Burning smell from car- Causes, Types, and Fixes.

Do you perceive a burning smell coming from your car? It’s always a bad sign, and you should act immediately.

You may perceive a burning smell in your vehicle for several reasons.  These include brake overheating,  electrical issues, burning oil, coolant leaks, faulty heater, etc. Burning smells are often a sign of an underlying problem in the car.

Some of these issues may vary from very severe to mild. For instance, if the burning smell is caused by an electrical problem, that constitutes a fire hazard, and you should immediately shut down the car to fix the issue.

On the other hand, you may perceive a burning smell from applying the brakes too hard when driving fast. This issue is less serious than those mentioned earlier.

In this article, I will help you identify some of the causes of burning smells from cars, ranking them from severe to mild. In addition, I will identify the types of burning smells and recommend remedies to eliminate the smell from your vehicle. Have a great read!

car smells like burning rubber after driving

What Causes Burning Smell from Cars?

If your car smells like burning rubber after driving, you should switch off the engine and identify the cause of the smell. Unfortunately, it’s never easy to pinpoint the exact cause of the smell.

You will need careful inspection and tracing of where the smell comes from to know the cause and how to stop it.  While I cannot say what is causing the burning smell in your car, I will identify some common causes in subsequent paragraphs. Hopefully, you can locate one of these causes as your vehicle problem.  Let’s begin!

1. Electrical short problem

Electrical shortages are the major cause of the burning smell in many vehicles and are very highly risky. If you suspect electrical shorts in your vehicle, immediately turn off your car, and disconnect your batteries.

This smell is usually when the plastic covering a wire, fuse, or connection is burnt or melted. It can result in serious damage and sometimes fire hazards if you neglect the smell and continue to drive. The best option is to trace the smell using your nose to identify the electrical short. Sometimes, the wires are hidden, and you may need professional help determining their location.

2. Smell from Clutch

If your car is equipped with a manual transmission, the burning smell may come from there. This smell isn’t exotic, rather smells like burning paper. What happens is that the face of the clutch burns off as you change your gear. It smells like paper because the surface of the clutch is made of a composition closely related to paper.  Bad driving habit is the common cause of this smell. I recommend you learn how to properly change your clutch, as this could be detrimental to it in the long run.

3.  Overheated Brakes

Are your rear brakes smelling like they are burning after hard braking or drifting? It indicates that your brake pads are overheating from friction. The smell is quite distinguished from the clutch or electrical burning smell. Instead, it smells scorched. This smell is not an issue; however, if you experience the smell while driving frequently, you should have the brake pad checked. The caliper piston may have seized.

4. Faulty or dirty heater

If there is a burning smell from the heater, you should inspect the heater vent. Particles, dirt, and debris may have accumulated in the heater vent, causing it to overheat. If your car smells like oil when the heater is on, oil or coolant may have leaked into the vent, causing the burning smell you perceive. Coolant in the duct will destroy the heater. It is also possible that the heater core has melted and needs to be replaced.

5. Burning oil

Car smells like burning oil after oil change is commonly complained about on forums. It usually depends on where you are perceiving the smell. If the smell is perceived from the outside of the car, oil has gotten into the exhaust pipe while you are driving. The exhaust smells like burning plastic when oil gets into the pipe.  I recommend you make sure to fix the oil leak from the engine.

Types of Burning Smell from car

Another way to identify the cause of a burning smell from a car is by the type of burning smell you perceive from your vehicle. Some burning smells are like burning rubbers or burning papers.  Here are six types of burning smells and their meaning:

Burnt Rubber Smell:

If your car smells like burnt rubber and shakes, then the cause is most likely a slipping belt. The belt of your car is mostly made of rubber and is responsible for transferring power from the engine to other components.

It mostly synchronizes the movement of the camshaft. When the belt slips, friction occurs, and the vehicle begins to shake. Other causes of the burning rubber smell include friction on a tire, a bad AC compressor, etc. A new car may also smells like burning rubber, but this should only be temporary.

Burning Plastic smell:

A Burning plastic smell should be taken very seriously and indicates wiring issues in the car. In addition, a blown fuse, short wire, or other electrical issues are the major cause of this smell. 

Sometimes the burning plastic smell may be caused by irregular voltage from a bad battery or alternator, or rats and rodents may eat the wirings, causing them to be short.

Burning oil smell

This smell typically comes from outside of the vehicle. This is when oil leaks from the engine and comes in contact with the hot part of the engine. Oil leaks are easy to spot as they leave stains and puddles where they occur. You may perceive the smell from the exhaust, engine parts, valve cover, drain plug, etc. Oil leaks should always be addressed!

Acrid smell

Acrid smells are stronger and awful smell in car. They are the smells you perceive from a seized brake caliper or rotor and the clutch. When these parts are seized or not working properly, there is increased friction and overheating. The smell is also comparable to burning newspaper or heated metal. Once noticed, I recommend you should address the issue quickly.

Burnt toast smell

If your car heater smells like burnt toast, the vents are clogged with dirt and must be thoroughly cleaned. Another cause of the burnt toast smell could be electrical shorts.  Overheated insulation and burnt wear should be attended to urgently as it can result in fire.

Burnt Marshmellow or sweet smell

Burnt marshmallows or sweet smells come from heated fluids such as transmission, coolants, and steering fluids. These smells are more pleasing but can be hazardous to health. 

To understand these smells, if you perceive a marshmallow-like burning odor, you should check for a steering fluid leak in the car. Also, inspect your vehicle for coolant leaks if you perceive the sweet syrup smell. And if you perceive a tart smell in the car, you most likely have a transmission fluid leak.

How do you fix the Burning smell from the car?

There is no one way to fix the burning smell coming from your car. You will need to rely on the knowledge you have gained from this article, including your ability to diagnose the cause and trace the smell. You can follow these easy steps to help you diagnose and fix the burning smell in your car:

Identify the type of smell:  You should ask yourself what kind of smell you perceive from your car.  Some of the smells have been discussed above.

Identify the cause of the smell: Once you have identified the type of smell, it will help you pinpoint the exact cause of the smell. For instance, burning oil odor may be traced to oil leaks from the valve cover gasket, etc.

Check short circuits: If you perceive burning plastic or wires, the first step is to inspect the electrical components and wiring for shorts or damage.

Check for Fluid leaks: Fluid leaks have been identified as one of the causes of the burning smell in the car. Check for transmission fluid leaks, steering fluid leaks, and other leaks that may occur in the car.

Inspect and replace damaged components: Inspect wiring, electrical components, clutch, brake pads, and other components you suspect may be causing the burning smell. You may need to replace these parts.

Final Words

Burning smell from car often indicates serious issues with the vehicle, like short circuits, leakages, damaged transmission, etc. Promptly addressing the issue helps prevent further damage to the car and avoid costly repairs. We recommend regular vehicle maintenance, such as oil and fluid changes, to help identify problems before they develop.

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Akindayini Temiloluwa

I am passionate about everything automotive. Right from when I got my first toy car as a kid, I developed an interest in the inner workings of vehicles. As I grew up, my love for mechanical stuff became more substantial enough for me to pursue a career in it. My goal as an automotive content writer is to simplify the most challenging concepts for my readers, help them self-diagnose what may be wrong with their vehicles and offer real value for their time.

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