Why Does My Car Smell Like Burning Rubber While Driving | Reasons & Solutions



If your car smells like burning rubber, but you can’t identify where it is coming from, we have compiled a list of the most common possible causes and solutions. In some situations, you might be able to fix the problem on your own, while in others, you will need to take the car to a repair center. Take a quick look below to learn more.


Gasket problems

In the event that a gasket or one of the gasket seals has failed, oil leakage can occur, and once the oil comes into contact with the hot parts of the engine, such as the exhaust manifold, it will start to burn and produce a burning rubber smell.

The more time goes without the leak being solved, the stronger the smell will start to get as the oil will start to drip all over your engine parts. So why does the gasket leak in the first place? The most common reason why the gasket can start to leak is when the user forgets to check the coolant level or drives for long periods during a particularly hot day.

When the engine reaches very high temperatures, the gasket is subjected to excessive pressure, which causes it to heat up. Since rubber expands when it heats up, if the engine gets too hot, the gasket or the gasket seals can overheat and blow up. This leads to the oil leaking out.

If the burning rubber smell comes from the gasket, then the solution is to get the car to a repair or warranty center and have the experts there fix the problem. While your engine can still work with a leaking gasket, you should have it repaired as soon as you can since the leak can cause long-term problems to your engine.



Loose rubber hose

If any of the rubber hoses in your car’s engine come loose, the rubber can easily find its way in one of the hotter parts of the engine. When driving, the heat can get transferred to the rubber hose and cause it to burn up.

This is one of the most common reasons why your car can smell like burning rubber. The engine features plenty of rubber hoses that are essential to its operation, such as the compressor belt, the steering belt, and the timing belt. With time these can wear out and start to slip.

If one of them moves or gets into contact with a hot part of the engine, the friction and heat can result in the telltale burning rubber smell. Furthermore, since some hoses in the vehicle are made of metal or plastic, the smell that they produce when burned will be different as well. The slight difference in smell can help you identify what hose is faulty.

The good news is that it is relatively easy to check if the smell comes from a loose rubber hose since, in most instances, a problematic hose will immediately impact the engine’s overall performance. This means that once a hose gets loose, the driver should be able to notice that something is wrong long before the hose has time to burn.

If you want to check if the burning smell comes from the rubber hoses around your engine, you should take a look under the hood and make sure that all the rubber parts are in one piece and located where they should be. If one is loose or out of place, you should secure it into position. If the hose looks worn out, you will need to replace it.


The engine’s drive belt may be heating up

Many of your car’s components, such as the air pump, alternator, water pump, or AC compressor, utilize the drive belt, and if any of them are locked, then the belt will start to spin while the respective component will stay in place. This leads to excessive friction on the belt, which causes it to overheat, and the resulting smoke will have that specific burning rubber smell.

Apart from the smell, a melting drive belt will also be accompanied by a squealing noise, which is hard to miss. This makes it easier to identify if the smell comes from the engine’s drive belt or not.

If you’ve identified that this is the root of your problems, then the next step you should take is to replace the drive belt or the faulty components. Sometimes, depending on the damage that has been done, you might need to replace them both. As a general rule, you should check the drive belt every six months to make sure that everything is working as intended.



Coolant leak

The engine uses coolant to keep it from overheating during operation, and the coolant is kept in an internal tank within the engine block. The tank can get damaged either by old age or through vibrations. Once the tank gets damaged, the coolant can start to leak through the cracks.

If the coolant leaks onto the hot parts of the engine, then it will start to burn, and burning coolant has the same smell as burning rubber. Coolant leakage is bad not just because of the smell but also because the engine relies on it to run safely and efficiently. If it begins to leak, then the health of your engine is at stake.

This is why a damaged coolant tank should be repaired or replaced as soon as possible since if ignored, it can lead to additional damage that would be more expensive to repair. Thus, make sure to check the health of the coolant tank frequently and see if it has any cracks in it or if the coolant appears to be leaking. Repair it immediately if you notice any kind of damage.


Oil leakage

The motor oil in your car can also leak, and due to where it is positioned, leaks generally occur onto the exhaust system. Once the oil leaks onto the exhaust system, the heat will cause it to burn.

If you suspect that oil is leaking, you should first leave your car parked to give the metal components enough time to cool down. Then you should get underneath the car and check if motor oil is leaking. It is easy to spot an oil leakage since the oil will spill underneath the car in a pool of black liquid.

Oil leakage is a serious problem, and if you notice that this is the root of the problem, you should take the car to a mechanic as soon as possible since motor oil is flammable and dangerous.



Something may be stuck in your engine bay or exhaust

While, in most cases, a burning rubber smell will come from your vehicle, you shouldn’t exclude the possibility of the problem coming from an external element. When driving, it is possible for something, such as a shopping bag, to get stuck in your engine bay.

Once the external element finds its way in the engine bay, the heat will cause it to burn. In such a situation, you should check the engine compartment and look closely for any external item that might be there.

Sometimes, plastic materials can also get stuck in your exhaust pipe, where they will begin to melt once the engine runs hot. The good news is that when dealing with tangled plastic or other external materials, fixing the issue is as simple as removing the object in question.

Once you find the object, you should remove it only once you have allowed time for the vehicle to cool down completely. Don’t skip this step since the plastic might still be hot, which will not only make it more difficult to remove, but it can also burn your skin.


Electrical fault

If something goes wrong with the electrical system of your car, such as a short circuit or a burnt fuse, the smoke can circulate through the AC ducts and get inside the car quickly. However, in this case, the smell won’t last for a long time since the fuse won’t burn continuously as is the case with some of the other components on this list.

Thus, if the burning rubber smell comes and goes quickly, then there is a high probability that an electrical fault is to blame. To check if the problem comes from the electrical system, you should pop the hood and inspect all the fuses. Burned cables can also cause the burning rubber smell, so make sure to trace all cables and check their connecters.

You will also need to go to a repair center and have a technician connect the car to a computer system that will quickly identify if there’s any problem with the electrical system.


The heater

If you haven’t used the heater in a long time, dust can accumulate in the system, which can lead to a burning smell. Moreover, sometimes, parts of the heat can get broken and melt, which can cause an unpleasant burning smell.

If you notice a strong smell once you start the heater, and you don’t find any debris stuck to the vent, you should take the cart to a mechanic to have the heater properly inspected.