girl smelling vents

If you’ve owned a vehicle long, particularly one with a few miles on it, you have probably encountered a peculiar smell that grabbed your attention. Scents that you encounter while driving (emanating from your vehicle, not the horse farm down the road) are indicators of your vehicle's health and often the first warning that something may be wrong. Wayne & Sons Automotive Repair in Santa Rosa has assembled this list to prepare for you for the next time you smell something odd, so you’ll know what’s going on next time you notice a funny smell.


The smell of burning oil is a bit hard to describe. The best way to know if the oil is what you’re smelling is to pull the dipstick as if you were checking your oil, wipe some off on your finger (not while it’s hot,) and take a whiff. If the unburnt oil smells similar, you may be leaking or burning oil. The scent of the oil isn’t particularly strong or unpleasant, but it is distinctive.

Burning oil usually means two things: you are leaking oil, or burning it internally. If you are leaking oil it may be dripping onto the exhaust pipe, causing it to smell burnt. Usually, the remedy for this is a new valve cover gasket or a smaller gasket somewhere else. If you see a leak or think there may be one hidden elsewhere, bring your vehicle by our repair shop and have one of our mechanics take a look. Most gaskets are relatively inexpensive and quick fixes.

If you are burning it internally, you may have a bigger problem. Worn piston rings and valve seats allow the oil to sneak into the combustion process, and your engine will burn oil the same way it burns fuel. If you see blue smoke coming from your exhaust pipe when you start your vehicle for the first time in the morning, or if it expels blue smoke while driving, you should bring your vehicle to the repair shop as soon as possible. The longer these problems persist, the more risk there is of critical damage and engine failure. For most people, internal repairs are not a do-it-yourself job, but our team of auto repair technicians knows exactly how to help.


Coolant can also burn internally if it is leaking into the combustion process. Heavy white vapor from the tailpipe indicates you may have a bad head gasket, and if you see this you should stop driving the vehicle and get it to the shop immediately before further damage occurs. More commonly, coolant will leak from cracked hoses or bad radiators, a far less severe problem. Leaking coolant has a sweet, warm smell, and is easily recognizable. It smells more like vapor than smoke, like the difference between steam from a boiling pot of water and smoke from a fire. If the smell is strong or you see vapor inside the vehicle, check for wet may have a bad heater core. Any time you see steam or smell coolant, you should have it checked out. Low coolant can cause catastrophic damage, and a small leak can turn into a big one in an instant.


Chances are you already know what fuel smells like. If you smell it, there’s a leak somewhere; get it fixed to prevent poor engine performance, bad mileage, and fires. At best a fuel leak is a waste of money, at worst it is a huge fire hazard.


Dragging brakes smell very unpleasant and almost bitter. If you encounter a strong scent of something burning that makes you wrinkle your nose when you slow down or stop, you may have brake issues. Usually dragging brakes are accompanied by squeaks, squeals, and other noises, but not always. Put your hand close to your wheel and see if you can feel the heat - if one of your brakes are dragging, it’s likely one wheel will be far warmer than the rest. Generally, the wheels will be slightly warm, but one with a dragging brake will potentially be too hot to touch, so use caution. Have brake issues repaired as soon as possible to prevent further damage, increase your mileage, and restore your vehicle’s performance. Your mechanic will carefully inspect the entire system; if one brake is bad, there’s a good chance the others need attention too.


Burning plastic or burning rubber smells indicate you have a shorted wire somewhere, and should not be ignored. If a wire is getting hot enough to melt the insulation around it, that means the fuse isn’t blowing, and it is an immediate fire hazard. Have your vehicle thoroughly inspected immediately if you smell melting wires.

Strange smells are good indicators of automotive problems, and often the first symptom of an issue you will detect. Wayne & Sons Automotive Repair in Santa Rosa is here to help, whether you need a second opinion on a strange smell, or necessary repairs made to get rid of it. Call or come see us!


Thank you for visiting Wayne & Sons Automotive Repair, LLC in Santa Rosa, CA. Count on our automotive repair technicians to keep your car, truck, suv, or van on the roads longer and safer.

Schedule your appointment today BOOK NOW   |   CALL: (707) 546-3492

  • Jasper Pref
  • Acdelco
  • ADAS Calibration
  • ASE
  • Bosch Automotive
  • Cummins Diesel
  • Customer Savings
  • Duramax Diesel
  • Fleet Services
  • Ford Power Stroke Diesel
  • Motorcraft Parts
  • Pet Friendly
  • RV Repair
  • Shuttle Service

Wayne & Sons Automotive Repair, LLC

1845 Piner Rd Unit B
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
Get Directions

location small (707) 546-3492
Email the Shop


Weekdays:   8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Saturdays: By Appointment Only
Sundays: Closed

Make An Appointment