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Know 17 Reasons for Burning Smell From Car But Not Overheating

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Burning Smell From Car But Not Overheating

From burnt rubber to burnt oil, a multitude of smells can come from your car. However, not all these burning smells are caused by overheating.

So, why would you get a burning smell from car but not overheating? Vehicles can emit burning smells if there is an oil leak or fluid leak. New brake pads or rotors can also create burning smells if the brake is pressed too hard. A faulty AC compressor or blower motor can also be responsible for such problems.

This guide will run you through several reasons behind burning smells from a car that isn’t overheating and their solutions. 

Types of Burning Smells and Their Reasons

Types of Burning Smells and Their Reasons

To make the diagnosis faster, we have a chart here to indicate the possible reason for the burning smell. At least you should know where to look.

Smell TypesPossible Reasons
Burning smell of rubberAC compressor is bad
Belts are misaligned or slipping
Heater vents are clogged
Tires are worn or damaged
Suspension or wheels are misaligned
Burning smell of plasticShort circuit in the wiring
Blower motor is bad
Alternator is bad
Burning smell of hair or carpetBrake pads or rotors are jammed
Burning smell of oil or greaseEngine oil is leaking
Wheel bearing is damaged
Burning smell of exhaustTailpipe is leaking
Bitter or unpleasant smell of burningBrake calipers are seized
Brake hose is pinched
Clutch slippage
Burning smell of sweetFluid or coolant is leaking
Burning smell of rotten eggCatalytic converter is bad

Reasons of Burning Smells and Their Solutions: Detailed Discussion

Burning Smell From Car But Not Overheating

Let’s discuss the reasons in detail and find their solutions.

1. AC Compressor Is Bad

The AC compressor in your car has several moving elements that can get stuck or be misaligned. If the refrigerant level is too low, it can also cause the compressor to malfunction. 

And when it does, the belt might also get stuck. As the AC continues to run, the belt gets heated due to friction. 

This produces a burning rubber smell that intensifies if you run the AC for a long time. Other components, like the clutch or pulley, can go bad to create a similar smell. 

AC Compressor Is Bad


Charging enough refrigerant into the AC is important to prevent this kind of smell from your car. Some damages in AC components are repairable. But repairing these components might not be a long-term solution. So, you need to replace the whole unit at some point in the future.

2. Belts are Misaligned or Slipping

They are also called serpentine belts. The serpentine belt drive systems have spring-loaded tensioners to keep the belts in place. If there is any failure in the system, these belts can become loose or misaligned. As a result, the friction will increase and give the smell of burnt rubber. 

Various rubber hoses neighboring the belts can also come in contact with these belts and create this burning rubber smell.

Belts are Misaligned or Slipping


Identifying the misaligned or loose serpentine belt is the first step in solving the problem. If the belt is completely damaged, you need to replace the belt with a new one. Ensure no rubber hoses are touching the belt.

3. Heater Vents Are Clogged

The HVAC or Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning system of your vehicle has several vents or lines that can be clogged over time. If you don’t use the heater frequently, debris can enter the vents or lines and clog them. 

So, when you turn on the heater, it will produce a burnt rubber smell.

This problem can also occur if there are leaks in the core or the heater is faulty. In such cases, the vents might be clear, but the car will continue to emit the off smell.

Heater Vents Are Clogged


Checking the heater vents is the first thing you need to do. Clean they vents if they are clogged. If the vents are okay, check the heater core to ensure it’s working properly. Otherwise, run a heater core flush.

4. Tires Are Worn or Damaged

A big chance is that the burning smell of rubber is coming from your tires. If you perform burnouts, tires get worn much quicker than usual. Sometimes, premature wear on tires can also cause this smell.

Tires Are Worn or Damaged


You should check the tread pattern on the tires for any signs of wear. Damages on the inside or outside of the tires can also be the culprit. If the tire is badly worn, you must replace the tire to get rid of that smell.

5. Suspension or Wheels Are Misaligned

If the suspension system isn’t tuned properly, it might be misaligned while the car is driving. Sometimes, the camber angle might also influence the behavior of tire treads. When you drive a car with misaligned wheels, the imbalance force exerted on tires can cause irregular wear. 

And it will generate the burning rubber smell you get while driving. Sometimes, the tires can rub against the fender if they are way too misaligned. This will create friction, hence that burning smell.

Suspension or Wheels Are Misaligned


You need to check the alignment of the suspension system and wheels to ensure everything is working properly. Make sure the camber angle is right, and the wheels aren’t touching the fenders.

6. Short Circuit In the Wiring

Electrical components or wiring in your vehicle can go bad for many reasons. It can be regular wear, or some rodents might chew the electrical cables. 

As a result, there will be short circuits when you turn on the car. And it will mostly smell like burnt plastic as the insulation gets burnt. 

The fuse can also go bad and create a similar smell. But if rodents are trapped inside the car and get burnt along with the plastic, it will create a burnt bbq smell.

Short Circuit In the Wiring


Checking electrical systems regularly can help you prevent such mishaps. But if there is a short, you should check the system and fix the faulty circuit. You might also need to replace the fuse box if it is completely blown.

7. Blower Motor Is Bad

The blower motor in your car should have the necessary voltage and resistance to run at the desired speed. But if the voltage is too high or the resistance is too low, the blower motor can be blown. 

Accordingly, when the blower motor gets heated up, you will get burnt plastic smells from the AC vents. To confirm the smell is coming from the blower motor, you should turn the AC on. If you still get the smell, the blower motor is probably bad.

Blower Motor Is Bad


If the housing of the motor is melted, you need to replace it. Check the amp rating of the motor before installing it so that the voltage and resistance is at the desired level.

8. Alternator Is Bad

Whenever you turn on the engine, the alternator is at work. Running the engine continuously can overheat and blow the alternator over time.

Thus, various components of the alternator can go bad because of overheating. When this happens, you will get the smell of burnt plastic inside your car.

Alternator Is Bad


As the alternator recharges the battery, you should first check whether the battery has the required voltage. If it doesn’t, chances are the alternator has gone bad. Replace the alternator to solve this problem.

9. Brake Pads or Rotors Are Jammed

When you install new brake pads or rotors in your car, they have a protective coating on top. These coatings can create a burnt smell of hair or carpet while driving the car. But the situation will generally sustain for up to one hundred miles.

If the smell continues after that mileage, something about the brake pads or rotors is definitely wrong. One big reason is the low brake fluid level in the reservoir. It causes the caliper’s piston to seize. As a result, the pads will constantly contact the rotors and can warp due to excess heat.

Excessive wear on brake pads can also cause the pads and rotors to overheat. If you press the brake too hard frequently, it can also overheat the pads and rotors. This will create hair or carpet-burning smells.

Brake Pads or Rotors Are Jammed


You should always carefully check the brake fluid level. If the brake pads are worn, replace the pads. Warped brake rotors should also be replaced.

10. Engine Oil Is Leaking

Engine oil leak is a prevalent cause of burning smells. The leaks can happen in different areas of the car, such as valve cover gaskets, oil filters, and so on. 

As most engine components are hot while driving, leaking oil can instantly burn and create this acrid smell you get. 

Engine Oil Is Leaking


You should pull over the vehicle and check the undercarriage for any signs of leaks. If you can’t find the leak, take your car to a mechanic. Get all possible areas checked for leaks and repaired.

11. Wheel Bearing Is Damaged

Wheel bearings have lubricants inside to keep the motion smooth. But if the seal is broken and the lubricant gets burnt, you will probably get this smell of burning oil or grease. The smell should come with a grinding noise from the wheels. 

If you continue to drive in this situation, the damage can get worse. The noise will be louder, and the wheel could get jammed.

Wheel Bearing Is Damaged


Check the temperature of the wheel hub to understand if the bearing is damaged and causing the hub to overheat. You might need to replace the damaged bearing.

12. Tailpipe Is Leaking

If there is a leak in the tailpipe, you will get a burning smell of the exhaust. In such cases, oil can spill over the cracked exhaust manifold and cause fumes to enter the cabin. When this happens, you might also get a tapping noise from the engine bay.

Tailpipe Is Leaking


You should get out of the car as soon as possible. Get the car checked by an experienced mechanic and the exhaust system fixed.

13. Brake Calipers Are Seized

Brake calipers usually help brake pads maintain a slight distance from the rotors. But if brake calipers can’t work properly or are completely seized, the brake pads will be in constant contact with the rotors. 

If you drive the car in this condition, brake pads and rotors will become excessively hot. 

As a result, you will get that bitter smell of burning from the braking area. You might see smoke or fire on the wheels if they get too hot.

Brake Calipers Are Seized


Getting the brake calipers checked is the first thing you need to do. If they are seized, you should replace the calipers to ensure the brake pads aren’t touching the rotors.

14. Brake Hose Is Pinched

If the brake hose is pinched, it will cause the calipers to slam brake pads on the rotors. As a result, you will face a similar incident as above with an acrid burning smell.

Brake Hose Is Pinched


Check the brake hose and make sure it is working properly to solve the problem. Replacing the hose is the solution if the hose gets damaged. 

15. Clutch Slippage

It indicates the clutch is getting partially engaged when you press the clutch pedal. As a result, a slipping clutch will feel softer than a perfectly working clutch. 

Due to the slippage, you will get an acrid burning smell from the engine, mostly like a burnt newspaper. If the flywheel is worn, you might also face the same problem.

Clutch Slippage


You should get the clutch plate, and the flywheel checked if this problem occurs. In some cases, you might need to replace the components.

16. Fluid or Coolant Is Leaking

Your car has various types of fluid in it to keep the components working properly. A leak will create a burning smell inside the cabin, be it a steering fluid, coolant, or transmission fluid. And this smell can be slightly sweet

Fluid or Coolant Is Leaking


Check the vehicle for any fluid leaks and fix the leaks as soon as possible. If it’s too late, you might need to replace the faulty component.

17. Catalytic Converter Is Bad

A catalytic converter is responsible for rectifying waste gases to comply with emission norms. But if the converter is bad, it will result in burning smells of rotten eggs caused by hydrogen sulfide. 


Replacing the catalytic converter will solve the problem.

Check this video about how to fix burning smells: Fixing Burning Smells On Your Car

If you’re noticing a burning smell from your car but it’s not overheating, you may be interested in our articles on car still overheating after replacing head gasket and car overheats unless heater is on. These articles provide valuable information and solutions to common car problems related to overheating, such as head gasket failures, coolant leaks, and other cooling system issues. Whether your car is still overheating after replacing the head gasket or you’re experiencing overheating unless the heater is on, our team at Car Problem Solved can help you diagnose and fix the problem.
Burning Smell From Car


Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions..

Q: Can I drive my car if it smells like burning rubber or plastic?

Yes. You can continue driving for a bit until you reach a mechanic. But driving the car for longer with a burning smell isn’t good. Burning smells are always bad signs for your car. 

Q: Does the burning smell in my car go away by itself?

If you have solved the cause of the burning smell and opened the windows, the burning smell will go away after some time.


A multitude of smells can come from a car, and a burning smell should never be one of them. But when you get a burning smell from the car but not overheating, the problem can be associated with so many components.

We provided a chart to identify the cause behind the burning smell quickly and discussed solutions to solve those issues. Be aware of these burning smells and take the necessary action to drive safely.

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