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Why Your Car Heater Smells Like Burning Suddenly

Why Your Car Heater Smells Like Burning Suddenly

The car heater is one of the essential parts of your vehicle if you live in cold conditions. While it is not something you might use every day, you want it to be working to ensure that you have something to keep you warm. However, what do you do when you turn it on and your car heater smells like burning inside?

One of the main reasons that you could be struggling with this burning sensation in your vehicle is dirty vents. Much like the vents at your home can get dirty, the vents in your car will also get dirty and clogged over time. With dirt, like leaves and other debris stuck inside, you might smell a burning sensation when turning on the heater.

Dealing with a burning smell in your heater can be frustrating and might lead to you simply turning the heater off. However, you should find a solution for the problem and try to figure out how you can combat the issue. This article aims to help you find solutions to some of the most common reasons your car heater smells like burning.

Top 5 Reasons Your Car Heater Smells Like Burning

A couple of reasons might constitute your car heater smelling like burning. Fortunately, many of these can be fixed at home and you won’t need to spend plenty of money to have a mechanic fix them for you. We have identified some of the most common reasons that could be the cause. We will also give you some potential fixes for these issues.

1. Dirty Vents

car heating
Photo by Unsplash

Problem: One of the main issues that could be causing the issue is dirty vents. If you haven’t cleaned them out for a while, you might have debris and other dirt stuck in the vents. Since your car wants to clean them, they will often burn away to ensure the air can pass through unopposed. This could cause unwanted issues.

Solution: The solution is simple and you will need to open up the ventilation system of the car and clean out some of the debris. By looking at the car’s manual, you will find that your manufacturer also recommends regular cleaning of the vents in your car. We would recommend doing this every couple of months.

2. Mildew Buildup

car dash
Photo by Unsplash

Problem: We all know that standing water can be smelly and you will notice that old water has a distinct smell to it. If you have a leak somewhere in the car like the window or windshield. This can lead to a buildup of water in the heater box and when the draining does not work correctly, it could produce a foul smell when you turn it on.

Solution: This is something you can fix at home and you might need to remove the heater box to drain some of the fluid. You should also check for any potential leaks and leave them out for a while to remediate the smell. It is a simple solution and should eliminate potential odors that are left in the heater box from water.

3. Overheating Car Parts (Burnt Plastic Smell)

changing brake disc
Photo by Pixabay

Problem: Many car parts have some form of plastic either in the cover or some of the surrounding parts. We all know that heat and plastic do not go well together. If one of the components like the blower motor, electronics, or resistor has melted, you might get a burning smell when turning on the heater, which could be frustrating to deal with.

Solution: It might take a little bit more work for you to find the part that is causing the problems and you should look at all the parts around the heater. Once you have identified which part is causing the issue, you simply need to replace it. You could visit your local mechanic for assistance.

4. Bad Catalytic Converter (Rotten Egg Smell)

underneath the car
Photo by Pixabay

Problem: Unless someone has doused your vehicle with rotten eggs, you should not need to be worried about rotten eggs. However, the hydrogen sulfide from a bad catalytic converter could cause some issues and often lead to a bad smell. Old gear lube on a manual transmission or differential might also be the cause.

Solution: You might want to inspect the parts that could be the culprit if you have this smell. While not everyone will have the skills to dissect these parts, you could potentially visit a mechanic to help you with the issue.

5. Damaged Or Worn Heater Core

engine bay
Photo by Pixabay

Problem: The heater core is responsible for generating heat inside your car when your turn on the engine. It is not always easy to recognize that this is the issue, but if the heater core is worn out, you might be smelling the sensation of burning in your vehicle. By following the service schedule, you can recognize this issue.

Solution: The heater core is an essential part of the car and it will need to be replaced when it is worn out. One of the symptoms could be an overheating car that often might cause the issue. Additionally, you should visit your mechanic and have them look at the issue. You might need to have the heater core replaced.


Can You Drive A Car With A Burning Smell?

It depends on where the burning smell is coming from and what is the cause. If the issue is heater-related, you can simply turn the heater off and the car would function as normal. However, issues related to the engine or even overheating brakes could lead to significant performance loss and long-term damage.

Can Bad Spark Plugs Cause A Burning Smell?

While not related to the heater, a bad spark plug could cause a foul smell coming from the exhaust pipe. It is often a very easy fix and you should simply just replace the bad spark plug. However, the issue will not be detectable when you turn on the heater. You might need to stand outside to see if you smell the issues.

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