7 Reasons Your Car Smells Like Burning Rubber & How to Fix it

Bad odors in your car are something that can lead to expensive repair costs. Here's what to do if your car smells like burning rubber

Car Smell Like Burning Rubber

Looking at cars burning rubber may be cool to watch, especially in the movies, but in a situation where your own car smells like burning rubber, it is just not cool.

When dealing with such a smell, it’s definitely wise to look at your car to find out where the smell may be coming from.

In this article, we will look at the most common causes of a burning rubber odor in your car to find out where it comes from. Let’s take a quick look at the most common reasons:

Reasons Why Your Car Smells Like Burning Rubber

The most common reason why your car smells like burning rubber is an oil leak or coolant leak. It can also be caused by a slipping serpentine belt, sticking brake calipers, slipping clutch, or any external objects stuck in the engine bay.

These are the common causes, but not all of them. Here is a more detailed list of the most common causes of why a car smells like burning rubber.

1. Engine Oil Leak

Car Oil Leak

Your engine has many gaskets and seals to prevent engine oil from leaking out and reaching hot parts of your engine, which may cause an engine fire.

Unfortunately, it happens that these gaskets or sealings go bad after years of heat and wear.

This can cause engine oil to reach scorching parts like the engine bay’s exhaust pipe, which can smell really bad.

Burnt engine oil doesn’t smell exactly like burning rubber, but it can definitely smell pretty similar to an untrained nose.

Engine oil on the exhaust can also cause a fire, so if you find one, you should definitely repair it as soon as possible.

2. Radiator Coolant Leak

Coolant Leak

The same as with engine oil, coolant is in a sealed system of your car’s cooling system. The coolant is also sealed with gaskets to prevent any leaks, but it happens that these sometimes fail, and you will get a coolant leak as a result.

While a coolant leak doesn’t smell exactly like burning rubber, it can smell very similar. The difference is that a coolant leak on hot engine parts like the engine block or exhaust pipe has a more sweet smell.

If you can sense a sweeter smell, and there is a leak under your car, it is definitely time to start to check for coolant leaks.

3. Serpentine Belt Slipping

Serpentine Belt Components

There can be multiple reasons for your car to smell like burning rubber in situations related to driving belts. It may be that your air conditioner compressor or power steering pulley may be locked or jammed, causing the belt to slip, creating heat and, as a result, a burning smell of rubber.

A much more common problem is that the automatic tensioner has failed, or that you haven’t tensioned the belt for a while if you have a manual tensioner.

This will cause the belt to slip, and therefore it may cause a burning rubber smell, as the belt is made of rubber. Ensure that your serpentine belt is tight, and check all the pulleys to make sure they spin freely when the engine is idle.

4. Sticking Brakes

Sticking Brakes

Sticking brakes is a widespread cause of bad smells. Sticking brakes causes a lot of heat, and it can even start a fire if you are unlucky.

Most people do not know that the brake pads contain rubber. Sticking brakes creates a lot of heat which can heat this rubber up too much.

Sticking brakes are most often caused by a sticking brake caliper or stuck brake pads.

Carefully touch your rims to see if any of your wheels is hotter than the others after a short drive. Remember that these brakes can be really hot, so you should be careful.

5. Clutch Slipping (Manual Cars)

Worn Clutch Disc

In manual vehicles, the clutch is used to drive and shift gears. Often it is the case that many people ride their clutch too hard. It means having the clutch depressed halfway by riding it too hard while the gas pedal is also depressed.

The clutch’s basic working is to match the speed of your car’s transmission and engine speed by pressing itself against the flywheel for a smooth transition from a stop to a rolling motion.

Of course, this involves some friction but riding the clutch means that the driver does not let the clutch completely engage the flywheel and keeps grinding against it.

This creates a lot of heat and starts burning the clutch itself since the clutch is composed of a paper mesh, the excessive friction will cause your car to smell like burning rubber.

It can also be caused by a worn clutch that is slipping. The only solution to this problem is to replace the clutch.

6. Electrical Short Somewhere

Fuse Box Electrical

Another possible but not very common cause is an electrical short anywhere. If you have ever experienced the smell of an electrical short, you may agree that it smells a little bit like burning rubber.

Check around in the fuse boxes both inside and outside your car to see if you can feel any extra rubber smell from anywhere near them.

Most electrical wires are fused, though, so in most cases, a fuse will blow, and you will not experience a short for more than a couple of seconds.

7. External Object is stuck in your engine bay

Engine Bay

When your car smells like burning rubber, there is a small chance that the cause may not be due to something related to your car. Instead, it might be due to some external cause, such as a shopping bag getting stuck in your engine bay during one of your road trips.

The hot engine burning a shopping would also make the burning smell of rubber. In cases like this, all you need to do is check the engine compartment for any external object that does not belong there.

You should also check around the exhaust pipe system for any signs of external objects.

Magnus Sellén
Written by:

Magnus is the owner and main author of Mechanicbase. He has been working as a car mechanic for over 10 years, and the majority of them specialized in advanced car diagnostics and troubleshooting. Certified Automotive Diagnostic Technician.

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