Why Does My Car Smell of Burning Rubber?

Ellie Dyer-Brown, 8 months ago

2 min read

  • Diagnostic
Car tyre burning rubber.

FixMyCar explains why your car might be making a burning rubber smell.

The first thing that often comes to mind when you think about the smell of burning rubber is screeching car tyres, usually accompanied by a cloud of white smoke

Believe it or not, tyres are actually quite low on the list of things that could be causing a burning rubber smell in your car. Two more likely culprits are a fluid leak or a damaged drive belt, but it could be a range of different things.

This guide covers all the possible explanations for why you can smell burning rubber in your car.


Burning rubber smell when changing gears

Burning rubber smell when driving

Burning rubber smell when changing gears

1. Overheating clutch

A burning rubber smell when you change gear indicates your clutch is overheating and the plate is wearing down. It's one of the most common signs you need a new clutch.

Mechanic holding clutch components.

You're most likely to smell it in slow-moving traffic. Many things can cause it, including normal wear over time, but it is typically made worse by riding the clutch.

These guides may be of interest:

How much does it cost to fix an overheating clutch?

The average price of a clutch replacement is £624.59, according to our data.

Burning rubber smell when driving

If you are experiencing this issue, look under your bonnet, as there could be a range of problems causing the smell.

1. Leaking coolant

The cooling system is full of hoses that can develop leaks, allowing coolant to drip onto hot engine components. When this happens, you may notice a burning rubber smell that is especially noticeable at the end of a long journey.

Coolant that leaks inside the engine can also cause white smoke from the exhaust. As long as the leak isn't extensive, you should be able to top up your coolant and drive to the nearest garage for a repair.

Engine coolant

Read this guide for more information on identifying and fixing various fluid leaks.

How much does it cost to fix leaking coolant?

On average, a leak repair costs £77.38 when you book through FixMyCar.

2. Leaking engine oil

When engine oil leaks onto the hot exhaust pipe, it can smell like burning rubber. Various engine components can cause oil leaks - worn seals are often to blame - but they can also happen after an oil change. New oil sometimes escapes if there is an overflow or the plug isn't fitted correctly.

A puddle of dark brown engine oil that has leaked from a car.

Whatever the cause, fixing an oil leak as soon as possible is crucial. Driving without enough oil in the engine can cause extensive damage.

Learn about identifying fluid leaks here.

How much does it cost to fix leaking coolant?

The average leak repair price is £77.38, according to our data.

3. Damaged drive belt

The drive belt - also called a serpentine or fan belt - is made from highly durable rubber and is responsible for operating multiple mechanical parts simultaneously. It works under extremely high tension, so when it is damaged or slips out of place and rubs against something it shouldn't, it often produces a burning rubber smell from the excess heat.

A loose or out-of-place belt may require a readjustment, but it needs replacing if it has sustained any damage. Drive belts usually need replacing every 60,000 to 100,000 miles.

How much does it cost to fix a damaged drive belt?

The average price of a drive belt replacement is £123.28, according to our data.

4. Out of place rubber hoses

There are many rubber hoses in your engine. Sometimes, they escape their fitting clips and move out of place, coming in contact with extremely hot engine components and creating a burning smell.

How much does it cost to fix out of place hoses?

If undamaged, they can be fixed back into the correct position without the need to pay for a repair or replacement.

5. Electrical faults

Electrical wiring is coated in plastic, which gives off a noxious smell when burnt. If the system short circuits or the wires become overly hot, you may notice a scent similar to burning rubber.

An auto electrician carrying out wiring repair

Electrical faults can also affect how your car's lights work, causing them to flicker or be overly dim or bright.

How much does it cost to fix an electrical fault?

An electrical fault repair costs £64.75 on average when you book through FixMyCar.

6. Debris in the engine

The final possibility is that something is in the engine bay that shouldn't be. Car engines operate at high temperatures, so if anything makes its way into them from the road, it is likely to burn and cause an unpleasant smell.

Open your bonnet and see if you can spot anything; if not, the burning smell is probably caused by one of the other things in this guide.

How much does it cost to fix debris in the engine?

You should be able to fix this for free if the debris hasn't caused any damage.

7. Tyres

If you accelerate quickly from a standstill, you may notice a burning rubber smell from your tyres. However, under normal driving conditions, your tyres shouldn't create any kind of smell. If they do, it is probably because they are damaged, overloaded, misaligned or overinflated.

A heap of car tyres.

The following guides will help you work out what is wrong with your tyres:

How much does it cost for new tyres?

Front and rear tyre fitting costs £172.98 on average.

If you have any other issues with your car that you'd like to try to diagnose yourself, check out our guide on self-diagnosing car problems. The more you know about how your car works, the better.

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