There’s nothing like the smell of a new car or the fresh odor in a car right after a car wash. It feels pleasant and clean to the senses. On the other hand, sometimes your car can start to smell. Whether it’s a bit musty or funky, having a rank smell in your car isn’t just an assault on your senses but may be a cause for concern. Below we cover what might be the culprit behind those car smells and how to remove odor from your car.
Different types of car smells
When you smell something weird in your car, sometimes it may be obvious what it is. Maybe there’s a lingering food smell or moist gym clothes you threw in the back. Other times, there are more distinctive smells that may indicate a problem. Here are some common car smells to be aware of.
If you start to smell burnt toast, it may mean there’s an electrical issue you want to check out. It could be a burnt fuse or an issue with your brakes. In any case, it could mean trouble with electrical functions or something major like your brakes.
For that reason, this isn’t a smell you should ignore and try to remedy with a car freshener. Take your car to a mechanic so they can assess what the issue might be and resolve the problem.
Burning rubber has a unique smell that you can’t forget. According to MechanicBase.com:
“The most common reason why your car smells like burning rubber is due to an oil leak or coolant leak. It can also be caused by a slipping serpentine belt, sticking brake calipers, slipping clutch, or any external objects stuck in the engine bay.”
You might be able to check your oil and coolant levels yourself to see if there is a leak. Regardless of the issue, get your vehicle checked out as it could be serious, and you don’t want to damage your car and drive in unsafe conditions.
It can be seriously unpleasant if you get into your car and it smells like rotting eggs. The smell is a signal that something is wrong. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Consumer Advice blog that could indicate an issue with the catalytic converter or mean there’s an issue with emission control devices. Another reason there might be a rotting egg car smell is that your car is running on old transmission fluid.
Gas car smell
You know the signature gas car smell. If you smell gas shortly after filling up, it may not be an issue. You may have picked up some gas vapors via your shoes, and the smell should go away.
If you haven’t filled up your gas tank recently, there might be a bigger issue such as a broken fuel cap leading to a gas leak. Take action right away and check your fuel cap. If there’s nothing wrong, get it checked out.
Sweet car smell
If you’re experiencing an oddly sweet car smell, it may be a coolant leak. In this case, you might see your temperature gauge car dashboard icon light up if your engine is heating up.
This could be dangerous as there may be a coolant leak, leading to your car overheating. Check on your coolant levels and if it’s not resolved with more coolant, get it checked out by a professional.
If your car smells of exhaust fumes, there could be an exhaust leak or cracked seals on your windows, letting the smell escape into the cabin of your car.
This is a car smell that shouldn’t be ignored as it could be toxic and fatal. Don’t mess around if your nose picks up on exhaust fumes in your car and go to a repair shop immediately.
Chemical car small
Does your car have that weird chemical smell? If your car smells distinctly like chemicals or like it has a bitter aroma, it could point to problems with your brakes or clutch or even mean an oil leak.
Musty or mildew car smell
When your car smells musty or like mildew, it could mean there’s excessive debris, dust, mold, etc. that come out through your air conditioning system. It could mean that it’s time to replace your cabin air filter and can signal a more significant issue with your A/C system.
How to clean different car smells
Sometimes a bad car smell is a signifier of a bigger issue that’s mechanical and could be dangerous. But sometimes, there may be a car smell that is stuck in your car and isn’t necessarily related to anything being wrong with your car parts or systems. In this case, here are some tips to remove odor from cars that can help.
Deep clean the car’s upholstery and carpet
The upholstery and carpet in your vehicle can be a hotbed for weird odors. Maybe you’ve had fast food crumbs, dirt, dust, spills, debris from your shoes, etc. all mixed together to create an uninviting car smell.
To help, vacuum the carpet in your car and wash any floor mats. Consider going to a car wash and getting a deep clean of your vehicle’s interior.
Remove the mildew smell
If you smell mildew, you want to know how to remove mildew smell out of the car ASAP due to its strong and undesirable smell. If your car has gotten wet from rain, perhaps from an umbrella, your shoes, or a window left slightly open, the extra moisture can breed mold and mildew.
Consider steam cleaning the carpet in your vehicle and drying it out in the sun or with a hairdryer. Wipe down or wring out any additional moisture found in areas of your car. You may also use an anti-mildew cleaning solution and use baking soda to help neutralize the smell.
Ditch the smoke smell
Smoke can linger for a long time, so if you or anyone in your vehicle is a smoker, the smell can be pervasive.
The first thing you want to do is get some fresh air into the vehicle with windows open. Additionally, to help remove car odor, get a spray or other type of product into the vents and areas of your car to ditch the smoke car smell. For example, you can try Zep smoke odor eliminator spray or Ozium smoke and odor eliminator gel.
Do away with the AC smells
If the car smell is coming from your AC system, consider changing out your cabin air filter right away and getting some Lysol disinfectant to get rid of any bacteria that could be the culprit behind the smell.
Watch this helpful video on how to do it. Make sure you dust the whole car, get rid of wet floor mats, let them dry thoroughly, and air out your vehicle.
Get rid of sickness or accident smells
Perhaps you or a friend drank too much or experienced car sickness and vomited in the car or while transporting a pet to the vet, they had an accident. These experiences can be common but can leave a lasting car smell. Cleaning up right away is your best bet to get rid of the smell. Even then, there may be a scent that lingers. In that case, you can use baking soda to absorb some of the smell and try cleaning it with a mixture of water and vinegar.
The bottom line
Dealing with an awful car smell can affect your experience with driving and be unpleasant. Knowing what the smell is can help you identify if there’s a more significant issue at play. If it’s simply odor trapped in the car from bacteria, mildew, mold, etc., using the steps above you can remove odor from the car. Keeping your car clean is just one part of car maintenance. Making sure you’re properly covered with car insurance is another. Don’t drive that much? It’s time to rethink auto insurance coverage and pay for insurance by the miles you drive. Get a free quote with Metromile.
Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer, podcast host of the Mental Health and Wealth show, and author of Dear Debt. She’s a cat mom to two jazzy cats, Miles and Thelonious, an amateur boxer, music lover, and needs coffee to function.