Car Smells Like Burning Rubber After Driving: Causes, Fixes

Car smells like burning rubber after driving is a widespread concern among motorists, especially new car owners.

Car Smells Like Burning Rubber

The smell may come from a stuck rubber belt or an overheating component. This article elaborates on all typical and uncommon reasons behind the smell and aims to help you fix your car as soon as possible!

Why Does Your Car Smell Like Burning Rubber After Driving?

Your car smells like burning rubber after driving because it has a slipping clutch or a loose serpentine belt. An electrical short circuit, leaking engine oil, and a defect in the air conditioning compressor can produce the smell. Additionally, the rubber smell arises after long drives or hard braking.

  • Slipping or Rubbing Car Belts

If your car smells like burning rubber when accelerating, you might have a slipping belt in the car. Some parts inside the car are driven by rubber belts. Some common examples are timing belts working with the crankshaft and drive belts that transfer the engine’s power to other parts.

There are many possibilities explaining the burning smell from these belts. A loose or cracked belt slips off the pulley, causing friction and producing heat. If you do not replace the belt soon, it gives off a flaming smell.

Sometimes a belt requires alignment because a misaligned belt does not move smoothly. It comes in contact with other components and produces a smell. For example, a serpentine rubs against the rubber hoses.

The belt may also slip if there is a jammed compressor or pulley. It not only creates friction and heat, but also leaves cracks or cuts on the belt. The belts are connected with a tensioner that maintains suitable tension for smooth operations. In most burning odor cases, the tensioner is the culprit when it fails to tighten the belt.

You can easily detect these problems by inspecting the belt. You can check its tension and condition. Also, make sure the belt does not have dirt or dust particles because they increase friction and cause overheating.

  • Smell Due To Tire Rubbing or Damage

A burning smell from tires after a long drive is normal, but if it is very strong or you notice other tire problems, you should examine the root cause. Worn tires can be a reason your car smells like burning rubber after going uphill.

Causes of Burning Smell on Car

The smell may originate because of the following reasons:

  • Improper wheel alignment quickly wears tires, so they produce a rubber smell even after short drives.
  • Excessive braking produces friction between the tires and brake pads. The friction produces heat and a burning smell. It usually happens when you drive in high traffic or downhill because it requires more braking.
  • Any emergency brakes during the drive can also have similar effects. If you push on the brake pedal suddenly, the brake pad and tires rub aggressively, leading to a smell.
  • When the tires slip while driving, they produce a smell during acceleration.

The tires may slip due to two reasons: uneven wear that results in loss of traction, causing the tires to slip, and the tires slip when the road does not provide enough friction. It usually occurs due to adverse weather conditions.

Depending on which tires wear out faster, you might notice the smell on one side of the car. For instance, if only the left or right side of car smells like burning rubber, you will need to change the tires on that side.

  • Smell From the Car’s A/C Compressor

If your car smells like burning rubber when AC is on, you might have a belt slippage problem, as discussed above, or an AC compressor issue. You should hire a professional to detect and pinpoint the exact trouble because the compressor has many parts that can be faulty.

Some of these parts operate by moving, so lubrication is vital. In case the compressor has low lubricant levels, you will notice a burning odor because of friction. A problem with the compressor clutch or low quantity of refrigerant is to blame in this condition.

Leaking refrigerant can also mix with the lubricant and make it ineffective. Moreover, electrical damages, specifically to the clutch or wiring, are typical reasons for the smell.

  • Smell Due to Electrical Circuitry Problems

Your car smells like burning rubber when idling because of electrical circuitry problems. An electrical short is the most common reason behind the smell. A wiring circuit or fused wires can cause a blown fuse, so you can check the fuse box to detect the problem. The smell can also come from compromised wires or electrical components.

Usually, rodents enter the cars and chew wires or other parts. When they bite off the insulation, the bare wires may burn elements around them and produce the smell.
If you notice a burning smell and see white smoke leaving the AC vents, you have a worn blower motor. The damaged motor overheats and melts its housing, producing a burning odor.

  • Smell From Your Car’s Clutch

The clutch’s main function is to match the gearbox and engine speeds by pushing on the flywheel for friction. It is important for an effortless transition from a halt to an accelerating motion.

When you ride the clutch or do not fully engage the flywheel, the clutch keeps grinding against it. Because the clutch is made of a paper mesh, this generates heat and begins to burn the clutch itself, causing your car to smell like burnt rubber.

You can diagnose the clutch slipping problem if you notice a delay in clutch engagement or if the clutch pedal feels soft. It happens in manual cars, and you can suspect it even if your new car smells like burning rubber after driving.

A damaged clutch displays these problems. Some driving habits, such as not releasing the pedal while switching gears or riding the clutch repeatedly, can put you in trouble. Also, avoid hauling loads greater than your car’s load capacity.

  • A Foreign Object Stuck in Engine Compartment

If you are still thinking about why your car smells like burning rubber under the hood, maybe there is nothing wrong with the car. Although rare, a foreign object can get stuck in the engine bay and make you smell burning plastic.

Usually, it is a plastic bag that burns inside the compartment because of hot engine parts. The plastic burning smell is similar to that of rubber, so it may be confusing. Thus, while you are diagnosing the problem, inspect the engine compartment and exhaust pipe.

  • Sulfur Smell Due To Worn Catalytic Converter

There is a chance that you are confusing a decaying egg smell with a burnt smell. If you are having a hard time describing the unusual smell, you should consider a damaged catalytic converter. A problem with the converter has symptoms such as a sulfur or rotten egg smell, engine misfires, and smoke from the exhaust.

One of the following reasons might explain the trouble you are experiencing:

  • Use of substandard or contaminated fuel. Some low-grade fuels have sulfur that reacts with the catalyst and produces an odd smell.
  • Overheating or contamination of the converter can damage it. A damaged converter fails to convert the harmful gases.
  • A problem with the fuel system changes the fuel-air ratio in the burning chamber, so incomplete combustion results in smoke and a bad smell.


  • Burning Oil Smell Due to Leakage

Many people ask, “Why does my car smell like burning rubber when the heat is on?” The answer is burning engine oil. If you have oil leakage in the engine, it will come in contact with hot engine parts and burn.

Depending on the leakage, the smell can originate from different points. The smell might be more prominent near the oil filter housing or seals. We recommend you fix the leakage soon, otherwise, the engine will overheat and gradually incur damage.

  • Steering Fluid or Coolant Leak

A leakage of coolant or steering system fluid can also produce a burning smell, but it is more like a sweet burnt smell. Both leakages can have severe effects on your car’s performance if you leave them unattended.

A coolant leakage smells like maple syrup, and if you do not fix it soon, the engine will overheat and eventually lose power. In contrast, a steering system leakage smells like burnt marshmallows and leads to friction in the transmission.

How Can You Fix a Burning Rubber Smell From the Car?

You can fix a burning rubber smell from the car by aligning the wheels or replacing the slippery damaged tires. You can buy a new belt or tensioner and replace the old worn parts to get rid of the smell. Fixing the leakages can also address the issue.

  • Align the Wheel or Replace Tires To Stop Burning Rubber Smells

You can fix a car smelling like burnt rubber by replacing worn tires or aligning the wheels. A car alignment from time to time is required. After alignment, always check the tire condition. Unevenly worn tires need replacement. You can perform both procedures yourself and save a lot of money by avoiding the labor cost.

Buy tires from a reputable manufacturer and make sure they are compatible with your car and wheels. Choose the tire tread according to your driving habits and weather condition.

  • Fix Burning Smells by Tensioner and Belt Replacement

You can fix a burnt rubber odor by replacing a worn belt or belt tensioner. A new tensioner costs around $30 to $200, so if you have the commonly used tools, you can save $100 or more by cutting the labor cost.

You will only need sockets and a wrench, but first, you should find the tensioner by reading your car’s manual. Once located, release it by rotating it with a socket. Loose tension will allow you to remove the belt. You can then thread the new belt around the pulley and ensure its alignment with the pulley tracks.

Fix a Burning Rubber Smell

Once the belt is on the pulley, you can rotate the tensioner in the reverse direction to apply tension. In the end, start the engine and take note of any noise or smell.

  • Fix the Oil, Coolant, or Transmission Fluid Leakages

You can hire a mechanic to locate the leakages in your car. You should detect the problem as soon as you suspect a leakage to prevent severe outcomes. The labor cost will vary according to the problem. If the leakage point is difficult to access or the process takes many hours, the cost will be higher.

Once you fix the leaking spot, do not forget to fill the fluids. For instance, if there is a transmission leakage, top up the reservoir after you fix the leaky part. You can also ask the mechanic for an oil change after fixing the engine leakage. The cost depends on the type of oil your car uses, such as conventional or synthetic.

You can expect to be charged $30 to $50 in the case of conventional oil or $50 to $100 for synthetic oil. Changing the oil can be messy at home, so it is better to hire a mechanic if it appears dark or dirty during car maintenance.

Fuel Leakages on Car


After knowing all about why your car smells like burning rubber after driving, you can handle the challenging situation.

Here are a few takeaway points from the article to help you through:

  • The burning rubber smell originates from a loose drive belt, engine oil leaks, or overheated brake pads.
  • A sweet or rotten egg smell coming from the car indicates leaking coolant or sulfur discharge.
  • Fix the leakages, replace the tensioner or leakage points, or align the wheels to prevent the bad smell.

With that, you are now capable of diagnosing and getting rid of the smell from your car today!

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