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The Smell of Car Oil Burning NOT A Good Sign

The Smell of Car Oil Burning NOT A Good Sign

The smell of burning car oil, drops of “black gold” sizzling on the surface of that hot engine, is not a good thing. It is a sign that your car engine is in trouble and requires urgent attention.

Auto Repairs Are EXPENSIVE


For some, the smell of burning oil swirls up a whirlwind of nostalgia. The smell reminds the car owner of an ex, driving their first car around city’s west side, or maybe Grandma’s Oldsmobile. 

Don’t get caught up in the romance of scents like gasoline, engine grease, and burning car oil, though. They’re not good for humans to smell.

Savvy car owners know this all too well. The smell of burning car oil is a warning sign- danger is afoot in terms of car troubles, mechanic bills, and time called into work.

There will be a lot to sort out once you put your finger on the strange smell:

  • Why is the car burning oil?
  • Where is the car burning oil?
  • Where should I take my car when it’s burning oil?
  • Who should I call?
  • How long can I drive a car that’s burning oil?
  • What does the smell of burning oil mean for my car?
  • How much is it going to cost to fix the car when it’s burning oil?

The smell of burning oil in a car brings to mind all of these questions and more.

Rather than sit back get swept up in the memories of yesteryear, or wonder about causes and costs, you can take action. 

The first step is to inform yourself.

Why Do I Smell Burning Oil While Driving My Car?

“Why do I smell burning oil in my car?” isn’t the type of question people find themselves asking on a daily basis. Yet, once the smell of burnt oil hits your nose, it is one that should be posed. You smell oil burning in your car because of an oil leak, most likely.

There is a sort of life lesson in such a question. An old expression comes to mind… “if you smell smoke…” Sound the alarm!

The same is true when you smell burning oil. Sound the alarm – call a mechanic and fast.

There are plenty of people who drive around old cars that leak oil all over the place. These drivers and car owners don’t mind stopping at the auto parts store a few times a week to buy quarts of oil as if they were buying milk for their cereal.

They learn to check the dipstick before long drives or at regular intervals. They respond to the car’s oil engine light like clockwork. The oil guzzling engine begins to rule the driver’s life.

This is one way of doing things. Similar to applying more and more dressing to an open wound, there comes a point where it’s better to find a way to actually stop the bleeding.

What’s Wrong with a Car that Gives Off the Smell of Burning Oil?

Noticing the smell of burning oil in your car can trigger a lot of reactions, ranging from nostalgia to panic. There is a reason for the smell, though. Oil is burning as it hits something hot within the motor – it could be an oil leak from bad seals or perhaps a valve that needs to be replaced.

Here’s the thing about engine oil – it doesn’t belong outside of the engine. You could be looking at dried up, beaten down seals. You could be dealing with bad gaskets. Wear and tear are to be expected in an older car, especially if improper maintenance schedules have been implemented. 

Not resolving the problem isn’t a good option, by the way. Additional damage can be caused, leading to an even more expensive repair bill.

The smell of burning car oil is an indication of an oil leak in some regards.

If the problem is really severe, you could even see smoke. The color of it will be vaguely blue. 

The problem could be that the piston rings are damaged, especially if the smoke occurs when you hit the gas.

If the smoke shows up when you are riding the brakes, then it could be the valve guides that are the culprit.

Take the car to the mechanic when you notice these symptoms. They may tell you that you have a worn PCV valve. When this part is broken, there is extra pressure in the combustion chamber. 

If you don’t get this taken care of when you first notice it, you risk future engine failure. It may cause repairs that cost more than the car is worth! Get ready to call a junkyard if that happens.

I Smell Burning Car Oil. What Do I Do?

When you smell your car burning oil, you need to react swiftly.

The car burns oil when it isn’t working correctly; that much is obvious. Be aware that a car burning oil is different than a car leaking oil. They could happen simultaneously, but they don’t always. They are results of different problems.

Internal damage within the car’s engine is expensive to repair. Unfortunately, that’s what you could be up against when you smell burning oil coming from your car.

Burning oil is a sign that something is wrong. Whether you drive an old car or a new one, this is not a problem to be taken lightly or ignored. 

In fact, too many drivers today fear visiting a mechanic because of the costs. It takes time, money, and energy to repair a car. Some of us don’t have much of any of these resources during difficult times. Still, the problem could be worse down the road.

The repairs might be easy, quick, and painless. On the other hand, you may be looking at replacing the entire engine. That’s how serious the smell of burning car oil can be.

In some cases, if you handle the repair the first time you notice the smell of burning oil, you could avoid more costly and serious damage in the future.

Oil control rings, AKA piston rings, are supposed to prevent oil from getting into the chamber. However, if the rings don’t work because they are dry, cracked, broken – or just too plain old – then oil will burn in the chamber.

The valves are supposed to do the same as the leak. They prevent the entrance of oil into the combustion chamber. If it doesn’t work, you will smell oil burning.

Another problem can be the head gasket. This is where coolant and oil circulate, without mixing. 

When the head gasket doesn’t work correctly, oil makes its way into the engine’s cylinders.

The smell of burning car oil can be light or strong. The light smell reminds people of an old car, perhaps one they now remember fondly. It isn’t a good smell – it isn’t good to smell, either! 

Don’t ignore the problem. It makes the engine inefficient and could lead to total engine failure. 

You don’t want to be stranded on the road in the middle of the night because you failed to address the burning smell of oil coming from your car every time you drive it.

Future problems will include the following: spark plugs, fried catalytic converter, and a seized engine.

How Much Does It Cost to Repair a Car that Has a Burning Oil Smell?

The average Joe reading up on the smell of burning oil in a car is likely to wonder how much the associated repairs will cost. The short answer is a lot! You can expect to shell out a couple of thousand dollars for repair ($1000-$2000).

What Options Do I Have When the Car Smells like Burning Oil?

You have options when you smell burning car oil. You can drive the car until it dies. You can call a mechanic. You can do the work yourself. You can sell the car to somebody else. Or, you can sell your car to a junkyard.

The first choice you have, which we often forget, is to do nothing. You can ignore the problem. This is not recommended.

There are plenty of people who ignore their car’s smell of burning oil. Some do take care to refill the oil that is leaking or burning, but that’s a temporary solution. You’re driving to the store once or twice a week to refill the car’s oil – and you can only do it when the engine is nice and cool!

Is that really any way to live? When the car finally dies – it could be when you’re out and about. You’ll be stranded. It might even be in the middle of Chicago traffic. You do not want to call a tow truck when you’re on the side of the expressway.

Another option is to call a mechanic. This is a responsible decision. You can simply allow a professional to do what they do best, fix cars that smell like burning oil. You might just get an estimate if money is an issue. From there, you can decide how to proceed. 

You might consider selling a car that is burning oil. This isn’t a very ethical thing to do if you try to disguise the fact that the car has problems.

You should notify potential buyers of the problems and charge an appropriate price. Don’t expect to sell the car for top dollar with an expensive repair necessary as soon as the title is signed. 

If the idea of selling your car is making you sweat, then don’t go that route. You might be better off calling a tow truck and sending that old car with burning oil straight to the nearest junkyard.

The tow is usually free; most junkyards will even pay you for the car they take. They will use the good parts for other cars or scrap. It’s a win-win situation to send a car that smells like burnt oil to the junkyard.

There are many options ahead. With so many roads to take, just be sure to choose the one that works out best for you financially and logistically.

Is the Smell of Burning Car Oil Normal?

No. The smell of burning car oil is not normal. Oil burning in the car is a sign that something is not right under the hood.

Even in old cars, you should not accept that smell of oil burning is normal. There is something wrong with the rings, the seals, the valves, or the engine in general.

Sure, some of the repairs are manageable and common. However, do you have the time, energy, and available funds to manage replacing a whole new engine in your car?

Probably not. Most cars aren’t even worth it, and the ones that are don’t usually have this problem or will be covered under some type of warranty.

If your car is brand new, then you most likely won’t smell oil burning in the engine. If you do, there is probably a factory defect that the warranty will cover. This isn’t always true, however, so look into your warranty to learn more.

When the car is old, the smell of burning engine oil could be the sign that the car is ready to retire to the junkyard.

Smells Like Burning Car Oil: Where to Go from Here…

When the car smells like burning oil, it’s time to make a plan of action. 

You can drive the car until it’s permanently ruined. You could take the car to a mechanic. You could sell it. You could even call a junkyard to tow it away (giving you cash on the spot).

You might take the money earned by junking the car to buy a new one. You might also buy a bus pass or some new walking shoes.

There comes a time when the car repair cost just isn’t worth the investment. Sometimes that time is marked by the smell of burning car oil.