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My Car Smells Like Burning Rubber When Idling – (What’s The Cause And How To Fix)

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Car Smells Like Burning Rubber When Idling

Have you ever left your car idling and sensed a strong odor from the car? The car often smells like burning rubber when idling, indicating a possible mechanical problem with your vehicle.

So, why does my car smell like burning rubber when idling? The most common cause of the smell is an engine oil leak or radiator coolant leak. It may also be due to a serpentine belt slipping, clutch slipping, or sticking brake pads. Check the insulated wiring cables for a possible electrical short circuit as well or the presence of foreign rubber material on the hot engine part.

This article reviews the common causes for your car to smell like burning rubber while idling and offers solutions to the problem. 

Car Smells Like Burning Rubber When Idling – Quick Overview

Car Smells Like Burning Rubber When Idling

Below is a summary of the common problems causing your car to smell like burning rubber and how to fix them.

Common Causes How To Fix
Engine oil leakageSeal the leaking parts or replace the entire engine oil system
Radiator coolant leakageRepair the leaking radiator parts
Replace the parts that are completely damaged
Pulley serpentine belt slippingTighten the serpentine belt
Replace if worn-out
Sticking or tight brake padsLoosen the brakes to appropriate tension
Lubricate the brakes
Clutch slippingReplace worn-out clutch
Lubricate the clutch
Electrical short circuitsRepair the worn-out cables
Insulate the naked cables with better piping materials
Presence of external materials on the engine blockRemove any foreign materials from the engine bay

Why Does Your Car Smell Like Burning Rubber And How To Fix It?

You may get the burning rubber smell because there is actual rubber or plastic overheating or it’s under friction. Let’s look at the common causes of this smell in your car and possible solutions.

Why Does Your Car Smell Like Burning Rubber And How To Fix It

1. Radiator Coolant Leak

The leaking coolant reduces the coolant to a low level that barely cools the engine efficiently. This causes the engine to overheat and burn the plastic and rubber engine parts, such as the head gaskets leaving your car smelling like burning rubber.

The leaking coolant lands on hot parts of the engine block or the exhaust pipe, causing your car to smell like burning rubber when idling. 

Radiator Coolant Leak


  • Stop the engine and allow the vehicle to cool.
  • Open the hood and trace the smell’s source from the top.
  • Inspect the size of the leakage part and repair it accordingly.
  • Seal the leaking points or replace the entire radiator and cooling system.

2. Engine Oil Leakage

Leaking engine oil can be the source of the rubber smell. Like the leaking coolant, engine oil reduces the cooling efficiency of the oil and causes the engine to overheat. An overheating engine may burn the plastic and rubber parts of the machine.

On the other hand, when the leaking oil lands on a hot surface, it burns with the pungent rubber burning smell. Oil burns with blue smoke from under the hood as a carbon product.

Engine Oil Leakage


Fix the oil leakage by sealing it if the leak is minor. For the more significant leaking points, consider replacing the problematic oil system. For cracked engine blocks and cylinders, consult a mechanic for replacement.

3. Serpentine Belt Slipping

The pulleys use rubber belts that can get burnt under friction or high temperatures. A slipping strap creates friction with the pulley wheel that causes the belt to burn with a rubber smell.

The serpentine belt is supposed to hold firmly on the pulley without sliding to ensure no friction. In most cases, slipping belts get burnt, and smoke or fire is produced.

Serpentine Belt Slipping


Tighten the serpentine belt to ensure it doesn’t slip on the pulley. Tighten the engine base to ensure it doesn’t move or tilt during vibrations.

Ensure all engine components are tightly held to avoid belt sagging.

4. Sticking Brakes And Brake pads

Sticking brakes are caused by sticking brake calipers or pads that are worn-out. The brakes should slide on the wheel, exerting force to stop the vehicle when the brake pad is stepped. On releasing the brakes, the calipers should release the wheel and assume the normal position.

Sticking brakes and brake pads cause friction, and the brake pads get heated producing a smell like burning rubber when idling.

Sticking Brakes And Brake pads


Inspect the brakes and replace the worn-out brake pads and calipers. Lubricate the brakes with the appropriate brake oil to ensure the brake pads operate smoothly without sticking on the wheel.

5. Clutch Slipping

The clutch operates by pressing the flywheel to match the car’s transmission speed and engine. If the clutch is pressed halfway and the acceleration pedal is still pressed, the clutch tends to engage halfway.

While the clutch does not completely engage, the clutch slides on the flywheel causing friction that burns the paper mesh on the clutch. The burning parts produce a rubber-burning smell.

Clutch Slipping


Ensure smooth clutch engagement with the flywheel to reduce the friction impact from a slipping clutch. Inspect the clutch and replace it if worn out.

6. Electrical Short Circuit

The rubber-burning smell may originate from a short circuit as the insulating material burns. This scent is unique and robust to the sense of smell. You can experience electrical short circuits when the vehicle is idling, indicating a damaged fuse or power overcharge.

A short-lived white smoke of the burning insulators accompanies the burning smell.

Electrical Short Circuit


Repair the blown cables and wrap the naked wires with tape. Ensure the wiring has no loose connection.

7. External Objects On The Engine

Your vehicle doesn’t necessarily mean it has a problem if you smell the scent of a burning rubber. Sometimes, it is just a foreign material, such as plastic bags trapped under the hood.

The plastic bags and pieces get burnt once they come into contact with the hot engine and exhaust pipe.

External Objects On The Engine


Remove any foreign materials under the hood. Clean any plastics and rubber melted on the engine to eliminate the burning rubber smell.

Car Smells Like Burning Rubber
If you notice a burning rubber smell coming from your car when idling, it’s important to take action immediately. Not only is it unpleasant, but it could also be a sign of a more serious issue. In some cases, the smell may be related to a problem with your car’s air conditioning system. If you’ve noticed a similar smell coming from your AC when it’s turned on, it may be worth checking out our article on “why your car AC smells like vinegar” for more information. Additionally, if the burning rubber smell is more noticeable when you accelerate, our article on “what to do when your car smells like burning rubber when accelerating” may be helpful in diagnosing the problem. Don’t ignore these warning signs – take action and get your car checked out as soon as possible to ensure your safety on the road.


Check out the following frequently asked questions to understand better why your car smells like rubber burning when idling.

Q: What Should I Do If My Car Smells Like Burning Rubber When Idling?

Stop the engine and open the car windows for air circulation. Then inspect the engine and its components for a possible cause.
Fix the problematic parts if possible and consult a mechanic if the damage is beyond basic repair.

Q: Does Burnt Engine Oil Smell Like Rubber Burning?

Burnt engine oil has a solid rubber-burning smell with a pungent smell of oil. To confirm whether it’s burning oil, check to see whether there is some blue smoke from under the hood.


If your car smells like burning rubber when idling, you should inspect the engine and the cooling system for leakages. Also, check the drive belt for possible slipping. And track the origin of the rubber-burning smell to help fix the underlying problem.

Repair or replace the leaking parts to avoid oil and coolant burning on the engine block and exhaust pipe. Be keen to avoid closing any foreign plastic materials in the hood.

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