Helpful Tips For Diagnosing Burning Car Smells

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A burning smell from a car always triggers alarm bells, but do you know what it means? The truth is that such a smell can mean any number of things depending on where it is coming from. Here are a few possible causes of burning car smells, and what they may mean in each case:


The heater is a common source of burning smells so you might want to check it if you sense burning smell from the car. If your examination confirms the heater vent as the source of the smell, then one possible reason is dust in the system, especially if you use it irregularly. However, a heater that is regularly used is not likely to gather serious dirt. In that case, other possible culprits include:

Electrical Wires or Circuits

Short-circuits can also elicit burning smells, especially if the smell resembles burning plastic. This is because a short circuit creates a high electrical resistance that heats up the wires or leads. The heat starts burning or melting the insulating covers, which is what causes the smell. The general direction of the smell can point to the damaged circuit. However, it is not easy to pinpoint the exact culprit since modern cars contain numerous electronics and electrical wires, so it is best to let the mechanic handle the diagnosis.


The clutch is also a common source of smells, especially when changing gears. In fact, this is one of the telltale signs you can use to know that your clutch needs replacement. The smell is caused by the slipping clutch, which generates enough heat to burn its face. In extreme cases, you may even notice smoke emanating from underneath the car.


Even engine issues can cause burning smells. The problem is that the engine has myriad components, and many of them can cause these smells. For example, a damaged catalytic converter may let some of the emissions through, and the sign will be a burning sulfur smell.

Lastly, don't discount the possibility of your car actually burning when you sense the appropriate smell. For example, a carelessly thrown cigarette can land on the back seat and start shouldering. Burning upholstery can smell like an electrical fire, so it is wise to confirm that no such thing is going on in your car.

It is clear that there are so many things that can cause burning smells in a car. Therefore, if you don't know what is causing the burning smell, then it is wise to stop driving until an auto repair services mechanic fixes it.