Common Car Smells and What They Mean

If It Looks Like A Duck and Smells Like A Duck, It Might Be Your Car…

There’s no doubt about it, it can be alarming when you see smoke coming from your car. One day, you may get inside your car only to be hit by a mysterious smell. Ordinary objects and liquids can cause odors and smoke; something as simple as coffee or milk spilled on a seat. However, it could be a mechanical problem. To treat the issue, it’s important to discover the source of the problem and remove it.  Remember to ventilate the interior to protect your health.  Some odors and smoke will be less worrisome than others, but all can be treated once you know why they are happening.


  • White Smoke

    White smoke is actually steam produced when antifreeze and/or water leaks inside the engine caused when the coolant gets burned up with the fuel. Stop as soon as possible to check out the problem. Examine the radiator to find out if there is the right level of antifreeze. Then check your engine oil dipstick. Your oil will look like a chocolate milkshake if it’s got antifreeze mixed in. Make sure to fix it as soon as possible.

  • Blue Smoke

    Blue smoke is created when oil leaks into the engine cylinder; oil in the cylinder will cause blue smoke from the exhaust. This kind of oil leak happens more often in cars with higher mileage. You can continue to drive with blue smoke without causing immediate damage to the engine. You can use a heavier weight engine oil and a special oil additive that can reduce its ability to leak. Too much oil will ruin the spark plugs and cause the engine to “misfire” and you will have to clean or replace the spark plugs.

  • Black Smoke

    Black smoke is produced by too much gas in the engine cylinder. The engine can’t use it fast enough, and causes black smoke as it burns. Check the oil dipstick and cap to make sure the gasoline hasn’t leaked into your oil. If it has, the oil won’t change color but will be thinner than it should be, and have a raw fuel smell. If the oil shows signs of mixing, don’t start the car. This will possibly catch your engine on fire; but as long as the fuel hasn’t leaked into your oil, you can still drive the car until you can get to a mechanic and have the leakage fixed.


  • Maple Syrup

    After the engine has warmed or possibly even after it is shut off for a few minutes, if you smell maple syrup and it isn’t your doggie bag from IHOP, coolant is leaking. A strong odor inside the passenger compartment probably means a bad heater core.

  • Gym Socks

    If you turn on the heater or AC and the car reminds you of your high school gym locker, it’s probably mildew growing in your AC evaporator. Try turning off the AC and turning the fan on high to dry the evaporator.

  • Litter Box

    If your car begins to smell like your cat’s favorite place to do its business, gear lube is leaking in the system. That’s actually sulfur you’re smelling. Look for drippy, oily stuff under the car, and once you find it, get to your mechanic. Don’t put it off.

  • Rotten Eggs

    Similar to the previous issue, sulfur causes the smell (no matter what, it’s never good). This may be because of a fuel-injection problem, and can be fixed by a sharp mechanic. But more than likely, it’s a failed catalytic converter.

  • Hot Oil

    Oil is leaking onto the hot exhaust manifold. Leaky valves don’t often leave a drip on the floor. Look for smoke and try to stem the leak.

  • Burnt Carpet

    The brake pads are overheated. If you smell this under normal driving conditions, you’ve got a dragging brake. Check the temperature of the brakes by hand — the hot one is probably the smelliest.

A car is an investment; you want it to last. You expect it to last. But things go wrong. Besides regular care and maintenance, you need to know your car, so when it does something wrong, you know how to check it and who to go to. Accidents from these problems are preventable. But even if you don’t catch the signs in time, you can still protect yourself and your family with an affordable auto insurance. Good2Go Auto Insurance offers minimum limits car insurance that is fast, easy, and cheap and will get you driving for less up front – with low down payments and convenient payment plans. For a free, no-obligation quote, visit

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