Burning Rubber Smell in Your Car? Here’s Why You Can’t Ignore it

You are driving down the street when you suddenly notice a burning rubber smell in car. And, no, you are not in a high-speed chase with the wheels burning. You are just cruising.

Unless a new line of air freshener with a hint of burning rubber scent has just been released and you happen to fancy it, a burnt rubber smell in the car is an indicator of a problem or a combination of problems with your car and should be addressed. Not only is it unpleasant but it could potentially be dangerous.

We will look into the common things that could bring on a burnt rubber smell from the engine and some of them could be serious enough to warrant a visit to your mechanic as soon as possible.


Burning Rubber Smell in Car: 9 Possible Causes 

Before you pop the hood open or try to inspect and identify where the rubber smell is coming from, make sure that you let the hot engine go a tad cooler and start looking out for the following:

  1. A rubber hose or two are loose.

    burnt rubber car houseThe engine has a number of rubber hoses that could come loose over time. If they touch or come too close to hot parts of the engine, they could give off that rubber smell.

  2. The clutch is worn out.

    If you are driving a manual vehicle and you smell rubber when you shift gears, the clutch may be the problem.

    The rubbery smell is emanating from the surface of the clutch burning off when it slips.

    Don’t rest your foot on the clutch although you might think that you’re not putting any pressure on it and don’t leave the clutch partially depressed when you step on the gas. These will cause premature clutch wear.

  3. The drive belt is giving out.

    The drive belt drives multiple peripheral devices in an engine such as the power steering pump, the alternator, water pump, air conditioning compressor, etc.

    Even if one of those peripheral devices refuse to work, the drive belt will still continue to spin against the pulley, causing friction. Not only will you be able to pick up a rubber smell, but you might also hear some strange sounds with it.

  4. The AC compressor is heating up.

    Your car’s AC contains a liquid refrigerant and one of its functions is to lubricate the AC compressor. The refrigerant levels would gradually reduce over time and will deprive the AC compressor of sufficient lubrication. This could cause the AC compressor to heat up and produce the burnt rubber smell in your car.

  5. The coolant is leaking out of its tank.

    coolant smells burningYour car engine uses a coolant to fend off overheating. It is stored in a tank within the engine block.

    Cracks could develop in a tank that has been run down by wear and tear and could leak the coolant.

    If you haven’t guessed it just yet, our coolant smells like burning rubber.

  6. The gasket seal is failing.

    The gasket is a seal that is situated between the 2 pieces of the engine block. It holds and regulates the oil and the compressed air-fuel mixture needed by the cylinders to ignite.

    If you have a busted seal, hot oil will get dribbled all over other engine parts straight from a very hot engine. These parts could be the engine’s belts, rubber hoses, or the exhaust manifold. Any of these parts could yield the burning rubber smell with the right amount of hot engine oil.

  7. There is a motor oil leak in your car.

    Because of where it is placed and how it is used within your car, motor oil could make its way into the exhaust system. The leaked motor oil will burn and will have that rubbery smell.

    Since motor oil is very flammable and the exhaust system’s temperature can cause the oil to ignite, make sure that you head to your mechanic ASAP. The easiest way to tell if you have a motor oil leak is to stop the car for a while, enough for you to observe black liquid dripping and forming a pool underneath your car.

  8. There is a fault in the electrical system of your car.

    burning rubber smell from car electricIf the rubber smell just kinds of wafts out from somewhere and does not stay for too long especially when the AC is on, there could be a fault in the electrical system.

    A burnt rubber smell caused by a burnt fuse does not linger like the ones made by the other things that we already talked about.

  9. Your car picked up trash along the way.

    Garbage that gets picked up by your car as you’re driving could end up stuck in the exhaust system.

    Since the tailpipe and its neighboring parts could get really hot, it will melt the trash and create a burnt rubber smell.


So What To Do When Car Smells Like Burning Rubber?

Before you make any attempt to fix the problem, kindly take the following precautions and tips first:

  • Safety first. Let the car engine cool first before you begin touching or inspecting anything.
  • Begin your inspection with the engine block as most of the causes start from under the hood.
  • Pay attention and try to recall other symptoms such as strange sounds because those can help you trim down the possible sources of the burnt rubber smell. As we pointed out earlier, a problem with the drive belt will come with strange noises.
  • If you find no apparent problems under the hood, check the exhaust.
  • If your inspection does not turn anything up, you may take your vehicle to a mechanic for an exhaustive inspection.

What do I do Next?

Based on the causes that we discussed above, you may take the following steps where applicable.

  • Open the hood and check for any loose rubber hoses. Secure rubber hoses and rubber parts in place if they are not where they should be.
  • If you have identified that the clutch is worn out, have it replaced. And to prevent the clutch from giving out too soon, don’t ride your clutch hard. In fact, don’t ride the clutch at all.
  • In case of a faulty drive belt, get a replacement. It is recommended to check your belt every 6 months.
  • Have the refrigerant levels in your compressor checked and refilled as needed to prevent the compressor from running hot.
  • If you have a damaged coolant, get it serviced as soon as possible. Without a fully functioning coolant, the engine won’t be able to operate efficiently and safely.
  • If your gasket seal has failed and you cannot make it to a mechanic right this very moment, tighten the coupling surface on the gasket and that should hold long enough until you can get to one.
  • Inspect the fuses and the cables (also spark plug wires) under the hood and check if there is a fault there. If the fuses have been replaced recently, make sure that they match the ones recommended by the manufacturer or your vehicle’s manual.
  • Remove any stuck garbage and as much as possible, do not drive over garbage.
  • There are some things that you may need a mechanic’s help with because they could pose dangerous threats to your safety such as motor oil leaks or you may not have the resources or tools to fix the problem yourself. Go to a professional for the best advice.


Other Car problems that Manifest as Odors

If you smell something out of the ordinary but can’t quite put a finger on it, you can quickly check these.

  • Burnt paper

    May be caused by the clutch face burning off as the clutch slips when the driver is riding the clutch or stepping way too often on the pedal.

  • Burnt oil

    You may be running out of engine oil or the engine could be overheating. The transmission fluid could also be low causing the gears to lack lubrication and they therefore overheat.

  • Burnt carpet

    The brake pads could be overheated after extensive brake use or the hand brake was left on.

  • Rotten eggs

    The catalytic converter is possibly not processing hydrogen sulfide in the exhaust system. Take the car to a mechanic ASAP.

  • Maple syrup

    Coolant containing ethylene glycol could be leaking out from the radiator, a failed intake manifold gasket, or cylinder head. There could also be a problem with the heater core if the smell is strongest inside the car. Either way, have a mechanic check it out.

  • Musty Basement

    There could be mildew growing in the AC evaporator. Turn the AC off and set the fan on high to dry it out.

car service rubber smell


Burning Rubber Smell in Car – Conclusion

Whatever odor it is that you pick up apart from the smell of a typical car interior, car freshener/deodorizer, and the occasional taco or burrito, the bottom line is that those odors should not be there.

Most of the things that cause a burning rubber smell in the car cannot be ignored for long and some require immediate attention.

As always, GarageChief recommends to see to it that your engine parts are in tip-top condition, observe proper driving and routinely visit your friendly neighborhood mechanic.

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