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Why Does My Car Smell Like Burning Rubber?

woman holding nose while sitting in car.

A Troubleshooting Guide

A car burning rubber may look cool, particularly in films, but in a situation where it's your car smelling like burning rubber, it's not cool at all.

By The Editors

Wed, Apr 20, 2022 11:45 AM PST

When dealing with the smell of burning rubber in your car, it's wise to examine your car to determine where the smell is actually coming from - as opposed to just opening the windows and getting rid of the smell...

There are a myriad of possible reasons for a burning-rubber smell, but most often it's due to a coolant leak or oil leak. It can also be caused by a slipping clutch, sticking (stuck) brake calipers, slipping serpentine belt, or any other objects stuck in the car engine bay.

In this guide, we'll have a look at some of the possible causes of your car's burnt rubber odor to determine where it comes from. So, here we go:

Car Smells Like Burning Rubber – Main Causes

1. A Hose Is Loose Or Worn

The engine has lots of seals and gaskets to prevent the leakage of engine oil - so that it won't meet with the hot engine parts, which can cause an engine fire. However, it happens that these seals and gaskets go bad, often after years of heat & other tear. This will let the engine oil reach different scorching parts, such as the bay's exhaust pipe of the engine, which can smell extremely bad. Even though burnt engine oil does not smell the same as burnt rubber, it can be quite similar to the untrained nose.

2. There's An Electrical Short

If you suddenly notice that your AC vents are the source of a smell of burning rubber, and then relatively quickly this smell dissapears, you might have an electrical short somewhere. You can check it by opening your fuse box & scanning for any fuse that has blown.

You'll find replacement fuses at any auto parts store - often for less than a dollar. If the same fuse blows again, there is probably a problem elsewhere, meaning you'll need to take it to any repair shop to track down the reason.

3. The Drive Belt Is Getting Hot

Most parts of the engine generally receive their power from a drive belt - the A/C, power steering system, alternator, water pump, etc. Sometimes, the drive belt's rotation is hampered, leading to excess friction.

When you notice an increase in heat under your hood there's a chance that something is getting burnt, or at least too hot. In this situation, it could definitely be the drive belt. One way to be sure that the drive belt needs a check is to listen for that classic squealing sound... You'll probalby need to replace the drive belt.

4. Burnt Motor Oil

Another essential thing that can produce this smell is the leakage of motor oil onto the exhaust pipe. The smell will be very prevalent both outisde and inside your car, whenever you're driving far enough to make the pipes hot. And it'll continue smelling until the pipe cools down.

Sometimes, this also occurs after you change the oil. If this oil change was not done correcly - if there's an overflow of oil or the plug was not screwed on tight enough - the oil will drip onto other parts, including the exhaust system.

5. Serpentine Belt Slipping

A burning rubber smell can also be due to the power steering or air conditioner compressor being jammed or locked, leading the belt to slip. As a result, the massive heat created ultimately creates a smell of burnt rubber.

A more common issue is that the tensioner fails or that you have not tensioned your engine belt for some time. Make sure that your serpentine belt is tight, and check the pulleys to ensure they are spinning freely even when the engine is in an idle position.


Remember, noticing the smell of burnt rubber after driving the car does need your (immediate) attention. By resolving the problem early, you'll hopefully prevent bigger and more costly problems. If you want to solve the issue on your own, appropriate hand tools can help you out. If you need to take your car to the shop it's a great idea to do some research, so you know what the representative is talking about when they inform you about your car's condition.

This article was compiled by the editors of LACar.

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