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Car Smells Like Burning Oil When Idling – What To Do?

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Car Smells Like Burning Oil When Idling

Car smelling like burning oil is an indication of many serious issues. The problems that lead the car to produce a burning oil smell should be solved soon. To solve it, we need to know the reasons that cause this problem.

So, why a car smells like burning oil when idling?  The common reasons that could be behind this issue are- 

  • Unprofessional oil change
  • Leaked valve cover gasket
  • Loose oil filter, and 
  • Leaked oil in the system

Well, this article will tell you how to stop the leaks and smell, the cost of fixing the problem and the reasons behind the smell of burning oil. So, let’s dive into it.

What To Do When A Car Smells Like Burning Oil When Idling?

When a car smells like burning oil, it signals that something is internally wrong with your vehicle. The problem could sometimes be so big that if you don’t fix it in time, later it will take you many bucks to spend.

So first, you need to know the cause of this problem to solve it.

Car Smells Like Burning Oil When Idling

By following the ways below, you can identify the causes and how to fix it.

Leaked Valve Cover Gasket

When the engine’s valve cover is loosened, it can start leaking oil. This usually happens when there is a problem with the installation. The mechanic did not correctly install the valve cover gasket and kept it loose, resulting in a leaked gasket. 

Again, over-tightening the valve cover gaskets can cause cracks. Consequently, oil starts leaking.

Car Leaked Valve Cover Gasket


You need to replace the valve cover gaskets if the gaskets are cracked or blown.

Additionally, you need to install a new valve cover gasket by a professional mechanic. But if the mechanic mistakenly kept it loose, the valve cover gaskets need not be replaced. Rather be tightened.

Leaked Oil In The Exhaust System

Oil can leak in the exhaust system when there is a leak in the oil hoses. So the engine starts warming up when you idle your vehicle for a long time. This is when the leaked oil starts burning in the exhaust system. The constant burning of oil leads you to have a burnt smell.

Car Leaked Oil In The Exhaust System


When oil leaks from the oil hose, you need to replace the oil hoses. The hoses need to be changed completely to prevent leakage. You need to take the car to a repair shop for the change. They will replace the leaked oil hose in your vehicle.

Worn-out O-ring

The O-ring is basically a seal that works as a radiator’s protector and is designed with resistance. The resistance allows the o-ring to stop the oil from passing through it. But sometimes, the material can be unable to tolerate the effects of certain chemicals, which leads the O-ring to wear out or be damaged.


When the O-ring wears out, you need to replace the o-ring. Avoiding it can cause the oil to keep leaking down to the components. So, you need to get it replaced as fast as possible.

Bad oil pan gasket

Over time, the oil pan begins to wear out because of the heat. Besides, road dirt can easily damage the oil pan. This creates a leak in the oil pan gasket.

Car Bad oil pan gasket


You must change the oil pan gaskets because it has already worn out. Take it to a professional auto mechanic. They will get the work done appropriately.

How To Stop The Smell?

You have stopped the leaking oil issue now. But the burning oil smell is still there. What can you do in this situation? 

How To Stop The Smell

Try the following ways to stop the smell –

Ways To StopWhat To Do
VinegarYou can pour some vinegar into a box or container and keep it in your car. The smell of vinegar is strong enough to absorb the oil smell in your car
Baking sodaKeep some baking soda in a bowl in your car, it can help you to get rid of the smell 
Coffee groundsKeep coffee grounds in a bowl inside your car and let it absorb the smell

How Much Does It Cost To Fix This Problem?

The oil leak can be anywhere from components. It can leak if the valve cover breaks, oil hoses leak, O rings wear out, etc. So each of the components will have different costs to repair. Here are the expenses that will take you to fix the oil leak –

How Much Does It Cost To Fix This Problem

Valve cover gaskets

The valve cover gaskets can cost around $110 to $340. And the mechanics will charge you for the installments apart from this cost. They can take about $100 to $400. So you have to spend almost $740 maximum in total.

Oil hoses

To replace the oil hoses, you need to pay $200-$300 to the mechanic. Mostly, the price depends on the vehicle type. So it may vary in price.


The o-ring parts can cost around $2$-$4. There is no labor fee. They are inexpensive, so you won’t have to spend many bucks on replacing them.

Bad oil pan

The oil pan replacement can cost about $300-$500. And the installation charge is $300- $400. So you have to give a maximum of $900 in total to the mechanic.

How Long Can I Drive The Car With Leaked Oil?

How Long Can I Drive The Car With Leaked Oil

It is not recommended to drive a car with an oil leak issue. But yet, if the leaking did not go bad, you can drive the vehicle below 10 miles. However, you can stop driving the vehicle when the following issues come –

  • Oil drops to a deficient level
  • Oil starts dripping in the hot components of the vehicle
  • When the oil pressure light starts indicating

You need to immediately stop your car when the following signs start to appear.

What Will Happen If I Ignore Burning Oil Issue?

What Will Happen If I Ignore Burning Oil Issue

Ignoring burning oil issues can be too dangerous. A leaked oil is an outcome of various serious problems. When the engine heats the oil to such an extent, you start getting the burning smell. 

Go through the below points to know the potential dangers if you ignore burning oil issues –

  • The oil might reach to spark plug and cause the plug to emit a fire
  • The leaked oil can eventually go to every corner of the engine and damage the engine
  • Damage the catalytic converter
If you’re experiencing a burning oil smell when idling in your car, you may also be interested in our articles on car smells like burning rubber when the AC is on and car smells like burning oil when accelerating. These articles provide useful tips and insights into common car problems related to burning smells, such as worn-out belts, faulty gaskets, and other issues that can cause burning smells in different situations. Whether you’re smelling burning rubber when the AC is on or burning oil when accelerating, our team at Car Problem Solved can help you diagnose and solve the problem.


Let’s take a look at the answers of most frequently asked questions.

Q. Is A Leaked Valve Cover Gasket Serious?

Yes, but it depends on the leaking condition. If the leak has reached a point where the car starts losing oil and it starts to reach every part of the car, the leaked valve cover gasket is severe.

Q. Is It Ok To Drive With A Leaked Valve Cover Gasket?

No. It is not ok to drive with a leaked valve cover gasket. When the oil leaks in the exhaust manifold, it can drip the engine’s peak with oil. This can decrease the efficiency of the engine.

Q. Can A Leaked Valve Cover Cause The Engine Misfire?

Yes. When the leaked oil enters such a system where it gets dripped in the spark plugs, the valve cover will cause the engine to misfire.


From the above article, when a car smells like burning oil when idling, you can know the reasons, and it fixes. When oil starts leaking in the internal system, it gets burnt due to the engine heat. Thus, you get the burning oil smell when the heat burns the oil. 

However, you need to find out the reason for the burning oil smell among the above-stated causes as soon as possible and fix it accordingly.

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