Strange smells in your car: how to assess them (July 3, 2017)

“Seth, can you smell something? Is it my nose? I think something is burning,” My senior colleague, Emmanuel Quaye, complained as we hit the Legon-Tetteh Quarshie road after covering the Ahmadiyya Eid-ul-Ftr prayer at Ashongman in Accra last Monday.
As we scanned the road for the nearest bus stop, the smell increased. To make matters worse, even though he had signalled to stop at the Okponglo Bus Stop near the University of Ghana, he was ignored.

Then the unexpected happened. The acceleration ceased, followed by impatient drivers honking at us as our car began to crawl on the acceleration in the inner lane.
Finally, we managed to stop at the bus stop in front of the Ghana Standards Authority.
The bonnet was opened as we went under it for the culprit. The checklist included overheating, oil spill, a malfunctioning fan, among other possibilities, but everything seemed ok, not even the mechanics on google.com could help. The temperature gauge was also intact.
After 15 minutes of a fruitless search, we hopped into the car. The ignition came alive, the acceleration was on fire and we couldnt smell anything.
The conclusion was that, it could be the fuel pump. His mechanic confirmed that.
But where possibly could a smell in your car be coming from? An unfamiliar smell in a car means trouble, but you can use it to diagnose problems.
The only odours you should smell inside your vehicle should come from scented things that you have in your car. Here is what carsdirect.com recommends you do when you find yourself sitting in a car with unfamiliar smells.
You smell rubber burning under the bonnet: One of your hoses may have become loose and landed on a hot part of the engine. Rescue it before it melts.
Smell types
• You smell something burning with the bonnet closed: Feel your wheels. If one is hot, a brake shoe or pad may be dragging, or you may have left the parking brake on. If neither of these turns out to be the cause, an overheated clutch of a manual transmission car may be the cause.
• You smell oil burning (a thick, acrid odour): First, check the oil dipstick. You may be running out of oil or your engine may be overheating, and your temperature gauge may be broken. If neither is the case, look around the engine for oil leaking onto the engine block or exhaust manifold.

If the oil situation seems to be okay, check the transmission fluid dipstick. Sometimes a faulty vacuum modulator can siphon the fluid out of the transmission and feed it to the engine, where it is burned. Also, if the transmission fluid is very low, it can be burned in the transmission because the gears aren’t lubricated enough and are getting very hot.
• You smell oil or exhaust fumes in the passenger compartment: The cause could be burned oil from the engine area, but it also could be a faulty exhaust pipe under the car that lets exhaust gases into the vehicle through the floorboards.
Exhaust fumes contain carbon monoxide, so if you smell oil or exhaust inside the car, be sure to keep your windows open at all times and have the problem checked out as quickly as you can.
• You smell something sweet and steamy: Check the temperature gauge or light to see whether your engine is overheating.
• You smell rotten eggs: The smell is probably coming from the catalytic converter, which is part of the exhaust system. The converter may be malfunctioning, or you may have a problem with your engine.
• You smell burned toast (a light, sharp odour): It may be an electrical short circuit, or the insulation on a wire may be burning. Check around under the hood. Driving is a bit risky, so get to the nearest service station or get a roadside service come to you.
• You smell fuel: If you just had trouble starting the car, the engine may be flooded. Wait a few minutes and try again. If the smell comes from under the bonnet, check your fuel injection system or carburetor to make sure that it isn’t leaking fuel. Also check your fuel pump (if it isn’t hidden inside your fuel tank).

Leaking fuel will wash a clean streak across it, which can be seen with the naked eye. Then check all visible fuel lines and hoses that lead to the fuel tank. If they have rotted away or are disconnected, you’ll smell fuel vapours without seeing any leaks.

Taking a look under the vehicle after it has been parked overnight may help, but remember that fuel evaporates quickly, so the clues may be stains rather than wet spots.

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