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What Causes a Car Burning Oil Smell? All Potential Reasons!  

What Causes a Car Burning Oil Smell? All Potential Reasons!  

According to the vice president and the industry advocate at RepairPal, Jill Trotta, “if you experienced car burning oil smell, its most likely coming from the engine.” 

Auto Repairs Are EXPENSIVE

Trotta Also added that “car smells are a clear indicator that’s something wrong.” She also encouraged never to ignore weird smells coming from your vehicle “so you never want to ignore a strange smell when you're driving.”

As a rule of thumb, you never want to ignore any weird smell coming from your vehicle because ignoring it could cost you a lot of time and effort. In some cases, when car burning oil smell is coming from your vehicle, it might indicate significant engine failure. As a result, your repair cost could be significantly high.

It's important to understand the causes behind car burning oil. This article helps you identify the different causes for this burn smell. Once you understand the causes, you can easily narrow down the problems and get it repaired as soon as possible. 

Why is oil important for your vehicle? 

Before we even dig deeper in the different causes for car burning oil smell in your vehicle, it's important to understand the importance of your engine's oil.

Since your engine have several moving parts touching each other all the time, there is a high potential for friction which could generate a lot of heat. Too much heat is not good for your engine. If your engine gets overheated, it can get self-destructed very easy.

You never want your vehicle to run on low oil because the less oil you have, the more friction between the moving party will deal with, the more heat will be generated from your vehicle, and the more risk you'll be dealing with. 

What are the different causes for car burning oil smell? 

When you're dealing with some burning oil order in your vehicle, there are usually 5 main causes and one of them is most likely the culprits: 

  • A problem with the clutch 

Your vehicle's clutch is responsible for connecting two different gears in the transmission system.


Overtime of use, the clutch might face some slippage which could cause the car burning oil smell. 

Usually, if the clutch is the culprit, the oil burning smell would be more like a burning newspaper. As the clutch is face wears out and overheats, it can start burning the engine's oil.

The car burning oil smell due to issues with the clutch usually happens with the new drivers who are not used to the clutch system in the manual transmission. Therefore, if you are new driver and decided to go with a manual transmission vehicle, it's important to be very gentle on how to use the clutch and follow the appropriate directions from professional drivers. 

  • An issue with the brakes 


If you have confirmed that your vehicles clutch is not the culprit for the car burning oil smell, your second option is a problem with the brakes. More specifically, this oily smell could be coming from overheated rotors or brake pads.

In general, for drivers who use the brakes hardly specially on steep Hills, they can generate a lot of friction which could cause significant heat resulting in car burning oil smell.

Some drivers forget to disengage the emergency brakes then, they go ahead and start the vehicle. As a result, a lot of friction and heat is generated, and it could cause some car burning oil Smell. 

According to automotive experts, if the oil burning smells coming from a problem with the brakes, it's most likely a more complicated issue with the brake system and you must consult a professional mechanic as soon as possible.

Ignoring car burning oil smell coming from the brakes could result into significant problems with the brake system. 

  • Dirt or debris in the heater motor


If you’ve checked both the clutch and the brakes and found they are in good condition, you might need to check the heater motor.

Depending on the environment you are driving in, lots of debris and dirt can make its way to the heating system vents. As you turn on the heat, these items could get burnt and cause some oil burn smell. 

A good solution for this issue is to perform some heating system clean up and try to remove any debris.

Now if you are very sure that there are no contaminants or dirt in the heating system, you might need to check the motor itself. If the motor have a problem with burnt cores or issues with the connections and wires, you might also start noticing some car burning oil smell. 

  • An actual oil burning 


This is the first thing that you probably expected. You might have thought that real oil is burning inside your vehicle.

That actually could happen and it's not very rare. If there is some oil leak on any of the engine's components, as the heat increases in the engine, this oil could burn and release this burning smell.

Now if the problem is really happening from oil leak, it is very serious and you must get your vehicle inspected and repaired by a professional mechanic.

You don't want a situation where your vehicle is running on low oil. As we mentioned earlier, your vehicle must have a certain amount of oil according to their manufacturer and this oil is able to lubricate the engine's different components.

Without sufficient lubrications, your engine could easily overheat and get self destructed very fast. 

Does the car burning oil smell indicate I need for oil change?


Well, most automotive experts suggest performing oil change as recommended by the manufacturer. Failing to perform the oil change at the right time could result in dirty oil inside your engine.

If you're running on a dirty oil, you might start smelling some burning smell. This burning smell is coming from the old engine oil that was burnt from overuse.

Sometimes, lot of people get confused between the oil burning smell and the fuel burning smell. In some scenarios, if your vehicle is leaking some fuel and this fuel got burned outside of the combustion system, you might start smelling this fuel burning smell.

Whether it's your oil leaking or fuel leaking, you must take care of the problem as soon as possible to prevent dealing with complicated problem with your vehicles components. Some of the problems could be very serious and could cost you a lot of money. 

Is it bad to drive a car that burns oil?

Smelling some burning oil will not prevent you from driving your vehicle and it all depends on your wise decision. It's never recommended to drive a vehicle and ignore car burning oil smells.

If you ignored the problem and kept driving the vehicle for longer distances, you might be scarifying the engine. If the problem is coming from a leak in the engine, your engine will be running rough and the longer you wait on the problem, the more you destroy the engine.

In some scenarios, if your vehicle is running on low engine oil, you might deal with a completely blown motor.

If the problem is coming from just some dirt making its way to the heating system, it's not very serious and you could continue driving your car. However, it's recommended that you stop using the heating system until you could consult a professional mechanic unless you are driving in really cold conditions. 

Lastly, if the problem is coming from the clutch or the bricks, the best solution for you is to try being more gentle on using both of them until you could consult a professional mechanic immediately. That being said, the problem cannot be ignored for longer distances. 

At what mileage cars start burning oil?

According to the consumerreports.org website, it's not surprising for vehicles getting towards 100,000 miles to start smelling some oil burn.

As your vehicle ages, lots of problems are expected and the burning oil smell is one of them. 

How easy is it to fix car burning oil smell? 


Unfortunately, getting rid of the car burning oil smell can be time consuming and usually it's done by professional mechanics.

There are many reasons explaining the challenge and the difficulty in repairing car burning oil smell issues. For example, you will need first to identify the main purpose of the problem before even attempting any repairs. This is usually done using certain tools that could read through the vehicle's internal computer before telling you the main culprits.

Also, many of repairs need it for car burning oil smell require certain set up an specific tools that needs advanced mechanical skill sets. That being said, some simple issues causing the car burning oil smell might be resolved by only replacing the PCV valve, assuming that you're lucky! 


It's important to understand that any weird smell coming from your vehicle could indicate significant problems. It's never a good choice to ignore bad or good smells coming from your vehicle that you've not noticed before.

While in some cases, these smells could be related to simple issues, many cases could indicate significant internal problems and could lead to complicated repairs that require a lot of money.

In general, if you are experiencing car burning oil smell it's either a problem with a clutch, brakes, heating system, or an actual oil leak in your engine.

The best choice for you to identify and pinpoint the culprit is to visit a professional mechanic who can use some certain tools that helps him determine the route issue in your vehicle. Once he determined the problem, it's recommended to go ahead and take care of their peers immediately.