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PROBLEM WHIFF: Unusual car smells can provide clues on potential problems

Motorists are being alerted to the fact that peculiar odours emanating from their vehicles could signify serious mechanical issues, including potential problems with the engine, brakes, or clutch.

Experts from have identified five distinct smells that drivers should be wary of, ranging from the unexpectedly sweet to the unmistakably foul. These aromas may indicate underlying issues that require immediate attention.

A surprisingly sweet fragrance, reminiscent of fruity sweets, could be the first sign of a coolant fluid leak. This leak poses a significant risk of engine overheating if not addressed promptly.

The presence of a rotten egg odour is a red flag indicating that the catalytic converter may be malfunctioning. Such a malfunction could allow hazardous exhaust gases to enter the vehicle's cabin, posing a serious health risk.

The smell of burning carpet is often linked to brake-related problems. It could suggest that the brake pads are excessively worn, overheating, or misaligned, necessitating an urgent inspection.

Here's a rundown of the five unusual car smells that should raise concern:

  • Rotten Egg Smell: This indicates a likely issue with the catalytic converter, leading to harmful exhaust gases entering the vehicle.

  • Fruity Sweets: A pleasant but alarming sign of a coolant fluid leak from the engine's cooling system, risking engine overheating.

  • Burning Carpet: Suggests brake pad wear or misalignment, requiring immediate attention.

  • Musty Smell: Points to water leakage and accumulation inside the car, often around seals such as the windscreen, doors, boot, and bonnet.

  • Burning Paper: Detected when changing gears, this smell can indicate a slipping clutch, especially in drivers who frequently ride the clutch.

Tim Alcock, motoring expert at, said: “There are several smells that might be coming from your car which may indicate there is a serious problem with essential parts of your vehicle.


“After identifying the smell and what it could mean, it’s essential to get the issue checked out with a mechanic as soon as possible to prevent any further problems or run the risk of ruining your car and putting yourself and others in danger.


“A fruity sweet smell may be deceiving as it can be quite pleasant, but this could actually indicate that there is a leak within the engine cooling system which can lead to engines overheating.


“Musty smells coming from inside your car could mean there is a water leak, which increases the chances of  mould and mildew build up, so it’s best to check the seals on the windscreen, boot and doors are water-tight.


“Another unusual smell to watch out for is burning carpet - this is likely a sign that there is an issue with the brakes.”


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