What does that smell in your car mean? Use your nose to diagnose vehicle faults

Nasty smell in your car? If your car’s giving off some unusual and unpleasant odours, there could be something dangerously wrong.

Find out what that smell means and if you need to visit your local mechanic, or just blame the passenger…

What’s that smell? Credit

Burning rubber

If you smell burning rubber it could be a sign that a hose may have come loose and could be in contact with the engine. You might be able to check this yourself, by ensuring that one is touching the other, but you may need to visit a mechanic.

Oil burning

Burning oil could indicate that you may be running low on oil or the engine may be overheating. Check your oil levels with the dipstick and if it’s low check it isn’t leaking onto the engine or exhaust. If the oil is low, it could burn in the transmission due to gears being unlubricated.

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Exhaust fumes in the passenger seat

If you start smelling exhaust fumes, you’ll need to open all your windows immediately and take your car to a garage to find the issue – there is carbon monoxide in exhaust fumes – this can be extremely dangerous.

Syrupy smell

Sweet, syrupy smells could indicate that your coolant is leaking. A leaky radiator could also be the cause, so it’s vital that you visit a mechanic immediately.


Smells a bit eggy? If it’s not one of your passengers it could be a sign that your catalytic converter is not functioning properly.

Burning toast

If you smell burnt toast while driving, and you’re not eating breakfast, then pull over safely and call for roadside assistance – short circuit or insulation on a wire could be burning.


Issues starting your car and the smell of petrol? You’ll need to visit a mechanic to check the fuel injection system or carburettor to make sure nothing’s leaking.

Smelly feet

If you get a waft of stinky feet when you turn on your air-conditioning or heater, it could be due to mildew growing inside the system or you might need to replace your air filter. Either that or it’s time for your passenger to recycle their flip flops.

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