Shop Parts keyboard_double_arrow_right
Need car parts? Select your vehicle
Reading Time: 7 minutes
Summary
  • Some possible reasons you smell burning rubber in your car include a slipped belt rubbing against the engine, an overheating clutch, coolant leaks, and more.
  • You can remove the smell by locating the cause and promptly dealing with the issue.
  • The best way to deal with the burning rubber smell is to talk to a mechanic.

Unless you’re a racecar driver testing the limits of your ride, smelling burning rubber from your vehicle is concerning. It could indicate various problems that can get worse if you leave them unresolved. As such, it’s crucial to locate and deal with these issues before they affect your vehicle’s health.

, Possible Reasons Why You Smell Burning Rubber in Your Car

Pro Tips are nuggets of information direct from ASE-certified automobile technicians working with CarParts.com, which may include unique, personal insights based on their years of experience working in the automotive industry. These can help you make more informed decisions about your car.

Pro Tip: If you’re running your A/C on norm rather than max or recirc, you’ll get outside air in the cabin, including smells that come from the engine compartment. Factor this in.

Why Do I Smell Burning Rubber in My Car?

Here are the possible reasons why there’s a smell of rubber burning in your car.

Belt or Hose Coming in Contact With Hot Auto Parts

There are different types of belts and hoses in a car, and the ones under the hood can produce a burning rubber smell when they come loose.

Usually where this is happening, smoke will also be a factor, followed by a leak, either of coolant, oil (spraying out) or air (sucking into the hose).

Because belts and hoses are often made of rubber, the burning smell could indicate a slipping belt due to a problem with a pulley or accessory component. If you think there may be a problem with a component, remove the belt and handle all the pulleys. Turn them by hand to see if they’re rough or have loose bearings.

Overheating Clutch

Pay attention to when you smell burning rubber. If it’s every time you shift gears, it might be often due to an overheating clutch. If this is the case, you’ll typically notice the clutch slipping as well. Remember that riding the clutch can accelerate clutch wear.

Coolant Leaks

Coolant, or antifreeze, contains ethylene glycol, which has a sweet maple syrup-like smell when undiluted. However, the odor becomes unpleasant when it leaks and makes contact with hot engine components. What most people don’t know is that leaking coolant can also be a fire hazard in the engine compartment.

See also  Better Together: A Guide to Buying Parts in Pairs

Engine Oil Leaks

Similarly, leaking engine oil that spills onto the exhaust manifolds, exhaust pipes, and other hot surfaces burns and evaporates to create a distinct rubber-like odor.

If you see signs of oil leakage on the intake manifold or the exhaust pipes underneath, suspect valve covers, intake gasket leakage (V engines only), oil pan, or rear crankshaft seal. To fix one of these, you have to make sure which one is leaking. You also need to make sure the last oil change was done right. Check the filter and drain plug.

Short-Circuiting Wires

Because electrical wiring is coated in plastic, short circuits and overheating can burn it off. This leads to a rubber-like smell plaguing your car.

The crazy thing about electrical wiring is that a very short piece of wire can blister and burn due to a short and make you think the entire vehicle is on fire under the dash, even if the only wire that is melted is two or three inches long.

, Possible Reasons Why You Smell Burning Rubber in Your Car

Pro Tips are nuggets of information direct from ASE-certified automobile technicians working with CarParts.com, which may include unique, personal insights based on their years of experience working in the automotive industry. These can help you make more informed decisions about your car.

Pro Tip: Wiring insulation makes a lot of smoke really fast and this smoke is potentially deadly poison, so don’t breathe it. Roll your windows down and get out of the car as soon as possible. Make sure you stop the car first.

Debris in the Engine

The smell of burning rubber often stems from a component touching something hot. As such, you might smell it when the debris that entered the hood made contact with the hot engine. If some burnable object that doesn’t belong under the hood makes its way to the exhaust manifold, you may smell it burning. Plastic grocery bags can do this.

Damaged Tires

A damaged tire due to overloading, misalignment, or overinflation could also produce a burning rubber smell. It’s likely due to the rubber making contact with the asphalt, especially if you accelerate quickly from a standstill.

If you’ve recently done a burnout, you would expect to smell rubber smoke. If not and you smell tires burning, look for the tire to be rubbing against something while you’re driving.

Sticking Brakes

A compromised brake caliper will heat up and cause a burning smell because it can’t release its hold on the brake pads pushed against the rotor. In severe cases, the heat could also cause smoke or even fire from the wheel.

See also  A Short Course on Brakes

You’ll usually notice a change in the way the brakes feel and stop the vehicle, or the vehicle may feel like it’s pulling against something that is trying to hold it back if a caliper is stuck. Also, the wheel will get very hot so you can feel it from 3 or 4 feet away when you walk around the car.

Worn Catalytic Converter

A catalytic converter removes pollutants from the car’s engine and converts them into harmless emissions. The converter, even when it’s working right, gets very hot because it needs to in order to work right on the inside. If anything plastic comes in contact with it while you’ve been driving and you’ve stopped at a traffic light or stop sign, you’ll notice a burning smell and may see smoke.

How to Get Rid of Burning Rubber Smell in Car

man finding burning rubber smell in car
Unless you’re a racecar driver testing the limits of your ride, smelling burning rubber from your vehicle is concerning.

You can get rid of the burning rubber smell in your car by dealing with the issues above. Typical solutions include the following:

Find Out the Root Cause

First, you’ll need to find out where the smell is coming from if you can. If you can’t determine the source of the smell and you see no smoke or fire, you may need to hire a professional to track it down, but a burning smell should never be ignored. Fires happen.

Replace or Reattach the Displaced Belt or Hose

You can replace the belt or hose yourself if you know your way around your car’s systems. Simply thread it into position, crank the tensioner, and slip the belt over the pulley.

Of course, if it’s damaged, it’s better to replace it to prevent problems down the line.

Replace the Clutch

Replacing the clutch (if it’s the culprit) should get rid of the foul smell. It would also improve your car’s drivability, as you won’t have to deal with shifting issues.

There are a lot of steps involved when changing the clutch. It usually includes unhooking the clutch and positive battery cables and disconnecting the electrical connections and the speedometer cable. Then, you’ll have to unbolt the engine mount before you can replace the clutch.

Check for Coolant Leaks

Check underneath the hood and examine the hoses for leaks. Tighten loose ones or replace them if they’re damaged to ensure the coolant won’t leak again.

Afterward, drive to an auto shop to top up coolant to prevent engine overheating and other problems.

Check for Engine Oil Leaks

Identify the source of the oil leak. One way to do this is by placing a cardboard under the engine and taking note of the spots that get oil.

There are different fixes depending on where the leak is coming from. For example, if it’s due to a loose oil pan, you’ll need to tighten the bolts.

See also  Fact or Fiction: Can Catalytic Converters Catch Fire?

You can also use stop additives to soften the engine gasket and seals to make them more flexible when you plug the hole causing the leaks.

Locate and Deal with Short Circuits

To solve the issue of short circuits, you’ll first have to locate where it originated. Use a multimeter set to continuity mode and touch the black probe to the ground or the electrical circuit’s chassis.

Touch the red probe to the component you want to test and ensure both probes are touching a metal part, like a wire, a component lead, or the circuit board foil.

A multimeter reading zero or close to zero means the component you’re testing has short-circuited. Fixing the short circuit depends on its location:

  • You’ll need to replace a fuse or wiring harness if the problem is in the bay.
  • Replace a switch or connector if it’s in the cabin.
  • Clean the battery terminals or replace the battery if it’s near the battery.

Remove Debris in the Engine

Check under the hood to see if there’s any sort of debris that’s stuck to the engine. Remove anything that shouldn’t be there and inspect the engine parts for damage.

Note that the debris could have also knocked some components loose, so keep an eye out for those when you check.

Fix or Replace Your Tires

Check your tires for damage and replace them if needed. If they’re producing a burning rubber smell because they’re not properly aligned or inflated, be sure to address the issue as needed.

Replace the Brake Caliper

Replacing the brake caliper when it’s worn usually involves the following steps:

  • Step 1: Lift the vehicle and loosen the lug nuts on the tire to remove it.
  • Step 2: Use a brake caliper tool to remove the mounting bolts holding the caliper in place, then remove the worn-out caliper.
  • Step 3: Place the replacement caliper over the brake rotor along with the bolts.
  • Step 4: Install the tire before lowering your vehicle.
  • Step 5: Remove any air by bleeding the brake system using a bleeding kip to ensure the brakes work properly.

Talk to a Mechanic

Figuring out where the burning smell is coming from and promptly fixing the issue can be a tricky task. The safest route you can take when dealing with this issue is to talk to a mechanic and have them inspect your vehicle.

About The Authors
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The CarParts.com Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by CarParts.com's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Reviewed By Technical Reviewer at CarParts.com

Richard McCuistian has worked for nearly 50 years in the automotive field as a professional technician, an instructor, and a freelance automotive writer for Motor Age, ACtion magazine, Power Stroke Registry, and others. Richard is ASE certified for more than 30 years in 10 categories, including L1 Advanced Engine Performance and Light Vehicle Diesel.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

File Under : Maintenance , DIY Tagged With : , ,
bumpers and components
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

View all Questions & Answers

expand_more
CarParts.com Answers BE PART OF OUR COMMUNITY: Share your knowledge & help fellow drivers Join Now