Why Does My Car Smell Like Burnt Rubber

Why Does My Car Smell Like Burnt Rubber?

Like you, whenever I perceive an odd or bad smell in my car, it gets me concerned. In fact, I get full blow anxiety and think the worst is just about to happen. An odd or bad smell in your car could mean a fault or problem is not far away. 

While not all bad smells mean gloom, when your car starts smelling like burnt rubber, it does call for concern and immediate attention.

So, when your car smells like burnt rubber, what is the cause, and what does it mean for your car?

Well, that burnt rubber smell in your car is normally a sign that your clutch is overheating or that it’s wearing out. If your car smells like burnt rubber it could also be the result of an electrical fault, an oil leak, or an issue with the rubber hoses, the timing belt, or compressor belts.

The smell of burnt rubber in your car can mean different things to your car, and it could be caused by various reasons. In this article, I will do a deep dive into why your car smells like burnt rubber plus give some important tips on what to do when this happens.

Why your car smells like burnt rubber

A burnt rubber smell in your car can be associated with different parts of your car. Although it may be a huge cause for concern, it may also be a minor issue. 

The following are the common causes of a burnt rubber smell in your car.

1. A burnt or worn-out clutch

A burnt rubber odor in a manual transmission vehicle could indicate a burnt or worn-out clutch.

As a result, anytime you shift your stick incorrectly, your gears grind. This is what burns or wears out your clutch.

This odor could also indicate that it is time to change your clutch. You should also look to make your shifting method less extreme.

When shifting, avoid keeping your foot on the clutch pedal for too long. Slowly apply the clutch and avoid resting your foot on the clutch pedal.

2. A worn or loose hose

Some of the hoses under your hood are made of rubber. When those hoses get loose or are forced against a heated part of your engine, the rubber may start to burn.

car smells like burned rubber
The burnt rubber smell could be rubber hoses.

A faulty clamp could have caused the hose to become loose. To correct this, adjust the location of the hose and, if necessary, replace it. Also, make sure the hose clamps are in good working order.

3. Engine oil leak

A gasket or seal leak might also cause your car to smell like burnt rubber.

When oil gets into contact with the exhaust manifold, it might emit a burnt rubber smell. The odor can linger until the pipe cools. The odor may be perceived both outside and inside your vehicle.

You may also notice this smell after changing your oil. If the oil change is not done properly and there is an overflow, the oil will spill on other parts, like the exhaust system.

If there’s no smoke though, or no evident leak, your car might be losing oil for a different reason

4. An electrical fault

Although it is uncommon, an electrical fault can occasionally smell like burnt rubber.

When this happens, it’s usually due to a blown fuse or a short circuit, and the odor enters your car through the AC duct.

Check your fuse box for any blown fuses to pinpoint the specific problem.

Check for burnt wires and loose connections as well. Once you’ve identified the issue, you can replace the burnt wires or tighten loose connections. The owner’s manual for your vehicle might assist you in determining suitable replacement parts for your vehicle.

5. A hot driving belt

When the friction on your drive belt increases, it heats up and emits a burnt rubber odor. This odor is often accompanied by a screeching sound.

The drive belt provides power to several components of your vehicle, including the air conditioner, alternator, and power steering system.

If any of these components fail, the drive belt’s rotation becomes more difficult. This causes an increase in heat, which causes the drive belt to burn.

The drive belt should be replaced as soon as possible. If the defective component cannot be fixed, you may need to replace it in order to keep the new drive belt from burning.

6. Hot and worn-out brakes

Braking abruptly or driving on steep descents can cause your brake pads to emit a burnt rubber smell. 

This may not be a cause for concern. However, if this smell occurs frequently, it could be due to worn-out or hot brakes. 

In this instance, your pads may be pressing against the rotor despite the fact that you are not pressing the pedal. If your brakes are worn out, you must replace all of the worn-out components. 

However, if the smell is due to excessive temperatures, drive around until the brakes cool down. However, do not apply the brakes aggressively while doing so.

7. Improper alignment

Improper alignment might cause your vehicle to smell like burnt rubber. This is usually the case when the smell is coming from your tires. Your tires will wear unevenly if they are not properly aligned.

It could also be the result of a malfunctioning suspension component touching your tires, leading to increased friction.

This will raise the temperature of your tires and may cause them to blow. This is why, if you perceive such odors, you should inspect your vehicle to avoid dangerous scenarios.

8. Coolant leak

When coolant leaks onto the heating or cooling system, it emits a burnt rubber smell.

Coolants often have a pleasant smell, but when they come into contact with heated surfaces, they can smell like burnt rubber.

A coolant leak should not be ignored. Aside from the fact that your cooling system will not perform properly, the fume it produces is also unsafe to breathe. So it’s best to get it checked out as soon as possible.

Safety tips for when your car smells like burnt rubber

When your car smells like burnt rubber, you must first determine the source of the smell before taking any action.

However, here are some precautions to consider if you detect such an odor.

  • Turn off the engine and look under the hood for any fluid leaks.
  • To avoid injury, wait until your engine has totally cooled before touching it.
  • Examine the area around the exhaust pipe system for any external objects that could be the source of the odor.

Related questions 

Can I drive my car if it smells like burnt rubber?

It all depends on the source of the odor. If the smell is a result of you riding the clutch or braking too hard, it should not be a cause for concern. You can continue to drive safely.

However, if the scent is caused by a burnt hose, worn-out brakes, or leaks, driving the car is unsafe and may result in further damage.


If you’re driving and you smell burnt rubber, pull over. Whilst some smells can be nothing serious, the car that smells or burnt rubber typically points towards an issue that will need quick attention.

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Car engine photo via https://pixabay.com/photos/motor-metal-vehicle-machine-part-2595269/