Unfortunately, most drivers will experience issues with smells coming from their cars. A burning smell can seem particularly alarming at first, but no fear. There are several different reasons why your car may smell like burning. Here we will go over a few of them, and how to fix them.


What Kinds of Burning Smells?

The term ‘burning smell’ is broad and slightly unhelpful when it comes to diagnosing a problem with your car. Here are five specific burning smells you might encounter:

  1. Burning rubber
  2. Burning plastic
  3. Burning oil
  4. Burning paper
  5. Burning carpet

Once you’ve identified what kind of burning smell your car is emitting, it is easier to find the root of the problem.


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General Repair


Burning Rubber Smell

If you can smell burning rubber, chances are you’ve got yourself a slipped belt. Your engine gets hot when it's running, which means any rubber materials touching the engine could produce a burning rubber smell. If your belt has slipped, you might also be able to hear a squealing sound when driving.


How Can I Fix This?

Pop the bonnet of the car and take a peek to see if any of the rubber belts or hoses have come unclipped or look out of place.


Burning Plastic Smell

It could be something as simple as a plastic carrier bag becoming wrapped around the exhaust, or other debris inside the engine.

It could also be down to the plastic coatings of the wires inside the engine. They may have melted due to high temperature, or have been gnawed at by pesky animals that have managed to find their way under the bonnet, leaving the wires exposed and rubbing together.


How Can I Fix This?

Exposed wires can cause electrical fires. Take a look at the fuse box and check none of the fuses have broken. If it's from the fuse box, the smell will be stronger there. Take it to a registered garage to have the wiring fixed by a professional.


Burning Oil Smell

If you changed your oil recently, the smell of burning oil should disappear after a few days. Double-check you’ve screwed the cap back on and the filter is properly attached. If the smell persists, you could have yourself an oil leak.

If the oil is leaking and dripping down onto the crankshaft seal or the timing belt, it is best to get it looked at as soon as possible. You might be able to see a pool of oil underneath your car when it is parked. Leaks can cause irreparable damage to the engine, and even fires, so don’t put off fixing an oil leak.


How Can I Fix This?

If your car is leaking oil, it is best to get it looked at by a mechanic as soon as you can. If you can smell burning oil but can’t find the source of the leak, double-check your fluid levels. You may be low on engine oil, water, or transmission fluids. You can do this with the dipstick under the bonnet of the car. 


Burning Paper Smell

If your car smells like burning paper, it could be the clutch. You’ll smell this when accelerating, especially if you’re 'riding the clutch' - when the driver leaves their foot on the clutch after the car is in gear. We’re all guilty of this at some point. The occasional slip-up isn’t too much to worry about, but if you find yourself doing it often, you will wear the clutch down faster than its life expectancy.


How Can I Fix This?

Try your best to avoid riding the clutch when you can – pay special attention whilst in traffic. Clutches do have a lifespan, so it might be time to get it replaced.


Burning Carpet Smell

People often report smells of burning carpet when their brake pads are overheating. Every time you brake, friction between the brake pad and the discs. The more friction that is created, the more wear and tear your brake pads receive. Braking too hard too suddenly will create this distinctive smell in your car.

You’re most likely to smell this when going up or down a particularly steep hill.


How Can I Fix This?

Of course, using your brakes is unavoidable when driving. However, try to avoid braking hard when you can by obeying the speed limit and always paying attention to your surroundings. Your brake pads should be replaced somewhere between 25,000 and 60,000 miles. If you’re smelling that burning often, check your mileage and have a look into getting new ones.


What If It's None Of These?

If none of the above seem to be the remedy to your burning smells, check your heater. You’ll usually smell burning from the heater if it hasn’t been used for a while. This is usually down to a build-up of dust and will stop smelling after some continuous use and a quick clean.

Be sure to check the exhaust, as well – the exhaust can be responsible for mysterious burning smells. It could be down to something becoming disconnected, or a hole forming due to rust and wear.


In Conclusion

There are many different reasons why your car may smell like burning. Hopefully, you will now be able to identify where the burning smell is coming from, why, and what your next course of action should be.