8 Scenarios on Why Your Car Smells Like Burning Rubber (With Solutions)

There are a number of different reasons why you may be getting that distinct smell of burning rubber while driving your car. Perhaps you notice the burning smell when the car is idling. The cause could be anything from leaking engine oil or coolant, an electrical short circuit, maybe a melting drive belt or over worn clutch.

The important thing is to identify exactly what is causing the burning rubber smell and have it repaired immediately before your car suffers further damage. Below are a number of scenarios with solutions to identifying and repairing the cause of that smell of burning rubber.

Source: Antti

Different Scenarios When a Car Emits the Burning Rubber Smell

Let’s look at the most common causes and solutions for this issue.

1) Car Smells Like Burning Rubber When Driving at High Speed?

If you are driving at a high speed when the smell occurs, it likely has to do with something leaking.

Possible Cause       

Leaking oil or coolant. It is possible that a tiny amount of oil or coolant is leaking and at a high rate of speed, the liquid is blowing onto the exhaust manifold or hot engine block and creating a burning smell. It may be why it is not noticeable when driving at a normal speed.

Solution                    

Check seals for fluid leakage. There are a number of stop leak products available to try and fix the leak yourself. If the additive does not do the trick, you will have to have the gaskets checked before there is a more costly repair expense.

2) Car Smells Like Burning Rubber When Going Uphill?

With a manual transmission, navigating a stop on a steep incline can be tricky.

Possible Cause

Slipping Clutch plate. Riding the clutch overheats the clutch plate creating friction and a burning smell.

Solution

Do not apply constant pressure on the clutch. When stopped on a hill, hold down the brake and clutch pedal simultaneously. Slowly let off the clutch pedal until you feel the clutch engage in first gear. Give the car some gas as you smoothly release the clutch completely. This will avoid excess friction on the clutch plate. If the clutch has been worn down, it will need to be replaced.

3) Car Smells Like Burning Rubber After Oil Change?

If you notice a burning rubber smell shortly after having an oil change, do not panic, there may be a simple explanation.

Possible Cause

Oil spillage. With any luck, it is as simple as your technician getting a little bit of oil on your engine block. Once your engine heats up, the oil will start to burn, but the smell does not last long. However, if you notice that the burning smell continues some time after the oil change, then maybe you have a leaky seal or gasket.

Solution

Drive your car. A small amount of spilled oil on the engine will burn off after a short time, and no further action is required. If it does happen to be a leaky gasket that went unnoticed during the oil change, replacing it as soon as possible will prevent costly repairs to your engine in the future.

4) Car Smells Like Burning Rubber When A/C Is On?

It is a hot day, and you get into a sweltering car. The first thing you do is turn on the air conditioning. It blows warm air on you, and suddenly, you smell something burning.

Possible Cause

Faulty A/C compressor. Since your air conditioner circulates air into your vehicle from outside, it could be as simple as a foul smell from somebody else’s vehicle. But if it persists, the culprit is probably a malfunction air conditioning compressor.

Solution 

Replace the damaged drive belt. It is possible that if the A/C compressor is stuck, it will grab the belt causing it to wear out. The friction will generate heat, damaging the belt and creating the burning smell. The damaged belt, or in some cases the A/C compressor, will need to be replaced.

5) Car Smells Like Burning Rubber When Accelerating?

If you are inclined to squeal your tires and do donuts in an empty parking lot, then the smell of burning rubber should be pretty obvious. If not, then why do you smell burning when you accelerate?

Possible Cause

Excess pressure on the clutch. When accelerating while driving a manual transmission, too much pressure on the clutch could result in friction, causing enough heat to melt or burn the rubber components around the clutch.

Solution

Smooth acceleration. Avoid dropping the clutch onto the clutch plate while accelerating, and you will avoid overheating and damaging the clutch.

6) Car Smells Like Burning Rubber When Braking?

Usually, your brakes will give you notice that they need service when you hear a squealing or grinding sound. But you may also notice a burning smell.

Possible Cause

Stuck or worn out brakes. Riding the brakes is an improper driving technique that many inexperienced drivers fall prey to. This will cause overheating and the depletion of the brake pads.

Solution

Replace brake pads. Other than driving lessons, if the brake pads have been worn down to the point of creating a burning smell, they will need to be replaced before your brakes seize up altogether. If ignored and the grinding continues, a more expensive repair of rotors and callipers will be a costly lesson.

7) Car Smells Like Burning Rubber When Idling?

At times you may notice a burning rubber smell coming from your car before you start to drive.

Possible Cause

Loose hose or belt. A serpentine (or drive) belt may be worn down and has slipped from the tensioner pulley, causing friction and the burning smell.

Solution

Look under the hood while the car is idling. See if you can isolate the area the burning smell is coming from. Maybe you will even see a wisp of smoke. If you can find a hose that is loose or a belt that is worn or sagging, fixing or replacing the part early enough will prevent you from getting stranded later.

8) Car Shaking and Smells Like Burning Rubber?

If you experience shaking or shuddering while driving your vehicle, it is often accompanied by the smell of burning rubber.

Possible Cause

More times than not, if your vehicle shakes or shudders, it is a problem with the timing belt. If the belt is loose or worn down, it is causing friction that creates the burning smell.

Solution

Bring your vehicle in to have the timing belt adjusted or replaced. If this does not happen to rectify the solution, the shaking could be in your car’s wheel alignment.

Is It Safe to Drive a Car if it Smells Like Burning Rubber?

The thing with a burning smell is—something is burning. Not a good sign. There are a number of reasons to have the cause of the burning smell checked out as soon as possible.

For one, it could be an early sign that something is about to catch fire. Whether it is an electrical malfunction and the plastic coating on wires is burning, or an oil leak coming into contact with a high temperature, there is the threat of a fire breaking out in the engine compartment.

A burning smell can also indicate that toxic fumes are filling the cabin of your vehicle and you are breathing them in. This is a health hazard that may have serious consequences if the source of the problem is not identified and corrected as quickly as possible.

What Should You Do?

The first thing to do as soon as a burning rubber smell hits your nose is to investigate the source of the problem. Is it coming from your vents? It may be your A/C or an electrical malfunction. Is it the grinding of your brakes? Is it the smell of burning oil leaking on a hot engine?

Start by inspecting your car yourself. The cause may be rather obvious and the repair one that you can manage on your own.

Burning rubber is not the only unpleasant odor that your car may give off when there is an issue. Depending on what you are smelling, it may indicate where you should be looking.

Regardless of the source of the burning smell, it is vital to get your vehicle to an automotive technician as soon as possible for a full inspection. The sooner the problem can be identified, the sooner it can be repaired, and you will avoid any major issues–and expenses–down the road.

Author: DJ

Dave Junior is a hands-on automotive technician with experience in performing service, diagnostics, and repairs on domestic and imported vehicles. He enjoys writing and sharing his knowledge far and wide.

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