What’s that smell in the cabin?

by carVertical
November 3, 2020
by carVertical
November 3, 2020

There’s a small chance that you may have left your car unlocked and someone with shocking hygiene spent the night (there’s also a small chance that this person was you). If you can rule that out (give yourself a good, deep whiff), it could be anything from a serious malfunction to a hangover. Let’s solve this mystery!

Help! My car smells like:

Rotten eggs

This is a sign that your catalytic converter – the thing that turns the noxious fumes from your engine into something slightly, barely better for the environment – has taken a vacation or a trip to the pearly gates. These parts are sometimes simply removed from used cars before they’re sold to unsuspecting chumps, and it can be a hard change to notice immediately. But you will be able to smell it. 

What to do?

– If you can smell sulfur, head to your favorite mechanic;

– Pray the problem is not related to the engine.

Old people

Like just about everything else in life, your car’s ventilation system eventually gets covered in dust, dirt, ennui, existential dread, and, last of all, mold. Sometimes it won’t even give off any odor at all, and in these times of heightened sensitivity, this can be dangerous. If you have an allergy, you may not understand why you start sneezing and sniffling after every drive you take. 

In any case, whether or not you can smell mold – what to do?

– Inject your car’s ventilation with a special liquid that you may find in any specialized shop;

– OR head to a professional car wash. Easy-peasy;

– Give your ventilation system a good prophylactic cleaning every couple of years.

Burning rubber

This will be one of your engine’s belts or one of the coolant fluid tubes. You’ll need a mechanic to take a look as soon as possible. If left unchecked, this issue can warrant anything from a major headache to a full engine replacement.

What to do?

– Open the hood, look at the engine and close the hood with a thoughtful expression on your face;

– Ride to your car mechanic. A problem is not very expensive to solve.

Caramelizing or burning sugar

If you want to know what we’re talking about, heat a spoonful of sugar syrup over an open flame (for a laugh, grab a hypodermic needle and perform this test in front of somebody’s kids). That smell is what ethylene glycol, a common ingredient in coolant and anti-freeze, smells like when it’s heated. It’s just a little bit toxic, but this is no cause for major concern. It’s simply a sign that your coolant fluid is leaking somewhere. This, in turn, probably won’t be a huge problem as long as you don’t delay the repairs. The worst-case will probably be that you’ll need to change your radiator.

What to do?

– Do not put chewing gum on that small hole;

– Do not solder radiator or tubes by yourself. Seriously, do not;

– If leakage is not like a fountain – rush for the repair shop ASAP;

– If there’s no cooling liquid left – transport your car to the repair shop.

Burning brakes

Some people compare it to the smell of the burning carpet, but we’re not sure why. Hot brakes have a unique odor that you will definitely have encountered if you’ve ever driven in the mountains. If you’re not driving in the mountains, it simply means your brake pad is rubbing against your brake disk. Maybe it’s stuck.

What to do?

– Make sure you’ve released your parking brake 😉

– Kick all car tyres 😉

– Well, car mechanic it is. He’ll kick tyres for you and will change brake pads.


Shut your engine off and run away! We’re kidding, but only a little. Running might be over the top, but it would be a good idea to stop driving immediately because a leak somewhere in your fuel system can definitely cause a fire. On the other hand, maybe your fuel tank cap looks like your toilet seat after you come home from the bar having had about five too many beers.

What to do?

– Put fire extinguisher by your side;

– Head straight to a repair shop.

Burning oil

This one speaks for itself – somewhere, there’s oil leaking onto hot engine parts. If you did an oil change recently, it could be that the oil cap wasn’t closed right or the oil filter was installed wrong. If you haven’t changed the oil recently, the problem could be more severe. In this case, the smell is likely to be accompanied by oil splotches under your car or smoke.

What to do?

– Oil splotches or smoke – both reasons to hightail it to your mechanic.


This one’s no joke. The carbon monoxide in your exhaust is a real killer (we’ve probably all seen films where someone tries to end it by sitting in a running car in a closed garage).

What to do?

– If you smell exhaust in your cabin, open the window to the max;

– Drive to your mechanic.

Burning plastic

This one means that – try to keep up with us here – there is plastic burning somewhere in your car. We know you couldn’t have guessed that yourself. This could be caused by wires that will soon short and cause a fire, by your cabin heating system, or just about anything. If you happen to like the smell, then the only drawback would be that your car may eventually catch fire.

What to do?

– Take your car to your mechanic;

– Be prepared to pay lots, as car electricians are sort of in deficit, hence their high price.

Stale beer

This one means your car is properly fucked 😉 We kid. Rather, this probably means you and your pals filled the cabin with emptied bottles and cans that the morning sun then kindly warmed up. The bad news is that this smell is likely to be accompanied by the smell of vomit, piss, meat farts, and slowly spoiling ketchup. The good news is that you won’t need a mechanic (maybe just a doctor – no human body should be capable of producing a smell like that)!

What to do?

– At last, think of your purpose on this planet.