accompanying odor : Acrid

When it smells : usually when the car is moving, and sometimes especially when the brakes or clutch are applied.

Why does it smell

Harsh, pungent odors usually mean that the brake or clutch material has burned off. Riding on the brakes or applying the parking brake is a great way to make your car smell like that. Of course, a stuck caliper or a frozen parking brake cable can also help you.

A burnt clutch smells a lot like brake pads that have gotten too hot, and this can be caused by riding on the clutch. It could also mean that your clutch is slipping because it is worn or needs to be adjusted. In systems with hydraulic clutches, a sliding clutch can also indicate a problem with the hydraulic system.

If it’s more of a burning rubber smell, then you can do less flaking.

from 08

Your heater core is leaking

Antifreeze is poured into an overflow bottle in the car.
Jane Norton / E+ / Getty

Accompanying odor : sweet, candy, maple syrup

When it smells : The heater is on, the engine has warmed up, or occasionally after you have turned off the engine.

Why does it smell

Antifreeze smells sweet. In fact, it smells so sweet that it is legally required to include a bitter agent. This is to prevent animals and children from drinking something that smells like a delicious treat.

If something in your car smells bad and you’re pretty sure you didn’t accidentally pour maple syrup down the vents, then you probably smell like antifreeze. It’s probably the core of the heater, if you smell a lot inside the car, and if you notice fog forming on the windshield, that’s another clue.

Also, if there is antifreeze on the floor inside your car, that’s another good clue. If you can’t afford to fix it, bypass the leaky kernel and check some car heater options .

from 08

Water gets where it doesn’t belong

Foggy windshield in the car.
Rob D. Casey / Photographer’s Choice / Getty

Accompanying odor : Musty

When it smells : all the time or after rain.

Why does it smell

A mildew or mildew smell indicates that water is getting into your car and then building up there. Leaky door or window seals can let water through, so if you find wet seats or carpeting, that might be the problem.

Nonetheless, A/C evaporator is a very common cause of this peculiar smell.

from 08

You are leaking oil

Oil is poured into the funnel.
Vstock / Getty

Accompanying odor : burning oil

When it smells : The engine is hot, whether you are driving or not.

Why does it smell

When oil drips onto any part of the exhaust system, it burns. It smells really bad and it can also create copious amounts of thick blue smoke if the leak is strong enough. The fix is ​​simple enough: get rid of the leak. Your road will also thank you.

from 08

Your catalytic converter is broken

A mechanic removes a clogged catalytic converter.
Joe Radle/Getty Images News

Accompanying odor : sulfur

When it smells : The engine is running.

Why does it smell

Catalytic converters are emission control components that modify exhaust gases to reduce harmful emissions. When they don’t work properly, you sometimes turn your exhaust fumes into a smell that someone spent most of the past week throwing rotten eggs at your car. You need to replace the catalytic converter and repair whatever caused it to fail, as long as it doesn’t just wear out.

Some lubricants that are used in manual transmissions and transfer cases can also smell sulfur with age, which you may notice if they start to leak all over the place. If you encounter this problem, you need to change the lubricant and find out where the leak is coming from.

from 08

Gas becomes where it has no place

Gas leak from car.
Joan Dugan / Image Bank / Getty

Accompanying odor : aromatic hydrocarbons (raw gas)

When it smells : All the time the engine is running, or on particularly hot days.

Why does it smell

If you can smell a strong smell of gas coming from your car, it is likely that something has gone wrong. Some gas smell is okay, especially if your car is carbureted, but fuel-injected cars generally shouldn’t smell strongly of gas.

Leaky fuel lines, stuck injectors, bad fuel pressure regulators, and a host of other problems can cause fuel to leak or release enough gas into the engine to cause an odor. Either way, it’s usually a good idea to track down the source of the leak sooner rather than later.

from 08

Your groceries rolled up under the seat last week

Groceries in the car.

Accompanying odor : death

When it smells : After you get home from the grocery store and notice that they soaked you a couple of bananas.

Why does it smell

Most of the reasons why a car can smell is due to some sort of mechanical failure or breakdown, but there are many external sources as well.

So before you take your car to your favorite mechanic to ask why it smells like death, be sure to check under the seats. There is always a chance that some product, a dirty diaper or some other nasty object is rolled underneath.

from 08

Someone lit up in your car

Мужчина закуривает сигарету в своей машине.

KatarzynaBialasiewicz / iStock / Getty

Accompanying odor : smoke

When it smells : all time

Why does it smell

This one is a little more obvious than the others, and you probably already know why it smells. Smoke from cigars and cigarettes is one of the most persistent car odors. Even special measures, such as smoking with the windows down, do not help much.

Once your vehicle has been exposed to this source of bad odors, eliminating it becomes a monumental task. Smelly residue settles in the upholstery carpet, covers the windows and dashboard, and no amount of air fresheners will help.

For help, check out our full guide to removing cigarettes and smoke odors from a car .

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