Your car typically produces many different smells as it operates, and most of them are completely normal. However, there are some smells that you know immediately just aren’t right. When you catch a whiff of burning rubber, you typically know right away that you have a problem. When your car smells like burning rubber after driving, it could be due to a number of different reasons. Unfortunately, none of those reasons are good. If you have noticed that burnt rubber smell in your car, we’re going to give you the most common reasons why. Keep reading to learn what is likely causing that smell and how you can fix it.
8 Possible Reasons Your Car Smells Like Burning Rubber
With the amount of heat your car engine produces, it is only natural for your car to produce some smells as it runs. However, you can easily distinguish between a normal hot engine smell and a burning smell most of the time. If you are noticing the burning rubber smell from your car, here are the most common causes.
#1. Engine Is Burning Oil
When engine oil burns, it tends to create the smell of burning rubber. Under normal operation, your engine oil should remain inside the engine to lubricate all the internal parts. No oil should be getting burned, either inside or outside the engine. However, if you have an oil leak, you will probably be able to smell it soon. As the oil leaks out of the engine and onto hot engine components, it will start to burn and produce some smoke. Most of the time, an oil leak is due to a worn-out gasket or seal. In rare cases, you might have a cracked engine block that is allowing oil to leak out. Oil leakage can cause your engine oil level to become low. This could quickly lead to engine overheating and major mechanical issues. Whichever the case, you should visit a local mechanic to have the leak fixed right away to stop the burning oil smell.
#2. Radiator Coolant Leak
Leaking coolant can also lead to a strange smell coming from your engine compartment. Coolant can often leak from the water pump, heater core, or coolant hoses. Similar to leaking engine oil, the coolant can land on hot engine components or hot exhaust parts and start to burn. Burning coolant produces a bad smell — similar to burnt rubber. Not only is the bad smell annoying, but an antifreeze leak can lead to problems with your cooling system. If the system is not cooling your engine properly because of low coolant or a lack of pressure in the system, the engine will start to overheat. This can lead to serious problems, so you should have any coolant leaks addressed right away.
#3. Drive Belt Slipping
Your car’s drive belt runs most of the accessories attached to your engine, like the power steering pump, alternator, A/C compressor, and others. As the engine’s crankshaft turns, it spins a pulley on the outside of the engine. The drive belt is routed around this pulley and around the pulleys on the engine accessories. This belt should fit tightly and securely so that no slippage occurs. As the belt wears, it can begin to slip on the pulleys. When the belt slips, it creates excess friction and heat. In addition, you might notice a squealing sound with the engine running. The extra heat on this belt can cause it to burn and melt, thus leading to a burnt rubber smell. If you notice your air conditioning isn’t cooling well or your power steering doesn’t seem quite right, your drive belt could be slipping. Proper car maintenance includes a visual inspection of the belt at each oil change for cracks or tears. If you notice any cracks on the belt, you should replace it right away.
#4. Clutch Slipping
If you have a manual transmission, a slipping clutch is notorious for producing a burnt rubber smell. As the clutch material wears down, it does not maintain solid, firm contact with the flywheel. As the clutch starts to slip, the excess friction generates so much heat that the clutch material starts to burn. For cars with a manual transmission, a slipping clutch is often one of the most likely causes of the burning rubber smell. Clutch replacement cost will usually run you at least a few hundred dollars, so this is not exactly a cheap repair.
#5. Automatic Transmission Overheating
Automatic transmissions can also smell like burning rubber, but it’s usually a result of overheating. Old or dirty transmission fluid can lead to your transmission overheating. A small transmission fluid leak could also produce this smell as the fluid leaks onto a hot exhaust pipe or part in the exhaust system. If you have noticed your transmission slipping or shifting improperly along with the burnt rubber smell, you should have it serviced right away. A simple transmission flush might fix your problem.
#6. Electrical Short
Problems in the fuse box or electrical system can also produce the smell of burnt rubber. An electrical short circuit can blow fuses and even melt plastic parts in the electrical system. If your car’s electrical system is acting weird and you’re wondering, “Why does my car smell like burning rubber,” then you probably have an electrical short somewhere in the system. Electrical problems can be difficult to track down, so you might need to get the help of a qualified mechanic to help you diagnose and repair the problem.
#7. Brakes Getting Too Hot
Your brakes produce a lot of heat when your car stops, but they can overheat in some situations. When your brakes get too hot, they can often smell like burning rubber. If you are driving your car down a mountain and constantly using your brakes, the calipers can keep the brake pads squeezed against the rotors for a long period of time. This can cause too much heat in the system, and it can even boil your brake fluid. If your brakes get so hot that they smell like burning rubber, you should go ahead and replace your brake fluid. You will likely need to replace your brake pads as well.
#8. Something Burning Under Your Hood
While this cause is not as likely as the others, you could have something burning under your hood. For instance, a plastic bag may have been on the road, and the wind could have pulled it onto a hot exhaust part. This could cause smoking and a burning smell from your car for quite some time until the plastic completely burns off the exhaust pipe. You could also have a rubber hose on your engine that has gotten in the wrong spot and is coming in contact with a hot component. The rubber hose might be starting to melt or burn. Always check for foreign debris and anything else that could be burning under your hood when you notice strange smells.
Fixing The Burnt Rubber Smell
Getting rid of the burnt rubber smell from your vehicle can sometimes be an easy fix. The amount of work required depends on the cause of the smell. If the smell is coming from a worn drive belt or a hose that is starting to melt, the fix is pretty simple. Just replace the belt or hose, and the problem will be solved. That should cost you less than $20 in most cases if you do the work yourself. However, an oil leak or a transmission fluid leak is going to be more difficult.
That might require a significant amount of labor to repair. Most car owners will be unable to perform this work on their own, so they’ll need to hire a mechanic to do the repair. Fixing an oil leak or transmission leak could cost you several hundred dollars. The best way to determine what needs to be done is to let a mechanic diagnose the problem for you. If you smell burning rubber from your vehicle, then something is wrong. Have a mechanic check things out so that you can get your car running properly again. Most people choose to go ahead and replace the cabin air filter at this time as well to make sure that all the air entering the cabin is fresh and clean.
The Bottom Line
If you’re wondering, “Why does my car smell like burnt rubber,” there could be a few different reasons. It might be something as simple as a worn drive belt, although it could be more complicated, like an electrical short or brakes that are overheating. Whatever the cause, a burnt rubber smell means that something is not right. You should get the problem addressed and corrected as soon as possible.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I drive my car if it smells like burning rubber?
Driving your car with the burning rubber smell will usually not result in any immediate damage to your vehicle. However, the smell signals that there is something wrong with your car, so you should not continue to drive it for prolonged periods of time until you resolve the issue. A small oil leak could go on for months without causing any damage, while overheated brakes could cause your car to lose its ability to stop properly. If you smell burning rubber, you should head to an auto repair shop as soon as you can.
Is the burning rubber smell from my car harmful to me?
In most cases, the smell is not physically harmful to you because it is such a small amount. If you are sensitive to smells or have severe allergies, then it could cause problems for you. However, it is generally not a good idea to continue to breathe in this smell, so you should get your car repaired. If there is visible smoke associated with the smell, you should not remain in the vehicle breathing in the smell. Open all the car windows to allow fresh air into the vehicle, and do not drive it again until the smoke subsides.
How do I get rid of the smell of burning rubber?
Most of the time, the burning rubber smell will go away as soon as the cause of the problem is fixed. However, in more severe cases, there may be some lingering smell for a few days afterward. You should open the car windows to allow the vehicle to air out. You can also replace the cabin air filter and use a deodorizing air freshener in the vehicle to completely remove the smell. Unlike a cigarette smoke smell, the burning rubber smell does not typically permeate every surface of the vehicle. This makes the rubber smell much easier to clean and remove.