Burning Smell from Car – What You Should Know

Everyone yearns for their car to have a great smell, as it keeps them comfy throughout the entire journey. Nevertheless, the smell of the can hint you about anything wrong with the vehicle. A burning smell from a car often results from various issues that would require quick action to fix.

Sometimes, you may notice the burning smell from the car when accelerating without a clear view of where it originates. As frustrating as this may sound, there are chances that the smell comes from right within the car’s engine.

Thus, it seems essential to know the cause of the smell and seek effective ways to fix it. Getting rid of this problem quickly would be for your health, safety, and overall performance of the vehicle.

What Causes Burning Smell From Car?

There are a few reasons behind that awful burning smell you perceive from your car. In essence, there is no particular “cause,” but you can look out for the typical reasons I would be revealing in this piece.

In most cases, the smell could result from a technical problem within the vehicle, signifying a dangerous warning to the driver. So, with these symptoms below, it would be best to take the car to the auto mechanic for suitable solutions.

car smells like burning rubber after driving

Issues with the Clutch

Have you ever imagined that the weird burning smell from the car could be due to some clutch problems? Well, it often happens, especially when you shift gears while driving. It could be that the face of the clutch got burnt while slipping off.

The smell seems like that of a burning newspaper, and as such, it becomes easy to spot. Thus, it appears crucial to handle the clutch with care to prevent such kind of problem. If you keep to the general rule of not riding the clutch, it will surely last longer.

Overheating or Slipping Drive Belt

If your car drive belt seems to be melting, you are sure to perceive that burning smell. You may start noticing that any of the drive accessories, like the air pump, generator, water pump, and AC compressor, appear locked.

In essence, the belt starts rotating on a frozen pulley, and as such, you would recognize the burning rubber smell. You can also notice this when the belt slips. As this occurs, you may also start hearing some annoying sounds while driving. With that in mind, you should check if the belt is in good condition and fix any possible problems.

Short Circuit in the Car’s Wiring

Have you ever wondered why your new car smells like burning plastic? It could be due to a short circuit within the car’s wiring, resulting from a plastic bag getting into the exhaust pipe. In some other cases, it could be something worse, and you need to act quickly.

If you ignore such a smell, further damage may even cause a fire outbreak. Thus, it is a risk to continue driving the car after perceiving such a burning smell. Kindly ensure that you call the auto mechanic as soon as you can.

Oil Leakage

Oil leakage seems like the most typical cause of a burning smell in cars and often occurs when the oil gets to the exhaust pipe. What does burning oil smell like? When the engine oil makes its way to the exhaust pipe, you would perceive an “acrid smell.”

Since the pipe is hot, it starts burning the oil and releases white smoke from the exhaust. You can notice such a burning oil smell through vents when you have to rev the engine as you drive up the hill. So, when next you witness something pretty similar, it would be best to check for oil leakage and try fixing the problem.

Faulty Heater

If your vehicle’s heater goes bad or appears dusty, you could start perceiving that burning smell. Thus, it would be best to get the dust off the heater, mainly if you haven’t used it in a long while.

Again, a clogged vent would prevent the proper flow of air and may also cause that smell. If the heater appears broken, let’s say the antifreeze leaks into the vents, it would be best to tackle such a problem to prevent further damage.

Leaky Coolant

If you’ve wondered why a burning smell from the car but not overheating, it could be due to the coolant getting leaked. In essence, that is the main reason why you can spot that sweet burning smell from a car.

So, it could be that the radiator and some radiator parts seem worn, letting the coolant get leaked. Again, if the heater core appears damaged and the coolant starts leaking into the air conditioning and heating system, the smell may also be like that of burning rubber.

Overheated Brake Pads and Rotors

When there is this burning smell that accompanies every pressure allied to the car’s brakes, it could be a sign that the Brake pads and rotors are overheating. If you feel that the smell is really from this area, it will help fix the problem pretty soon. Don’t overlook your suspicion and get the brake and rotors checked.

Read Also: Bad Smell From Car AC: How to Fix it?

How to Fix Burning Smell From Car?

Suppose you’ve perceived that burning smell from your vehicle in the past; you would notice that the smell does not only create an imbalance in the ambiance of your immediate environment. Aside from this, it tells that you may be in danger, as your safety seems compromised.

Thus, it would help if you took swift action in fixing such issues by spotting the major underlying problem. You may want to call your car expert for assistance and quit driving till it gets fixed. Nevertheless, if you are keen on improving that burning smell yourself, here are a few ways to do so based on the kind of smell.

Fixing that Burning Oil Smell

It seems pretty typical for this smell to occur when the car has improper oil changes, failing gaskets, oil filters that appear loose, and a faulty oil plug. The process of checking some of these components of the vehicle may seem pretty tasking.

So, you may need an auto mechanic who will inspect these parts for possible faults. Nevertheless, a replacement would be suitable for any of the damaged parts among those mentioned above. So if you perceive that oil-burning smell from the car in the future, you sure know what to do.

Rubber Burning Smell

When the car starts having this smell like burning rubber, it could be due to various reasons. Nevertheless, if it is not the burning rubber smell from the car tire, it is either a sudden problem with the clutch or drive belt. Similarly, it could be due to oil leakages, and as such, you should try to find out the real problem.

If you start noticing such a smell whenever you shift gears, there are greater chances that the clutch surface will be worn. So, a suitable replacement would work well in putting an end to the problem and making the car smell better.

On the other hand, if the smell comes along with some weird sounds, the drive belt may have some issues. It could be that it is melting due to the air compressor or air pump having faults. You should seek help from the car’s mechanic to check everything and fix the issue.

Furthermore, there are common causes of oil leaking into the exhaust pipe, and with that, you could start perceiving a smell like “burnt rubber.” While this problem still lingers, ensure that you don’t start revving the engine unnecessarily. Kindly take the car to the garage and start fixing such as soon as possible.

Burnt Plastic Smell

Two primary reasons that could cause a smell that seems similar to burning plastic are a lousy heater or issues with the car’s electrical system. So, when diagnosing the problem, it would help if you check these areas.

 If the heater seems clogged with dust and debris, mainly if you haven’t used it in a long while, it would be best to clean the dirt off. Try to unclog the vents, as using the heater in such a condition could create a burning smell that keeps you uncomfortable during rides.

Again, you may need to take the car for repairs since the damage to the heater could be something more serious. If that doesn’t seem like the case, it could be some issues with the vehicle’s wiring. Kindly place a call to the car’s technician to diagnose and fix such an issue.

Smell like a Burning Carpet

The vehicle may start releasing such a smell when if the brakes are currently having issues. It seems pretty common when you start riding hard on the brakes as you drive down the heel that appears “steep.”

With regular car maintenance, you can avoid this problem. But, if the smell remains persistent, there could be a seized caliper piston, which further causes the brakes to “drag.” Soon, you may start seeing the smoke that comes out from that area.

Once you notice such, it is recommendable to look out for the piston caliper. Kindly ensure that the piston caliper is in good shape and in the correct position. As a preventive measure, endeavor to avoid the use of the handbrake while you drive.

Read Also: Oil smells like Gas: Symptoms, Causes, and Fixes


Q: What does it mean when you smell something burning, but nothing is burning?

When your vehicle starts having a burning smell when nothing is burning, it means that something is wrong somewhere. It is a sign that the electrical fuse is in terrible shape, the brake pad surface is worn, the air compressor is overheating, and some other similar issues.

Again, the constant use of the engine may cause it to start having leaks that seem undetectable. If the oil gets to the exhaust pipe, you may notice that burning smell since that part of the car is scorching.

Q: Why does my car smell like burnt oil after driving?

An oil-burning smell from your vehicle could signify a potential leakage, as such occurs when the oil touches the hot parts of the engine. You may also notice the burning smell from car exhaust when there is oil leakage. With that acrid smell, it could be a case of an engine overheating, and you should try to fix it.

Nevertheless, if you notice the burning oil smell but no leak, it could be a symptom of an overfill engine oil. Such an incident must have occurred while you were refilling or replacing a car’s oil. So, you may want to remove the excess oil to end that terrible smell.

Q: Why does my car smell like it’s overheating, but it’s not?

When you perceive a burning smell even when the car is not overheating, it could mean that the radiator is leaking the vehicle’s coolant. Such an incident could be due to a faulty cap or something more serious.

A sweet kind of smell could mean leaky antifreeze, and a burning plastic smell could be due to a faulty heater and malfunctioning wiring. In essence, this could be the cause of that burning smell from a new car, and you shouldn’t overlook such a sign.

Q: Is smelling something burning a sign of a stroke?

There lies no evidence linking the ability of one perceiving something burning to stroke. So, this is a myth, as it does not appear accurate. The olfactory nerves of the nose work well in signifying the danger around with the sense of smell.

Nevertheless, one may keep perceiving a burning smell when there is nothing like that in the real sense. Such a thing occurs because of some medical conditions, much more when the body seems exposed to neurotoxins.

Q: Why do my vents have a burning smell?

The heating vent of your vehicle could be releasing a burning smell if it appears clogged due to grime, dirt, and dust. It seems pretty familiar if you haven’t used the heater for a long while. It would be best to clean the dust off and wait for the smell to go away.

If the smell remains, you may try checking the heater itself to know if it is in good shape. In most cases, a damaged heater could also give off such a smell, and you would need to fix this problem quickly.

Final Words

Various signs signify danger and tell you that something is wrong with your vehicle. A burning smell from the car could be one of those, and it can occur based on varying reasons. It is pretty recommendable to know the cause of such a burning smell to help you find the best ways of fixing such.

Hence, this guide reveals some common causes of a burning smell with the car and possible ways to fix them. So, when you notice such an uncomfortable smell in the future, you may want to check the heater, radiator, car wiring, and other potential causes mentioned above.

Osuagwu Solomon

Osuagwu Solomon is a certified mechanic with over a decade of experience in the mechanic garage, and he has over five years of experience in the writing industry. He started writing automotive articles to share his garage experience with car enthusiasts and armature mechanics. If he is not in the garage fixing challenging mechanical problems, he is writing automotive repair guides, buyer’s guides, and car and tools comparisons.

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