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Car Smells Like Burnt Popcorn – Causes and How to fix Them?

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Car Smells Like Burnt Popcorn

It might happen that suddenly you smell such a strong burnt popcorn smell while driving your car. This problem usually manifests itself in four major areas: underhood, engine, air conditioning, and brakes and tires.

The burnt smell occurs when some of your car’s rubber or plastic components melt or burn due to overheating. Most of these rubber substances are 

  • Brake/tire, gasket seal, belt/hose, or wires. 

Read on to learn more about the burning issues and solutions. 

Why the Car Smells like Burnt Popcorn? A List Of Possible Reasons

Why the Car Smells like Burnt Popcorn

If you experience issues like this, look at this section first. The table below shows the possible reasons a car smells like burning popcorn. 

Possible Affected PartReason
AC – Air ConditionCoolant Melting/Rubber Melting
Tire or BrakesOverheating/Melting
EngineGasket Seal Failing/Engine Leaking/ Burning Oil/Belt or Hose Melting
UnderhoodElectrical Short Circuit/Wire Melting
Why the Car Smells like Burnt Popcorn

What Are the Causes of the Burnt Smell Problem?

It’s extremely difficult to determine the true cause of the popcorn-burn smell issue. The reason for this is that the burnt smell does not come from a single source. It can result from a variety of factors. 

What Are the Causes of the Burnt Smell Problem

Here we will see all the possible reasons that can create this burnt smell  problem in cars.

1. Coolant Melting

The most common reason for this absurd burnt smell is the melting of coolant.  Coolants are basically chemical substances that cool the air. The coolant is present in both the car’s air conditioning and engine, where it attempts to lower the temperature. 

Coolant Melting

When we run the AC nonstop or the engine running for an extended period of time, it overheats and possibly burns the coolant. 

In addition to the coolant burning, overusing an air conditioner can cause the rubber and wire to melt, emitting the same burnt odor.

2. Tire or Brakes Melting/Heating

People often wonder, can tires melt from heat while braking? Yes, it does.  

The brake is essentially made of different types of material including rubber, kevlar, matellic or semimatelic pads.  When we hit the brakes or holds the brake, friction is created between the wheel and the brakes. 

This friction generates heat, which melts the brake pad and produces a popcorn-burning odor. 

Tire or Brakes Melting/Heating

When brakes are made of rubber, they emit strong burning smells. However, the metallic pad does not smell that strong when it burns.

Likewise, you will get the burnt smell when you hit the hard brake and wheel scraping the road. The reason is friction between tires, and the road creates heat that slightly melts the tire.

3. Engine

Burning popcorn smell from the engine is a common phenomenon if it’s an old car. There are several components inside or close to the engine, and if any of those components burn, you will smell them. 

Typically, it is the gasket seal that burns and spreads odor. Gasket seals can fail in many ways. Overheating, however, is the most common cause of damage. Gastek seals are made of some kind of plastic. 

It can only absorb a certain amount of heat. If the temperature reaches its peak, the seals begin to melt. When it melts, it creates that burning popcorn-like smell.

Car Engine

Similar situations include when a plastic engine oil tank burns due to a leak. Although this smell is distinct from that of burnt popcorn, whenever you smell burnt popcorn, check the engine oil.

Overheating can cause belts and hoses to melt; though the chances are low, in such cases, check them as well.

4. Underhood

The final location where the popcorn-like burnt smell can be detected is the underhood. Because there are so many electrical connections. Electrical short circuits are the main cause of melting under the hood. 

When an electrical short circuit occurs, the wire and other plastic components melt, creating the odor of burnt popcorn.

Car Underhood

What Is The Solution To This Popcorn Melting Issue?

Unfortunately, this is very hard to prevent. It will always happen, but the chances will be reduced if you drive safely and take care of your car. 

Now, if you smell such an odor while driving, you should stop driving your car immediately. The reason is that if it comes from the engine, riding it continuously could cause an even bigger problem.

Replace the wire if the coolant leaks because of the AC’s wire; if there isn’t enough coolant, re-fill it and level the radiators. You can still use the tire and brake even if they start to wear out slightly, so you don’t need to replace them until they are seriously damaged.

If anything is damaged in the engine or underneath the hood, it is best to identify the damaged part and replace it after consulting with experts.

What Is The Solution To This Popcorn Melting Issue

Additional Suggestions: Therefore, stop the vehicle and try to identify the source of the issue from the shortlist we have provided. If the smell is coming from the brakes or the air conditioner, it’s not that dangerous. You can take a ride home. 

However, it can be dangerous if the smell originates from the engine or under the hood. In that case, it is preferable to contact a professional for additional assistance.

If you’re dealing with a burnt popcorn smell in your car, you may also be interested in our articles on why your car smells like burning oil after an oil change or why your car smells like gas when you start it but the smell goes away. Our article on why your car smells like burning oil after an oil change explains the possible causes of this smell, such as a loose or damaged oil filter, an overfilled or underfilled oil level, or a faulty gasket. Meanwhile, our article on why your car smells like gas when you start it but the smell goes away discusses the common causes of this odor, such as a flooded engine, a clogged air filter, or a faulty fuel pressure regulator. If you’re experiencing any of these smells in your car, our articles can help you diagnose and fix the problem.
Car Smells Like Burnt Popcorn
If you’ve noticed an unusual smell in your car that resembles burnt popcorn, it’s essential to identify the underlying cause and address it promptly. In some cases, a car smelling like wet dog can be attributed to a variety of factors, including water intrusion or mold growth. Our article on car smells like wet dog provides insights into the potential causes and steps to eliminate this unpleasant odor. Furthermore, it’s important to maintain your car’s cooling system to ensure optimal performance and prevent overheating. A professional cooling system flush can offer several benefits for your vehicle, including improved coolant circulation and heat dissipation. To learn more about the advantages of a professional cooling system flush, we recommend reading our article on benefits of a professional cooling system flush for your car. By addressing these issues and ensuring proper maintenance, you can enjoy a comfortable and pleasant driving experience.


Here are a few more questions and answers related to the problem.

Q: How can the smell of burnt popcorn inside the car be eliminated?

First, remove the AC or replace it with a new one. Keep all the doors and windows open (max 24 hours). 

You can create an air freshener by using vinegar and lemon. However, you can also buy one that has a strong scent. Apply it and wait. 

Q: What should I do if I notice that the car is emitting smells like burnt popcorn, but I can’t find where they are coming from?

If you cannot find the burning area, stop driving the car first, and then either take it to a repair shop or call a helpline. For cars, the smell of burned popcorn is hazardous. It may cause more damage than you realize. 

Q: Is it typical for a new car to smell like burned popcorn?

No, it’s not. If your car is new and smells of burnt popcorn, there are sort of problems happening. Therefore, it is best to visit the service center before anything significant occurs.

Final Words

Car smells like burnt popcorn is a common phenomenon, and it can occur for many reasons. We have briefly explained where the smell is produced. We also discussed the possible reason for this issue.

The next time you encounter a similar issue, look at the parts we mentioned. Don’t risk it if you’re unsure of how to fix it. Just bring it to the service shop. By the way, you can eliminate the smell of burnt popcorn by taking proper care of your car.

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