Why Does My Car Smell Like Fish – Easy Solutions

“Why does my car smell like fish” is a common query among car owners who are experiencing this unusual problem. If you’ve found yourself asking this question, you’re not alone.

Why Does My Car Smell Like Fish

With that being said, a fishy smell in your car can be unpleasant and difficult to get rid of. In this post, we are going to explore the causes and solutions so you can get to the bottom of the issue and eliminate the odor for good.

Why Does Your Vehicle Smell Like Fish?

Your vehicle smells like fish because you might have rotten food or antifreeze leaks in your car. Spoiled food can cause your car to smell like fish due to the presence of amines and other compounds that are released during the decomposition process.

When food, particularly seafood or other types of fish, is left in your car for an extended period of time, it can start to spoil and break down. As this happens, bacteria in the food produce gases like ammonia, sulfur dioxide, and amines, which can give off a strong, unpleasant odor that is often described as fishy.

This smell can be particularly strong if the food was left in an enclosed space, such as a trunk or back seat, where the odor can become trapped and linger for a long time. Additionally, if the food came into contact with any fabric surfaces in your car, like seats or floor mats, the odor can become absorbed into the fibers and be even harder to remove.

– Roadkill Carcass or Dead Animal Build-Up in Your Car’s Vents

A dead animal in the car’s blower motor can cause your car to smell like fish due to the decomposition process. When an animal, such as a mouse or rat, gets trapped in your car’s blower motor, it may die and start to decompose.

As the body breaks down, it releases a variety of gases and compounds, including amines and sulfides, which can produce a foul odor similar to that of fish.

Vehicle Smell Like Fish Causes

This smell can be particularly strong when you turn on the car air conditioner or heating system, as the blower motor is responsible for circulating air throughout the cabin. This is going to make the car ac smell bad. It is one of the reasons why your car smells like fish when ac is on.

– Overheating Electrical Components Can Cause Fishy Smell

Overheating electrical components can cause your car to smell like fish due to a chemical reaction that takes place when certain materials get too hot. Specifically, when electrical wires or components heat up beyond their normal operating temperature, the insulation around them can begin to break down.

The insulation is often made of plastic or rubber, which can release a chemical compound called formaldehyde when it breaks down due to overheating. Formaldehyde has a distinct odor that many people describe as a fish smell. This is one of the causes of car engine smells like fish.

– Antifreeze Leaks Causes a Sweet, Fishy Odor That Signals Trouble

Leaking antifreeze can cause your car to smell like fish due to the presence of a compound called ethylene glycol, which is commonly used as a primary ingredient in antifreeze.

This is why coolant smells like fish. Ethylene glycol has a sweet smell that many people describe as resembling the scent of maple syrup or, in some cases, fish.

When antifreeze leaks from your car’s cooling system, it can come into contact with hot engine components, such as the radiator or exhaust manifold. As the ethylene glycol in the antifreeze vaporizes, it produces a sweet-smelling odor that can resemble the smell of fish.

– Faulty Catalytic Converter Can Make Your Car Smell Like Fish

A faulty or damaged catalytic converter can cause harmful gases to escape into the air, leading to a strong odor that can smell like fish. In some cases, the converter can also be damaged by contaminants that are present in the fuel or oil.

For example, if your car’s engine is burning oil, the oil can accumulate on the catalytic converter, causing it to malfunction and release harmful gases into the air. This can also result in a fishy odor coming from the exhaust. It explains why your car exhaust smells like fish.

Also, a faulty catalytic converter can cause a rotten egg smell to come from the exhaust. This is usually due to the buildup of sulfur compounds in the converter, which can occur if the converter is not working properly.

The sulfur compounds are normally converted into odorless sulfur dioxide by the converter, but if the converter is not functioning correctly, the sulfur compounds can escape into the exhaust and create a strong, unpleasant odor that smells like rotten eggs.

Quick Solutions To Get Rid of the Smell of Fish in Your Vehicle

Quick solutions to get rid of the fishy smells in your vehicle is by giving it a deep clean and replacing the cabin filter. A deep clean involves thoroughly cleaning all surfaces and areas of your car’s interior, including the upholstery, carpeting, and dashboard.

This will help to eliminate any sources of the fishy smell and prevent it from returning. First, remove all trash and debris from your car. This includes any food or drink items, as well as any papers or other debris that may have accumulated.

Next, vacuum the interior using a handheld vacuum or a shop vacuum to thoroughly clean the upholstery, carpeting, and floor mats.

After vacuuming, shampoo the carpeting and upholstery using a carpet and upholstery cleaner. Make sure to follow all the instructions on the cleaner’s label to ensure that you are using it correctly.

Then, clean the dashboard, steering wheel, door panels, and other surfaces in your car’s interior using an all-purpose cleaner.

Once you have cleaned all surfaces, wash the windows and mirrors inside your car using a glass cleaner. Apply an odor eliminator to your car’s interior to help neutralize any remaining smells. Make sure to dry everything thoroughly using a clean cloth or towel to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. It is one of the most effective approaches how to get rid of fish smell in car.

– Air It Out for an Easy and Affordable Way To Remove Fishy Smells

Airing out your car is another effective way to get rid of the fish smell in your vehicle. This method involves circulating fresh air throughout your car’s interior to remove any lingering odors.

To begin, open all of the windows in your car to allow fresh air to circulate. Make sure that all the windows are fully open to maximize the airflow. Next, turn on the fan or air conditioning in your car to help circulate the air. This will help to remove any stagnant air and odors from your car.

Get Rid of the Smell of Fish in Your Vehicle


If possible, take your car for a drive with the windows down to allow fresh air to circulate through your car’s interior. This can be especially effective if the fishy smell is particularly strong.

To further help eliminate any remaining odors, place odor absorbers, such as activated charcoal or baking soda, in your car. These products can help to absorb and eliminate any remaining fishy smells.

Repeat the airing out process as needed until the fishy smell is completely eliminated. It’s important to note that airing out your car may not be effective if the odor is caused by a mechanical issue or other underlying problem. In these cases, it’s best to have your car inspected by a mechanic to identify and address the root cause of the odor.

– Clean Your Car’s Air Vents To Eliminate Lingering Odors

Cleaning the air vents can help to eliminate this problem. This is especially true if you’ve been transporting food in your car, such as fish or seafood. By removing the debris and food particles from the vents, you can eliminate the source of the odor.

Also, cleaning the air vents can help you remove any bacteria or mold that may be growing in the vents. This is important if you’ve noticed a musty or moldy smell in your car.

By using a disinfectant cleaner or a solution of vinegar or soapy water, you can kill any bacteria or mold spores that may be lurking in the vents. This will also help eradicate the bad smell.

– Replace Your Cabin Air Filter for an Easy Solution

Replacing your car’s cabin air filter is another effective way to solve the issue of your car smelling like fish. Over time, the cabin air filter can become clogged with debris, reducing its effectiveness and potentially causing unpleasant odors.

By installing a new filter, you’ll ensure that the air entering your car is clean and free from any lingering odors. This way, you will get rid of this issue of the air conditioner smells like fish when turned on.

– Take the Car to a Qualified Mechanic To Solve the Issue

Another solution is to take your vehicle to a qualified mechanic as soon as possible. This is important if you witness a strong odor from your car’s exhaust, which indicate a serious problem with the catalytic converter or other components of the exhaust system.

The professional mechanic will perform a thorough inspection of your car’s exhaust system, checking for any signs of damage, leaks, or blockages. Once the mechanic has identified the cause of the fishy odor, they will recommend a course of action.

Depending on the severity of the problem, this could involve repairing or replacing damaged components such as the catalytic converter or exhaust pipe. In some cases, a thorough cleaning may be needed to remove any blockages or buildup of debris.

My Car Smell Like Fish

Can Cockroaches in the Car Cause a Fishy Smell?

Cockroaches in the car can indeed cause a fishy smell. If left untreated, their droppings and secretions emit a pungent odor. Thankfully, there are effective natural methods for car cockroach removal. Utilizing lavender or peppermint essential oils as a repellent and keeping the vehicle clean and vacuumed can deter these unwanted critters and eliminate the unpleasant odor.


In this post, you have learned the various reasons why your car smells like fish and how to fix that issue.

Here are some key takeaways:

  • A fishy smell in your car arises from a variety of factors such as spoiled food and roadkill carcass.
  • Others include antifreeze leaks, overheating electrical components, and catalytic converter issues with your car’s exhaust system.
  • One of the best solutions to this issue is doing a deep clean.
  • Also, you can get rid of the fish smell in your car by airing it out, cleaning the air vents, and replacing your car’s cabin air filter.
  • If the exhaust system is the issue, take your car to a qualified mechanic.

With this knowledge, you are now in a position to establish what is causing the fishy smell in your vehicle and how to deal with it.

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