Why Does My Car Smell Like Burnt Rubber?

Cars often smell when you don’t clean up the accumulated mess but what is the burnt rubber-like smell? The pungent smell often comes as an alarm of some malfunctioning component or serious damage in the engine. Does it indicate a big expensive problem or just a heat-buildup that causes the smell?

Generally, when your car smells like strong burnt rubber, you should immediately turn off the engine and check under the (car’s) hood about anything stuck there, possibly!  More often than not, the smell is due to burnt rubber belts or when some component is slipping or rubbing against the hot engine.

But there can be other reasons too.

At one point in time, many car owners question why my car smells like burnt rubber or oil, plastic etc. let’s find out the answers.

Why Does My Car Smell Like Burnt Rubber- Common Reasons

Burning smell from the car is not uncommon. But you should never overlook the matter to make it worse. Here are the common smells and the possible reasons behind.

1. Strong Burnt Rubber

As you just read, rubber-like burning smell often indicates something touching the hot engine or when belts are touching the engine. A car has many components that are driven by a serpentine belt.

Similarly, the timing belt makes sure of the rotation of the camshaft and crankshaft with the rotation. When these belts are loose, defective, and misaligned or damaged the slipping cases strongly burnt like smell. Other reasons are:

  • When the AC compressor belt gets stuck it’s the build-up heat results into friction. It lets out a rubber-like burning smell in the car. Sometimes the fault with the internal component(s), such as with the clutch or a misaligned pulley of AC also results the same.
  • Sometimes the car tire also lets out a burning smell which is not a good sign. This happens when there  is some damage in the suspension system or misalignment in the wheels.

2. Smell of burnt marshmallow

Smell of burnt sweet, tart or marshmallows sounds odd in the car. It happens when there is leakage in the fluid. For instance,

  • Tart smell can be due to transmission fluid leakage
  • Sweet smell and he burning smell of maple syrup can be due to coolant leakage
  • Marshmallow smell means the steering fluid is leaking

Any of these smells should be addressed right away, especially the coolant leakage. Otherwise your car may get serious damage which will be either expensive or irreversible to revert.

3. Burning Oil

The burning oil smell from the car can be when engine oil leaks. Many times when engine oil and hot vehicles part or component comes in contact the burning smell is what you notice. 

For inspection, check out the valve cover, drain plugs, seals, oil pan gasket, oil filter housing, etc. If everything is good, make sure the oil change is not improper.

5. Burnt Hair/ Carpet

If you press brakes too hard especially on steep pathways it can let out the brunt smell like that of carpet or hair burning. Moreover if you keep the parking brakes engaged during drive it also results in the burning smell.

Usually the burning smell vanishes after 200 miles of driving.

However, if the brake caliper piston has jammed and caused the pads to rub against the rotor, you need to get the issue fixed. 

Overheating the brake pad can also cause other mechanical troubles within. If the brake pedal is stiff, make sure you opt for regular brake fluid replacement or to add to the longevity.

5. Smell of Acrid 

The smell of acrid in the car is often there when there is some defect in the brake caliper or brake hose. Generally, when the brake caliper gets jammed the release of clamp from the rotor becomes challenging, it promotes excessive heat buildup and lets out acrid smell. 

Sometimes when the heat is too much it causes a little bit of fire and a lot of smoke in the wheel of the car. 

If the smell is like that of paper/newspaper burning from the clutch it can be due to clutch slippage. The reasons can be improper release of clutch pedal, lifting too much load with vehicle, or stepping on the clutch during driving.

6. Rotten Egg Smell

It’s not a burning smell but many people get confused with it. It is the smell of hydrogen sulfide from a failing catalytic converter. Sometimes the smell gets smoky due to the heated exhaust system.

7. Smell of Exhaust or Fumes

When the car is idling or in slow driving, you sometimes smell the exhaust of fumes. In that case let out the fumes by rolling down the car window pane. This happens where there is a leakage in the exhaust which is causing the carbon monoxide (highly dangerous) to make its way into the car.

The reason to leakage can be damage in the exhaust manifold gasket other reasons are;

  • Oil leakage
  • Spilling of oil on the exhaust pipe
  • Residue oil on the exhaust pipe

8. Smell of burnt plastic

Plastic-like burning smells in cars are quite common. There are a few reasons for that. Where there is an electric short circuit and when the motor blower is blown or the resistor has some problem.

Now, if the car has a blown fuse, wiring short, or a malfunctioning electrical component it can be due to rodents in the car or some rat has chewed the wire. That’s why you smell the plastic like burnt smell when the insulation of wire heats up.

On the other hand, the overheating of the blower motor causes melt in the housing which also smells the same.


Why does my car smell like It’s overheating?

Sometimes the car itself is not overheating but you get to smell as if it is getting heated up. The reason can be leaking coolant if there are no heater issues.

The purpose of coolant is to ensure ideal temperature in the engine. In the absence or leakage of coolant to the engine doesn’t keep up with the recommended temp range and the result isn’t overheating.

Is it dangerous to drive with a burning smell?

It’s not dangerous to drive while there is a burning smell in your car, but you should not continue to drive long distances. You should rather avoid driving and rush to the car mechanic for a timely solution.

The burnt smell in the car is a clear sign of something off and if you ignore it, you might end up damaging the engine for good.


Sometimes the burnt smell is only when you have recently replaced the brake pads.  But it’s for a short time. However, in any case, you should always avoid overlooking the matter at all. Carefully inspect the type of smell and find out the solution. In most cases, the issue hides under faulty electrical components, an overheating AC compressor, or a coolant leak. 

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