Why Does My Car Smell Like Burnt Rubber

why does my car smell like burnt rubber

Bad odors are not fun to have in a car. It is possible to experience a wide range of car smells, but one you should never ignore is a burning rubber smell.

The common reason for having a burning rubber smell in the car is because of a coolant leak or oil leak. It could also be because of a slipping clutch, sticky brake caliper, or a slipping belt. So, make sure to check them out before they become a problem.

Causes for the Car to Smell Like Burnt Rubber

Below we look at why you have this type of smell and the best way to address the issue. The best part is that most of them are easy to fix.

1. Engine oil leak

The engine contains several gaskets and seals. These are key in keeping the oil inside the engine block. However, if the seals and gaskets are worn, the oil leaks can reach the hot parts of the engine.

What you smell as rubber burning is when the oil drips on the hot parts of the engine. It could be the exhaust pipe or any other hot part.

Take note that engine oil dripping on the exhaust pipe can lead to a fire. So have it fixed as soon as possible.

2. Coolant leak from the radiator

Just like the engine, the radiator and cooling system also need to be sealed to keep the coolant inside the system. However, a coolant leak is possible when the different pipes end up bursting or are simply worn.

A coolant leak can smell like burning rubber depending on the type of coolant. Well, it is a distinctive smell you cannot miss.

So, each time you get this type of smell, check under the hood to see if there are any leaks in your coolant. This is key in ensuring you plug the coolant leak and also the smell.

The last thing you need is to run on low coolant.

3. You have a slipping serpentine belt

Finally, something that is actually made of rubber.

Yes, having a slipping driving belt could lead to the smell of rubber. We are talking of any belt driving the power steering pulley, AC, or any other accessory. When it starts to slip, expect to smell like burnt rubber.

Each time the pulley is jammed or locked, you would end up with a burning smell of rubber since there is more friction between the pulley and belt.

The first step is to replace the jammed pulley and get a new belt since the current one would be quite worn.

Also, the automatic tensioner could have failed. So, have it replaced to prevent damage to the new belt.

Always ensure the serpentine belt has the right tension and replace pulleys showing any signs of being worn or seizing.

Here is a video on how to replace a serpentine belt.

4. Sticky Brakes

Have you ever encountered a scenario the wheels get too hot after driving for a short distance?

As much as friction will make the wheels feel hot to touch, it should not be too much. Most of the time, it would just be warm as the rushing air cools the wheels.

The biggest culprit why you have the hot wheels is because the brakes are sticking.

The brake caliper can have damaged seals meaning that once you release the brake pedal, the caliper does not retract. This leaves you with stuck brakes thus the smell.

Stuck brakes will lead to a lot of friction too and heat.

So, each time your brakes are really hot, ensure they get checked right away.

5. A slipping clutch

It is not uncommon sometimes to find a clutch slipping. It all comes down to how you drive a manual car. Some people tend to ride the clutch and end up with a worn or slipping clutch.

Riding the clutch is when you have the clutch depressed halfway and the gas pedal is still depressed too.

If you keep riding the clutch for too long, except to damage it. Also, expect too much heat emanating from the friction that leads to the smell.

The clutch itself is made of materials that smell like rubber if there is too much heat.

Here is a video on how to tell the clutch is slipping and needs replacing

6. Electrical short

An electrical short even in the house leaves you with a burnt rubber smell. So, expect to experience the same when it comes to a car.

So, other than those reasons mentioned above, you could also check around the engine bay or where the smell is coming from to find the electrical shot.

The good thing is that the connections are fused. In case a fuse blows, it can be an easy replacement, but it would be tough locating a short if it is otherwise.

You may need a professional to help with locating the electrical short. Using tools such as multimeters can be highly recommended.

7. There is a foreign object in the engine bay

Sometimes it is not obvious that there is a problem with the car, it could simply be that you forgot something in the engine bay and it is burning.

Let us say you were fixing something in the engine bay and you forgot something with a rubber covering. The hot engine will simply burn the rubber leaving you with such a smell.

Take your time to look for any foreign objects to ensure that there is no foreign object that would lead to such a smell.


Why does the car smell like burnt rubber even when driving?

The chances are you might have a belt that is slipping or a coolant leak that is burning in the engine bay.

Does a serpentine belt smell like rubber when slipping?

Yes. The slipping leads to a lot of heat generation which can smell like burning rubber. You are advised to replace the stuck pulley and the belt too.

How can I locate an electrical short?

An electrical short needs the right tools such as a multimeter. We always recommend working with a professional to help in getting it right.

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