There are plenty of rubber and plastic/rubber-encased components in your car. If any of them come into contact with hot pipes, or your exhaust or engine, they’ll release the smell you’d usually associate with the burning rubber of your tyres.

To pinpoint a burning rubber smell, Fixter has trained mechanics ready to diagnose every possible issue and get you back to trouble-free driving as soon as possible.

What does it mean when your car smells like burning rubber?

We’re not saying it won’t be your tyres, but they’re quite a way down the list of possibilities. Instead, melting hoses, faulty drive belts, leaking oil and coolant, burnt out brakes and clutches are all more likely contenders.

Even shorts within your electrical system can create that smell, as most of your wiring is plastic coated. But, as you can see, the problem isn’t always as straightforward to spot as you’d expect.

What are the common causes of burning rubber smells?

Rubber hoses in contact with hot components

Risk level – Medium

What to do – Secure them in place, replacing damaged hoses.

Lift your bonnet, and you’ll spot numerous rubber hoses. If any of them find a way to work themselves out of their containing clips, fittings or guides, and they come into contact with your hot engine or other high-temperature components, they’re going to melt or burn, giving off those nasty fumes.

Dislodged or damaged drive belt

Risk level – high

What to do – Repair or replace immediately.

Drive belts are made of heavy-duty rubber and operate under high tension. If they’ve slipped out of place and aren’t snugly fitted in their tracks, rubbing against something they shouldn’t, the misplaced friction provides excess heat, resulting in your burning rubber smell. It’s likely to be accompanied by plenty of squealing sounds and needs fixing ASAP.

A poorly fitting drive belt can lead to engine seizures. And we don’t need to tell you how serious they are.

Burning engine oil

Risk level – Medium

What to do Fix any leaks and clean up the mess.

If you develop an engine leak, oil can drip onto the exhaust and give off a smell similar to a burning tyre. Leaks aren’t always due to damage, faulty gaskets or joints; occasionally, they happen after an oil change or a service. If there’s an overflow of oil or the plug wasn’t correctly re-fitted, there’s always a chance that the new oil can escape.

Running your car without the correct amount of oil can lead to severe engine damage. Sort out any leaks ASAP, or risk losing your engine for good.

Leaking radiator coolant

Risk level – Medium

What to do – Fix the leak, top up the coolant.

Another leaking fluid—this time, it’s coolant. If any radiator or cooling system hoses leak coolant onto the hot components, it delivers another burning rubber type smell, especially when you stop after a long journey.

A leaking radiator is a serious problem, as overheating can cause permanent damage to your engine.

Electrical faults and burnouts

Risk level – Medium

What to do – Isolate the problem, and replace any burnt out wires and fuses.

Almost all electrical wires are plastic coated, so if there’s a problem with a short circuit or excessive loads overheating those wires, they’ll melt their casings and give off that nasty smell.

Debris in the engine bay

Risk level – Low

What to do – Clean out any rubbish that’s found its way in.

Your engine runs at extremely high temperatures, and if anything gets sucked up from the road into the engine bay, it’s going to melt or burn if it hits the wrong part.

Burnt out brakes and clutches

Risk level – Medium

What to do – Replace the offending brake components or clutch.

While they may not be an exact match for burning rubber, poor driving can cause similar smells from your brakes and clutch. Excessive braking can cause overheating, with warping and binding of the brakes, and poor clutch control can generate levels of heat high enough to burn the paper mesh inside the clutch.

Can you drive a car with a burning rubber smell?

It’s rarely advisable to drive any vehicle that’s making unusual noises, delivering strange smells, or showing any signs of trouble. However, if you can spot the problem and feel it’s safe to drive to the repair shop or garage, then do so—but carefully. Whenever there’s a problem with your car, you should try to keep driving to a minimum.

Is burning rubber toxic?

Different types of rubber contain various chemicals and poisons, including carbon monoxide and cyanide. Inhaling this toxic smoke can cause irritation to the airways and your lungs, causing swelling and even blocking them.

Is it bad to breathe in burning plastic?

In the same way that burning rubber creates poisonous toxins, so does burning plastic. While inhaling small doses is unlikely to cause long-term problems, it’s still advisable to avoid breathing in any burning chemical product fumes.

What do you do if your car smells of burning rubber?

Given the many possible issues of a burning rubber or plastic smell, our expert Fixter technicians can help you track down all the culprits. So book an appointment today, and we’ll find out what’s going on under your bonnet. Once we know precisely w