One of the least enjoyable aspects of car ownership comes when you are trying to figure out why your car smells so odd. Cars can make a variety of headache-inducing smells. One of the odors you should be most concerned about is the smell of burning rubber.
Unless you’re doing burnouts on the track, this burning smell can indicate a variety of concerns. These include a damaged belt, a loose hose, an oil leak, a clutch issue, a coolant leak, brakes that are too hot, an electrical shortage, or that a foreign object is stuck to the car. Let’s take a closer look at these possible causes below.
1. Damaged drive belt
A drive belt is responsible for connecting various components of your car, like the power steering, AC, and water pump, to the crankshaft, which is a vital part of your engine. If any of these components freeze up, the drive belt will spin against the pulley, increase heat in the area, and cause friction.
This friction will emit a burning smell. This issue can be easier to identify than other issues because the friction from the drive belt will create a high-pitched squealing sound.
This is another serious issue and should be addressed by a mechanic as soon as possible because this causes immense pressure to the engine. It may be likely that you will need a new drive belt as well as a replacement for the failed component that caused the drive belt to malfunction.
2. Loose hose
One of the most common causes of a burnt rubber smell in your car is a loose hose. The engine contains a number of rubber hoses that help your car function. When one of these rubber hoses springs a leak, becomes loose, or otherwise pressed against a hot part of the engine, the rubber may start to burn after a while due to friction resulting in literal burning rubber.
3. Oil leak
Another fairly common issue is an oil leak. This is an issue you do not want to neglect! An oil leak can happen when the gaskets and seals that prevent engine oil from leaking out erode from age. Leaking oil will enter the exhaust pipe, and when it does, it will burn and create an especially pungent burning rubber smell. Sometimes, white smoke coming from the exhaust pipe can confirm that you have an oil leak.
To solve this issue, stop the engine, wait for the car to cool down, and check for leaks. This is an issue that needs to be solved as soon as possible because if you continue driving with an oil leak and low oil, this will cause further damage to your engine and might even result in a major fire.
4. Clutch issue
If you drive a manual vehicle, you may be familiar with the clutch and gear stick. When the clutch slips, it smells like burning rubber because the surface of the clutch is made of a paper mesh. To prevent this problem, avoid “riding” the clutch too hard, and make sure that you are using your clutch correctly. To solve this problem, you may have to replace the clutch.
5. Coolant leak
Leaking coolant gives off a sweet smell, but coolant that leaks onto something hot will smell like burning rubber. Coolant is stored in a tank within the engine block, and if the tank becomes damaged through age, a blown radiator hose, or something else, the tank may crack and leak coolant.
This is a major issue for two reasons. First, coolant is responsible for keeping the engine temperature at the optimum range so if your coolant is running low, the performance of your car is in danger. Secondly, hot coolant can leak onto the rubber components around the radiator, causing it to burn out. This is also a cause of concern.
Important to note: cracks and leaks to the coolant tank may be too small to be visible. You may notice a coolant leak if you see a puddle of green or orange liquid underneath your car. With this serious of an issue, your best bet will be to have a professional confirm.
6. Brakes that are too hot
If you tend to brake aggressively or drive in a hilly area, how you are using your brakes may be to blame for the odor.
When you brake aggressively, the friction causes the metal brakes to expand, and when there is not sufficient cooling time between the application of the brakes, the brake pads will produce smoke and create that terrible car smell.
When you frequently use brakes in this way, your brakes may bind to the rotor and warp, causing damage to your brake system.
7. An electrical shortage
When a short circuit occurs in the car’s electrical system, a burning rubber smell may drift through the AC ducts. This can happen when the wires in the electrical system are managing more than they are supposed to, which causes them to overheat. Most electrical wires are fused, however, so if a fuse has been blown, you will not experience a short for more than a few seconds.
However, depending on how much overheating has happened, the heat generated could cause the rubber coating of the wires to melt, leaving exposed wire.
To address this issue, check all the wire connections for melted areas, loose connections, and check fuses to see if any of them have blown. It is important to look into this as soon as possible because if your wires become mangled, it could cause corrosion to your battery, drain the battery, or even start a fire.
8. Foreign objects
A foreign object, such as a plastic bag, can easily cause a burning rubber odor. The smell may be from the foreign object itself or from it burning onto a car component.
In this case, scan the engine compartment, underneath your car, and near your exhaust pipe. If you do notice something that does not belong there, take great caution to remove it. Better yet, consult a professional mechanic to ensure complete removal of the object without the risk of doing damage to the engine bay, and try to avoid driving directly over garbage in the future.
The best thing to do when you smell burning rubber is to immediately stop your car somewhere safe, let it cool down, and inspect it. The burning smell could be an early warning sign of a major problem. If you cannot find diagnose the issue, consult a licensed mechanic or take your car to your local car repair shop as soon as possible.