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On the Nose – What Your Car’s Weird Smells Are Telling You

On the Nose – What Your Car’s Weird Smells Are Telling You

Because a car can’t speak (at east not yet, anyway) it is difficult for them to tell us when something is wrong. There are, however, several warning signs that your vehicle is capable of producing to alert you that there may be a problem somewhere. These signs may come in the form of strange noises like squeaks, rattles, squeals or clangs, or they may come in the form of odd-looking leaks or jolty driving. Another way that a car can grab your attention to tell you all is not well is by producing a smell. Much like a baby will produce a bad smell when they need to be changed, a car will start to create all kinds of unique and often unpleasant odors in order to remind you to take it in for a car service! If you start to smell something a bit off (and no one in the car is wearing a guilty expression) then it might be time to have it looked at. Here are just a few of the possible explanations for why your car might be a little funky-smelling.

Pungent and Acidic

If your car has a kind of acidic, chemical smell that is similar to bleach or another very strong cleaning product, it could be a result of some coolant having leaked onto the tailpipe and burning, creating an acrid smoke. This will usually happen when your car has been driving for a long period of time and is therefore very hot. You should check your coolant levels and if they are low have a mechanic check for leaks.

Mould and Mildew

Mouldy or damp smells can be the result of many things. If you have left some damp clothing or perhaps towels from the beach in your car, and the car has been subsequently shut up for an extended period of time, the smell could be resolved simply by removing the damp item. In other cases, this could signify that water has made its way into your car through a gap in the window seal or some other way, in which case you need to check for water damage and then have the seals replaced.


If your car has a strong smell of petrol even a while after you have filled it up then you should stop and determine the source of the smell. It could be that there is a leak in your fuel line or another petrol leak in which case you must not drive it and have it towed away for immediate service. Fuel, as you know, is incredibly flammable, and if there is a leak you do not want to risk igniting it.

Keeping your nose open for disturbing smells is just another way you can monitor how it is running. Many mechanics will attest to the fact that the first warning signs something is awry come from smells, sounds or evidence of liquid leaks, so stay alert and solve problems before they escalate.

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