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.
The most common causes of why a car smells like burning rubber are engine oil leaks, coolant leaks, sticking brakes, worn clutch, or slipping serpentine belt.
Here is a more detailed list of the most common causes of why a car smells like burning rubber.
1. Engine Oil Leak
Your engine has many gaskets and seals to prevent engine oil from leaking out and reach 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 another tear.
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
The same as the engine oil, the 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 fail, and you will get a coolant leak as a result.
While coolant leak doesn’t smell exactly like burning rubber, it is very common to interfere with a burning rubber smell. 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 feel a sweeter smell and a leak under your car, it is definitely time starting to check for coolant leaks.
3. Serpentine Belt Slipping
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 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 for 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 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, and therefore can sticking brakes creates a lot of heat and heat this rubber 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)
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 becomes the cause for 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
Another possible but not very common cause is an electrical short anywhere. If you ever have 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
There is a small chance when your car smells like burning rubber; the cause may not be due to something related to your car but something external like a shopping bag getting stuck in your engine bay during one of your road trips.
The hot engine burning that shopper would also make the burning smell of rubber as in other cases. In such cases, all you need to do is check the engine compartment for any external object not belonging there.
You should also check around the exhaust pipe system for any signs of external objects.
Hi, I’m Magnus, the owner and the writer of this website. I have been working with cars for 10 years, specialized in diagnostics and troubleshooting. On this blog, I’m sharing my knowledge and everything I know about cars. I hope you enjoy it!