Auto Odors: What Your Smelly Car is Trying to Tell You

Auto Odors: What Your Smelly Car is Trying to Tell You

What is that smell coming from your car?
Staff Writer

Yuck! What's that smell?

If your car is emitting an unfamiliar or unpleasant odor, there might be something wrong under the hood. Or, you might just have a mess to clean up somewhere in the car's cabin. Either way, knowing which car smells are associated with car problems will help you diagnose issues before they become expensive problems!

Dirty socks

If you turn on your car and immediately get unpleasant flashbacks to the smell gym class locker room, you might have bacteria and fungus buildup in your air conditioning system. A common practice to avoid this buildup is to turn off the air conditioning and switching to fan only for at least five minutes before the end of your drive. This can help evaporate the odor-causing culprits.


Urine smell

It can be a shock for a car owner to get hit with an odor more commonly found in the bathroom when they turn on their air conditioning. Like the dirty sock smell issue, this can often be the result of bacteria building up in the A/C system. Spraying an anti-bacterial liquid into the system and flushing the drain tubes should eliminate this embarrassing problem!


Burnt toast

A car smell like burnt toast may make you hungry – and it could be a sign of burning insulation. This often happens if there’s an electrical short in your car. It’s a job for the pros so contact AAA car service to schedule an appointment. An experienced technician can figure out what is causing the smell and repair any electrical short before it causes more significant damage to your car.


Burnt carpet

This smell could be a sign that your brake pads are worn out. Either that, or you may have forgot to disengage your handbrake. If it is your brake pads that are making the smell, be sure to get your car into a AAA service station before any permanent damage is done to your braking system.


Rotten eggs

Sometimes you smell this in your car, but more often it’s something you’ll notice outside your car. This noxious odor indicates you have a problem with your catalytic converter or possibly your emissions system. Schedule an appointment to have this repaired and the car smell will go away. Some states require emissions testing as a part of annual inspections. Letting this repair wait will cause problem when it’s time for that inspection so don’t put it off.


Rotten fruit

Does your car smell like rotten fruit? Guess what? You probably have rotten fruit somewhere in your car! For some reason, banana and orange peels have a way of getting wedged between seats. Make sure to clean out the nooks and crannies in your car's interior, and apply baking soda to any trouble areas to soak up the odor. Let the baking soda sit for a few hours before vacuuming. 


Sickly sweet

When the car smell you notice is a heavy sweet odor, you may have a coolant leak. Keep an eye on the temperature gauge to make sure it doesn’t rise dangerously high and make your way to a service station as soon as possible. Ignoring a coolant leak could result in your engine overheating and leaving you in need of roadside assistance.


Must or mold

If your call smell is musty or moldy, then you may have a problem with a water leak. It could be as simple as having accidentally left a window open in the rain or it could be something bigger. Run your hand across the floor mats to check for damp spots and if you find one, make an appointment to have it checked out. AAA car services can help you find a reputable auto repair shop that can figure out where the water is coming from and fix the problem to get rid of the musty smell.


Let AAA's Approved Auto Repair technicians take care of the root cause of your car's stinky problem. Find a convenient location near you today!

AAA Approved Auto Repair


Submitted by Jeanine (not verified) on Tue, 09/10/2019 - 13:14


How about Death, as in something died.

Submitted by kdoyle on Tue, 09/10/2019 - 15:06

In reply to by Jeanine (not verified)


I think you've identified both the cause and the symptom on this one! Unfortunately, critters can get stuck under a car's hood or even in the heating and cooling system and create the smell you are referring to!

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