Some smells and sounds hint at a serious problem with your car

By Nicole Wakelin

AAA World Article

Once that new car smell wears off it can be a struggle to keep your car smelling fresh. It doesn’t help if you have pets, or forget about that half-full cup of coffee. Those are smells you can easily identify, but what if you smell something weird? Some smells, and even some sounds, hint at a problem with your car. Here are some of the odd things you may hear or smell in your car and what you need to do to get things back to normal.

A strange car smell

Must or mold

If your call smell is musty or moldy, then you may have a problem with a water leak. It could be as simple as having accidentally left a window open in the rain or it could be something bigger. Run your hand across the floor mats to check for damp spots and if you find one, make an appointment to have it checked out. AAA can help you find a reputable auto repair shop that can figure out where the water is coming from and fix the problem to get rid of the musty smell.

Burnt toast

A car smell like burnt toast may make you hungry – and it could be a sign of burning insulation. This often happens if there’s an electrical short in your car. It’s a job for the pros so contact your local AAA Store or AAA Approved Auto Repair location to schedule an appointment. An experienced technician can figure out what is causing the smell and repair any electrical short before it causes more significant damage to your car.

Rotten eggs

Sometimes you smell this in your car, but more often it’s something you’ll notice outside your car. This noxious odor indicates you have a problem with your catalytic converter or possibly your emissions system. Schedule an appointment to have this repaired and the car smell will go away. Some states require emissions testing as a part of annual inspections. Letting this repair wait will cause a problem when it’s time for that inspection, so don’t put it off.

Sickly sweet

When the car smell you notice is a heavy sweet odor, you may have a coolant leak. Keep an eye on the temperature gauge to make sure it doesn’t rise dangerously high, and make your way to a service station as soon as possible. Ignoring a coolant leak could result in your engine overheating and leaving you in need of Roadside Assistance.

A strange car sound

High-pitched squeal when braking

Sometimes your brakes will let out a squeak when they’re wet and that’s normal. If they make a sharp, high-pitched sound, however, that’s a sign of a problem. Your brake pads wear down over time, which can be difficult to see or notice. To avoid wearing out the pads completely, there are brake wear indicators designed to make a high-pitched noise and get your attention when the pads are getting too thin. If you hear this sound, then take your car in for a brake inspection as soon as possible.

Taping or pinging when accelerating

Everything sounds just fine until you hit the gas and then suddenly you here a tinny, pinging sound. It doesn’t matter if you’re starting out from a complete stop or looking for extra speed on the highway, press the gas and you hear the noise. As soon as you ease up on the gas the noise goes away. This one could be as simple as using fuel with a lower octane than recommended.

Double check what your car requires before your next fill-up and see if the problem disappears when using the right octane fuel. If the sound sticks around, have it checked out to see if you have a problem with your engine ignition timing. 

Clunking over the bumps

A heavy clunk when you go over rough road surfaces or bumps is a sign your suspension system needs attention. You will hear this sound if you have a loose shock absorber that needs to be repaired or replaced. Another possible culprit is your exhaust pipe. If it’s loose, going over a bump can make it clunk against the bottom of the car. Either of these issues is easily diagnosed by a service technician who can also recommend a solution to eliminate the noise.

Squealing when you turn the wheel

This sound could be from several different problems. One of the most common culprits is low power-steering fluid. Checking the fluid and replacing it may take care of the problem. If there’s a leak in the system, you may also see red or pink liquid leaking from under the car.

A worn-out belt can also cause squealing when you turn the wheel. The sound you’re hearing is the belt slipping slightly out of place, which isn’t good. If it snaps, then you’ll lose power steering and the wheel will get very heavy. Take your car in for service to see if the belt needs to be replaced.