In Summary

Certain smells emanating from your car could mean a mechanical malfunction. Recognising what it smells like and what area of your car it is coming from can help you resolve the issue before it becomes a major problem

One of the smells that are produced in your car is that of a detergent or spray after its body, including the interior, has been washed. This is something not to worry about because you already know where and how it comes about. But when your car produces one of these smells, find out where it is coming from and its cause.

Rubber burning
About a week ago, as he drove to Bushenyi District in western Uganda, Ismail Kakooza, a long distance motorist, noticed that his car reeked of burning rubber. He ignored the smell, believing it would subside. However, when he reached Mpigi, it was worse and when he reached Masaks, he decided to take that car to a garage.
“When the mechanic checked the car, he discovered that the rear brakes were too tight. He said the smell was as a result of the heat that brake pads produced after rubbing against the brake drum. The brakes were slightly loosened to function normally,” Kakooza recalls, adding that the brake strain also produced a lot of heat that the mechanic observed would have led to brake system rubbers bursting, which would eventually have led to brake failure.
Stephen Jjuuko, a mechanic in Wandegeya, Kampala, says the other cause of this smell is old or worn out tyres. The smell becomes sharp and irritating, especially when your tyres do not have treads.
“When you brake instantly and the tyres leave tyre marks on the road surface, you will also smell a burning rubber scent. It will exist for some time but will eventually disappear,” Jjuuko explains, warning that instant braking also sometimes leads to unexpected tyre bursts that might cause a car to overturn, leading to injury and loss of lives.
Another burning rubber-like smell that could be produced from your car are from the brakes. If this is so, it means that your brake pads are old and need to be replaced immediately.

Fuel smell
In Kakooza’s case, he was lucky that he noticed that there was a rubber burning smell and endeavoured to have it sorted.
Unfortunately, there are some motorists who smell unusual scents from their cars and choose to just drive on and ignore the smell. One of the commonest smells is that of car fuel.
Innocent Karugaba was on his way to Mubende when his car started reeking of fuel.
“When I walked around the car, I found that there was a fuel leakage from the fuel tank that was spilling on one of the rear tyres. The pump attendant had over filled the tank. Some of the fuel had overflowed yet the rubber on the fuel tank lead could release some of the fuel as I drove up the hill,” Karugaba recalls.
Raymond Timothy Komakech, a motorist, observes that if you smell fuel from your car as you drive, there is a possibility that your mechanic could have used a very small portion of fuel to clean one of your car parts. Komakech also notes that fuel smell could be a possibility of a fuel leakage from the bottom of your car.
“If you park your car and a brownish layer forms on the ground, this means fuel is leaking from the engine, especially as it transfers from the tank to the engine burning chamber via the injector pump,” Komakech explains.

AC smell
When you turn on your car air conditioner (AC) regardless of whether you need hot or cold air and you smell dust, it is a sign that your air conditioning system, especially the air cleaner has been clogged with dust.
This happens when you have taken some time without using the air conditioner.
“When the air conditioner is turned on, to receive cold or hot air, the system will blow the dust in the air cleaner inwards before you start receiving the needed air. The smell will cover the car interior for about two minutes and will clear as you drive on,” Jjuuko says.

Rotten egg smell
According to firestone complete auto care, an online portal, a rotten egg smell in your car often indicates a malfunctioning part in the fuel system.
The portal explains that if the catalytic converter, fuel filters or fuel pressure sensors are worn out or damaged, a sulfur gas can leak out and make its way into your car’s cabin.
“This smell is not just unpleasant; it can be dangerous. Sometimes, the issue is as simple as replacing transmission fluid as old fluid can produce that same rotten egg smell in cars,” the portal advises.

Maple syrup
If your engine has been running for a few minutes and you start to smell something sweet, coolant containing ethylene glycol could be leaking from the radiator, cylinder head or a failed intake manifold gasket. If the smell is strongest inside the car, this is could indicate a problem with the heater core. In both cases, you will need to have a mechanic look into the issue.
Burnt paper
The smell of burnt paper while driving, especially when changing gears, might be a sign that the clutch facing is burning off as the clutch slips. This can happen if the driver is “riding” the clutch, stepping too frequently on the pedal, which causes significant friction. This friction creates enough heat to actually burn the paper-based clutch facings, which can cause the whole clutch to fail.