There are a few distinct aromas in the automobile industry; some good, some not so good.  Everyone who has ever owned a brand new car probably remembers the “new car” smell.  Fresh from the factory, the upholstery still carries with it the smell of a warranty not yet broken in, and this is where everyone makes the vow to keep that smell as long as possible – maybe even for the life of the car.  After 5 or 6 fast food bags and a few spilled cups of coffee, however, the smell is gone, and soon, you don’t even notice anything when you open the door.  When your car starts emitting other smells, however, it can be helpful to know what they mean.

There are several areas in which a smell could indicate a problem with your car.  In this post, we’ll try to describe them, and propose a few possible diagnoses.  Of course this is not a fool-proof method, and should in no way be used to serve as a full assessment of your vehicle’s condition, but being keen to a few different things can certainly help you describe a problem to your auto repair center.

  1. Gasoline:  The strong smell of gasoline when you’re sitting at a stop light could be an indication of a fuel leak, a timing problem, or a fuel/air mixture which is too rich in fuel.  Has your gas mileage dropped noticeably recently?  Do you notice spots where you park your car?  If you notice the smell regardless of whether the car is on, it could very well be a leak in the system – especially if you have an older vehicle.  If you notice it primarily when the car is running, check the exhaust.  Is it dark and smoky?  This could indicate a mixture problem.  Bring these items up when you bring your car in.


    check for leaks around hoses on a regular basis

  2. Antifreeze:  That sweet smell which often shows up when you run your heat is most likely a coolant leak.  There are 2 common spots for a coolant leak.  Opening the hood and checking a few things will often tell you where the leak is coming from
    1. Hoses:   Squeeze the hoses coming out of the radiator (that’s the big flat piece sitting vertically in front of the car.) Are the hoses soft? Do you see any indication of fluid leaking out of them?  Check the clamps coming out of the radiator.  This is a common leak point.  Fortunately, replacing these hoses is a relatively reasonable repair.
    2. If the hoses are firm and don’t show signs of leakage, the problem could be your radiator.  Look for cracks in the plastic or signs of damage to the radiator.  When the car is running, do you see leaks?  Look for steam, but be careful.  NEVER TRY TO OPEN THE RADIATOR WHEN THE ENGINE IS WARM OR RUNNING!  This could cause serious burns.  When in doubt, bring your car to 5 Points, and we’ll help you diagnose it.
    3. Air Conditioning Smells:  So, we’re in spring time, and soon we’ll all be running the air conditioning in our cars. Often, you’ll notice a damp moldy smell when you run the air after it’s been off for a while.  This is most likely mold or condensation which hasn’t drained completely.  Aside from being undesirable, it’s really not the healthiest thing.   Fortunately, if this is your case, we can easily help.  Over time, the drain pipe will become clogged with sediment, and needs to be cleaned out.  It can be difficult to get to, but is something that we can include in our spring tune up package.

These are only a few items to look for.  As always, you, the vehicle owner, are the best source of information, as you are in contact with your car more than anyone else and can tell when things change.  Keeping a log of what you notice and when you notice it can help you make sure you keep your car running smoothly.


Next Post:  Do you Hear What I Hear?  Sounds which tell you to take your car to the garage.