Why Does My Car Smell?

Have you found yourself asking, "Why does my car smell?" The answer may lead you to a thorough cleaning — or a repair.

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Car smells?

Perhaps eliminating the odor is as simple as giving your ride a vigorous interior cleaning — putting the upholstery attachment on your vacuum and scouring the seats and floor mats to remove hair, dander, pollen and crumbs. If something spilled on the floor mats, it’s time to pull them out and scrub them.

Or maybe it’s not that simple. There are plenty of smells that serve as your signal a repair is needed.

We spoke with Kristen Lee, car expert and senior automotive reporter at Business Insider, to help determine which situation you’re dealing with.

Why Does My Car Smell Like Burning?

The smell of burnt carpet can mean there’s a problem with the brakes, while a burning rubber smell points to an issue with the engine hoses and belts. The smell of burning metal indicates a burnt clutch.

Why Does My Car Smell Like Cooking Oil?

If a “deep fryer” or burning oil smell is overtaking the car, check to see if the crankshaft or valve cover is leaking oil or smoking. It may also be an oil level issue.

Why Does My Car Smell Like Gas?

Smelling gasoline in the car can signal that there’s a problem with the fuel injection line, vent hose or fuel cap, and should be checked out immediately.

Why Does My Car Smell Like Maple Syrup?

Leaking coolant has a syrupy smell to it, which may mean the car’s radiator or hose is leaking. It could also be a bad head gasket, which allows coolant to boil in the combustion chamber, giving off white, sweet-smelling smoke.

Why Does My Car Smell Like Rotten Eggs?

A sulfur or rotten egg smell happens when the car’s catalytic converter isn’t working properly, or too much raw fuel from poor combustion is entering the exhaust system. This, too, should be looked at as soon as possible.

Why Does My Car Smell Musty?

Musty, mildew or slightly vinegary smells happen when the vents need to be cleaned. The job is as simple as using a toothbrush and a car cleaning solution like ArmorAll Multi-Purpose Cleaner. If the smell persists, Napa Auto Parts advises you to change the cabin air filter.

Why Can’t I Find the Source of the Smell?

Once you rule out a repair issue and clean the interior of the vehicle, if you still notice the bad smell, check the trunk. It’s easy to overlook a spill or an item that fell out of a grocery bag and went bad.

Visible spills on a hard surface like rubber or plastic can be cleaned with soap, water and a sponge or microfiber cloth. Fabric cargo mats should be removed and washed with a carpet and upholstery brush and a small amount of dish soap or liquid laundry detergent, or with a carpet cleaning product like Resolve. To treat smells caused by something rotten, dispose of the offending item and use Lysol or a similar disinfecting spray to kill the odor-causing bacteria.