When your car smells like burning oil, there can be a number of causes. Paying close attention to the symptoms can help you answer the question: why does my car smell like burning oil?
Your car can smell like burning oil when it leaks, dripping oil onto the hot areas of the engine and burning off. Or the car is low on oil, causing what oil remains to overheat and burn. Burning oil smell is a sign your car has a mechanical problem.
There’s a number of concerning causes for the symptom of a car smelling like burnt oil. If you detect this unpleasant odor, then it’s probably time to head down to your local repair shop to get the issue fixed.
Let’s investigate the reasons why your car might smell like burning oil, and what you can do about it.
What Causes the Burning Oil Smell?
In most cases, the smell of burning oil is caused by just that – oil burning. The source of the odor could be related to engine oil consumption problems, overheating engine, or an oil leak.
All three require attention from a professional mechanic.
However in rare cases, people might mistake the smell of transmission fluid for burning oil. In these events, it’s possible that the transmission is overheating or leaking.
Let’s take a quick look into each of the three possible reasons for that burnt oil smell.
Burning Oil Smell Due to Oil Consumption
Oil consumption is when the engine oil enters the combustion chamber, and is then burned off rather than returned to the oil pan.
In fact, a strong burning oil smell is fairly common with engines that are running low on oil. If you start to smell an oily odor coming while driving, that’s usually an indication of oil consumption.
Engine Overheating Due to Mechanical Issues
Another common cause of the burning oil smell is, well, the engine oil burning as it overheats. An engine can overheat as a result of a coolant leak, radiator malfunction, bad water pump, and many other causes.
Always pay attention to your instrument panel for the check engine light. Also, take your car in for servicing if you begin to hear any odd noises or isn’t performing as expected.
Oil Leak Causing Burning Oil Smell
If your engine has an oil leak, it will allow oil to drip onto hot surfaces on or around the engine. The oil will begin to burn off, and create a burning oil smell.
In fact, if too much oil accumulates in the hot areas of the engine, it can quickly become a major fire hazard.
So if you begin to smell burning oil when driving your car, have a mechanic look at it before it becomes a safety hazard.
Can a Transmission Leak Smell Like Burning Oil?
Yes, the smell of burning or leaking transmission fluid is easily confused with burning oil.
Burning transmission fluid can be a major sign that the transmission is beginning to overheat. Because it’s one of the most essential mechanisms of your car, overheating can create serious problems and even require costly repairs.
So if you can’t discern anything wrong with your engine or oil levels, you might want to check the health of the transmission fluid.
Can I Continue Driving My Car With a Burning Oil Smell?
If the burning oil smell is light, and comes and goes, then continuing to drive the car shouldn’t be an issue. However, it’s important not to ignore it. This could signal a variety of issues with your car’s engine that can quickly result in costly repairs if left unchecked.
Additionally, the fumes produced by burning oil are hazardous, which can make it difficult to operate your vehicle safely.
Therefore, it’s best to have your car checked out by a certified mechanic as soon as a burning oil smell is present.
Final Thoughts: Why Does My Car Smell Like Burning Oil
If you smell burning oil when driving, it’s important to take action right away. This is because the burning oil smell could be a sign that there is a mechanical problem with your car.
There are several reasons why this might be happening, such as an oil leak or low oil levels. If you’re not sure what to do, the best course of action is to take your car to a mechanic and have them check it out.
Have you ever smelled burning oil in your car? What did you do about it?
Loves anything with a motor and wheels.
Christopher is an internet technology expert and mechanical engineer. When he’s not at the local autocross event, he can often be found working on one of his cars. He loves nothing more than taking something apart and putting it back together again–better than before. Learn more about us