Car Smells – And Tastes

What can your car tell you just by the way it smells – or tastes?

A lot, actually.

Let’s put on our chef hats and see what’s cooking…

* Car smells like maple syrup – 

Almost always, this is a sign the cooling system’s sprung a leak. The chemicals in engine coolant give off a syrupy sweet smell that’s particularly noticeable when the fluid is hot (as when the engine’s been running for awhile) and dripping onto something even hotter – like an exhaust manifold – and burning off as you drive. If you smell that smellinside the car, check for signs of wetness around the front seat ATP RA-31 Carbon Acti... Best Price: null Buy New $16.73 (as of 02:00 EST - Details) passenger footwell area. The heater core – filled with coolant – is located in this area and may have sprung a leak, which you will want to get fixed ASAP. The leak will only get worse if you don’t get it taken care of – and the engine coolant/water mix will eventually make your car’s interior a soggy, moldy-smelling mess. And probably rust out your floorpans, too.

You’ve probably read or heard that coolanttastes sweet, too. It does –  but don’t taste it yourself to find out. The stuff is extremely toxic. To us – and animals. If you spill any in the garage – and have pets – be sure to mop it up before they lap it up.

Swords Into Plowshares... Paul, Ron Best Price: $4.00 Buy New $15.99 (as of 11:36 EST - Details) * Car smells like rotten eggs – 

That sulfurous smell is not a sign that Satan has taken possession of your Camry. It’s a sign your Camry’s catalytic converter isn’t working as it should. When everything’s right, a modern car’s exhaust ought to smell like … nothing. The mission of modern engine controls is to maintain exactly the right air-fuel ratio at all times; to precisely monitor the chemical composition of the exhaust stream in real time, the car’s computer constantly fine-tuning to optimize the burn. But when something goes awry and the burn is no longer optimal – too much fuel in the air-fuel mix, for instance – the converter gets overwhelmed and issues its canary-in-the-coal-mine cry via that god-awful rotten egg stink.

If you smell that – especially if you smell more than a slight whiff of it every once in a blue moon – have the car looked at as soon as possible. Because it could be more than a matter of a really foul smell. It could end up being a really big bill. For a new catalytic converter. They are very sensitive things – and fairly easy to damage. If the car runs too rich for too long (perhaps because of faulty oxygen sensors; these are the parts that “sample” the chemical composition of the exhaust and feed the info to the computer, which then adjusts the air-fuel ratio accordingly) the converter’s insides can become fouled with soot to the point that the converter can no longer convert efficiently. And they can’t be fixed. Just replaced. Many new cars have at least two converters. Some have four. Each might cost $200 or more – not counting the install labor.

Don’t ignore that smell.

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