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Odd Car Smells: What Do They Mean and How to Resolve Them?

Odd Car Smells: What Do They Mean and How to Resolve Them?

Some of the common odd car smells include:

Auto Repairs Are EXPENSIVE


  • Rotten egg due to a bad catalytic converter
  • Maple syrup due to a coolant leak
  • Burnt paper due to a bad clutch
  • Burnt oil due to a motor oil leak
  • Musty basement due to mold in the AC system
  • Burnt carpet due to bad brake pads

When we drive our vehicles for a long time, we know exactly when the smells are not normal. Whether these smells are good or bad, they might be linked to an internal problem. Therefore, you must never underestimate any new smell that we come across.

This article walks you through some of the very common odd car smells that you need to be alerted for. More specifically, the article will tell you what each smelled means and what could cause this smell. Finally, the article highlights some rough cost estimates for part replacement causing the odd smell issue so you can get rid of it immediately.

Odd car smells: what do they mean and how to resolve them?

Have you ever gotten to a vehicle and started noticing weird smells? Sometimes these smells might be because of an old food bag underneath one of the seats or some other leftovers in the car. However, if you did not find the sources of these smells inside the vehicle, the issue might be linked to an internal vehicle problem.

While these internal problems might not be related to a major component, some instances can be linked to a significant problem requiring thousands of dollars on repair costs if not detected early. Therefore, automotive experts recommend taking any odd car smell seriously and reach out to the mechanic to resolve the issue before it gets more complicated, requiring a lot of money on repair costs.

Let's take a closer look at some of the common weird car smells that you might come across:

1.    Your vehicle smells like rotten egg or sulfur

One of the very common serious, weird smells that you might come across is something like a rotten egg or sulfur. This smell might be linked to a problem with one of the very expensive components in your vehicle, which is the catalytic converter.

The catalytic converter is responsible for converting any bad gases into a list of harmful emissions that your vehicle can emit without causing much trouble to the environment. Without a good catalytic converter, your vehicle cannot pass the emission tests, and you contribute significantly to air pollution.

When the catalytic converter is not working properly, the bad internal gases will get out without any cleanup since sulfur is one of the common components of the internal combustion gases, sulfur smell, which is like a rotten egg smell, is going to be the first thing you notice when the catalytic converter is not working properly.

How to get rid of a rotten egg smell from a car?

Unfortunately, when the problem has to do with a bad catalytic converter, getting rid of the rotten egg won't happen unless you replace the catalytic converter. Keep in mind that while your vehicle won't stop driving if it has a bad catalytic converter, as we had hit earlier, your car cannot pass the emission test, and you will eventually have to replace it or get rid of the vehicle.

How much does it cost to get rid of a rotten egg smell from a car?

As we indicated before, getting rid of the rotten egg smell requires installing a new catalytic converter. Unfortunately, the catalytic converter typically costs somewhere between $945 and $2475. Therefore, installing the new catalytic converter is very expensive, and that's why many people give up on their vehicles when the catalytic converter goes bad.

2.    Your vehicle smells like Maple syrup

Another common car smell that might indicate an internal problem is the Maple syrup smell. When this happens, it indicates a problem with coolant leak due to a failed intake manifold or probably cylinder head.

How to get rid of the Maple syrup smell from a car?

Since the Maple syrup typically comes from a coolant leak, the first step is to determine what's causing the issue. For example, if the issue is a bad intake manifold, you need to install a new one. Similarly, if the problem has to do with a bad radiator or probably cylinder head, you need to install these components as well.

How much does it cost to get rid of a Maple syrup smell from a car?

Depending on the source of the problem, repair costs differ significantly. For example, if the problem is a bad intake manifold, expect to pay between $281 and $341. On that hand, if the problem has to do with a bad radiator, expect to pay between $292 and $1193.

3.    Your vehicle smells like burnt paper

The burnt paper smell only happens in vehicles equipped with a manual transmission. The smell is most likely related to a bad clutch. The clutch can go bad because of your driving habits, including “riding” the clutch habit where you lean on it without needing it.

How to get rid of the burnt paper smell from a car? 

When the burnt paper is confirmed to be related to a bad clutch, your issue can be resolved by installing a new clutch because it's most likely hard to repair a bad clutch once it gets to this point of damage.

How much does it cost to get rid of a burnt paper smell from a car?

Depending on your vehicle's make, model, and year, repair costs for installing a new clutch might range from $500 to $2500. Of course, repair costs differ depending on where you get the job done because if you don't you drop yourself, you'll save on labor costs, but if you get the job done at a dealership, you must deal with very high labor costs.

4.    Your vehicle smells like burnt oil

Burnt oil smell is one of the very critical smells that you must take seriously. This smell has to do with either low motor oil or no more oil at all. Therefore, you must stop driving your vehicle immediately and consult your mechanic before damaging the entire engine when this happens.

If you don't already know, your vehicle's engine requires a specific amount of oil to keep it lubricated and prevent internal friction due to the moving components. When the engine doesn't receive this lubrication, there's a very high chance that friction can cause extreme temperatures, which leads to engine overheating that could damage it.

How to get rid of the burnt oil smell from a car?

Whether the smell has to do with a low oil level or no oil at all, you'll have to check with your mechanic and confirm why the oil dropped significantly in the first place. Sometimes the problem might test to do with internal seals breakage or other reasons for oil leaks inside the vehicle or outside it.

How much does it cost to get rid of the burnt oil smell from a car?

Depending on the severity of the oil leak, getting rid of the burnt oil smell might cost you between $85 and $155. However, it is important to note that if the burnt oil smell was left for a long time, you might be dealing with a completely failed engine, which could cost you very high repairs to install either a new or rebuilt engine.

5.    Your vehicle smells like a musty basement

Often, if you tried turning on the AC system, you might realize a smell like a musty basement. When that happens, the problem most likely has to do with an issue with the AC system itself. This issue could be mold building up inside the AC due to left moisture.

How to get rid of the musty basement smell from a car?

To get rid of the musty basement smell inside your vehicle, you can turn on the AC system and allow the fan to dry it out completely. You might need to open the windows to allow the smell to leave the vehicle rather than bothering you and the drivers next to you.

How much does it cost to get rid of the musty basement smell from a car?

Depending on the severity of the mold inside the AC system, you might not need to pay anything. You can, as we indicated, turn on the AC system and allow the inside of the system to dry out by itself. However, some instances where the mold buildup for a long time requires attention from an experienced mechanic. Therefore, repair costs might range from as low as zero up to $200.

6.    Your vehicle smells like burnt carpet

Finally, something smelling like burnt carpets is another familiar smell you might experience when driving your vehicle. This smell is typically related to over usage of your vehicle's brake pads. When the brake pads overheat, they generate this smell to grab your attention so you can replace them immediately.

How to get rid of the burnt carpet smell from a car?

Since the brake pads are one of the most critical components in your car because they have to do with your safety, it is important that whenever you notice the burnt carpet smell to take it seriously and have your mechanic replaced the brake pads immediately. Failing to do so puts your life at risk and the life of other people driving around you on the road.

How much does it cost to get rid of the burnt carpet smell from a car?

Depending on the number of required Rick pads replacements, you might have to pay between $150 up to $300. But, of course, this price range also depends on your vehicle's make, model, and year.

Is it worth getting rid of the odd car smells out of a car?

First, we must agree that you must get rid of odd smells from your car if it's linked to an important problem. However, you must evaluate whether you are advised to spend on repair costs to get rid of these smells or not.

Depending on the source of the problem and repair costs, your decision might differ significantly. For example, if the issue has to do with a musty basement smell that is linked to some moisture inside the AC system, you can turn on the AC and get rid of the issue without paying a penny.

However, if the problem has to do with a bad, rotten egg smell that is linked to a problem with the catalytic converter, then you must perform a specific evaluation to compare repair costs to your vehicle's value. Experts put a 75% threshold between what is accepted versus not accepted in terms of repair costs. In other words, if you realize that repair costs are approaching 75% or more from your vehicle's value, then you are not advised to perform these repairs, and instead, you should sell the car.

Conclusion

Odd car smells might be linked to minor issues and can also be related to a significant problem requiring immediate attention. Therefore, it is important for you as a driver to familiarize yourself with all these smells and learn about the potential causes.

When the causes are identified, you must immediately get out of the issue to prevent enrolling with complicated problems that might cost you thousands of dollars if ignored for a long time. Common odd car smells include rotten egg, Maple syrup, burnt paper, burnt oil, and burnt carpet.

Before you perform any vehicle repairs to get rid of the odd car smells, you must evaluate the repair costs and compare them to your vehicle's value. For example, if you realize that repair costs are approaching 75% or more from your vehicle's value, it is not worth the repairs. Instead, you've been advised to sell your vehicle and use its value towards a better car.

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