What’s That Smell?!

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The title of this blog may sound like the newest hip game show, or a question you tend to ask aloud after eating a round of Mexican food, but it is rarely something you want to ask when it comes to your car. Americans spend an average of 38 hours a year stuck in traffic. During that time, we tend to get to know our cars pretty well. We learn all of the quirks, the fact that to get the perfect temperature you need to set it to halfway between cold and extra cold, and that 33 is the perfect volume to listen to the morning show.

Because you spend so much time in your cars, you are the first to notice when something doesn’t feel right. Maybe your breaks are just a little looser than they use to be, or your car is idling a little bit rougher than normal. These can be annoying, but nothing is more annoying than a smell suddenly permeating the entire car. Your first thought may be to panic, but don’t worry! Know what to expect when you get the the mechanic by checking out our list of the most common car smells and their causes

Rotten Eggs

Yuck! The smell of sulfur is one of the most unpleasant ones on this list, and we can imagine why you’d want to get it out of your car as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, this may also be one of the more costly fixes on this list as a sulfuric smell typically indicates a damaged or broken catalytic converter.

Burning Hair / Carpet

Even if you’ve never actually smelled burning hair, you’ll easily distinguish this acrid smell coming from your vehicle. To diagnose where this is coming from, take note on whether you notice it more when you’re engaging the brakes, or when you’ve accidentally left your emergency brake engaged while driving (we know, we’ve done it before too). If this is the case, you may have some worn out brake pads! If it’s not, check under your hood for hairballs from that cat!

Maple Syrup

Mmmm! This condiment may be delicious on pancakes and waffles, and you probably wouldn’t mind if the smell lingered around a bit, but don’t let that happen! A sweet smell often indicates that your car is leaking coolant. Coolant is integral to ensuring that your car doesn’t overheat, so top off your car and get your cooling system serviced as soon as possible. ProTip: see if the mechanic shop is near a breakfast joint so you can get your pancake on while you wait!

A Locker Room

If your car brings back memories of high school gym class when you’re just trying to warm up or cool off, there’s a good chance you’ve got some mildew in your ventilation system. Moisture building up in your vents from particularly humid days likely causes this. Luckily, you probably won’t need a trip to the shop if you just turn your A/C off a mile or so from home and blast the fan. This will dry out your vents and kill off the mildew or mold that’s infiltrated your system.


When you still smell the gas station long after you’ve pulled away, there are three possible causes. Either A) you either spilled some fuel on your clothes, B) your car’s vapor recovery system is busted, or C) you’ve got a leak in your fuel system. If you’ve changed your clothes and still notice the smell, get to a mechanic as soon as possible because leaking gasoline and vapors is a fire hazard!

Have you noticed any of these smells in your car? How have you fixed them?

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