Look Out For These 3 Used Car Smells

Shopping for used vehicles can be a chore. You already know that you must look for signs of physical damage or recent repairs, have the engine checked, and review the car history report to understand the vehicle’s history. But did you ever think that you needed to “smell” the vehicle as well?

Most people do not think about this, but used car smells can tell you a lot about the condition and history of the vehicle.

There are 3 used car odors that you should be particularly aware of before you buy used car.

1. Burning Smell

When you test drive the vehicle, make sure you question any burning smell that you notice. This could indicate many different problems.

Burning smells could be a problem with the electrical system. This can be very dangerous at any time because a fire could ignite. The small may indicate problems with the brake system as well. A stuck brake caliper will create a burning smell. Parking brakes that are engaged will also create a burning smell when the vehicle is moving.

If the vehicle has a standard transmission, the burning smell may indicate problems with the clutch. This could be a costly repair for you in the near future. Other issues that could cause a burning smell are where metal is rubbing against metal anywhere in the vehicle.

If you are experiencing any type of burning or electrical smell when you test drive a vehicle, it may be in your best interest to move on to another vehicle to purchase. Burning smells can be very dangerous and lead to costly repairs.

2. Gasoline Smell

Strong gasoline smells can indicate that there is a leak in the gas tank or that there are problems with your engine. If you smell strong amounts of gas, the first thing to check is the gas cap to make sure it is on securely and not splashing all over. If the cap is secure, the smell indicates a much larger problem.

Gas smells should never be overlooked or just put off as a previous smell. If gas was spilled inside the car by chance, maybe when a gas can was being transported, you might want to inquire why nothing was done to remove the smell. This could also indicate that the person who previously owned the vehicle was not interested in the upkeep of the car.

In most cases, a strong gasoline odor would indicate that there is a serious problem with the vehicle, and it is probably wise to move on to another car to examine for purchase.

3. Mold/Mildew or Rot

Another important used car smells that should send up warning bells is any smell that seems musty, like mold or mildew. Cars that have been in a flood may be cleaned out well after they are rescued, but there will always be water left over that begins to turn to mold and mildew in the car interior.  You will smell this car odor.

Most states require that you have a salvage title for any car that was in a flood. But this can easily be overlooked when the vehicle crosses state lines to be sold. There have been significant problems with this after major hurricanes and other flooding events.

Even if the vehicle was not in a flood, a mold or mildew smell could indicate a leak in the roof, problems with the seals on the windows or doors, or overall poor vehicle maintenance.

Another similar smell that the mold or mildew smell is rot. The car interior may be rotting from being exposed to the water for long periods of time. This can mean that you will have to do extensive replacements to the interior of the vehicle or risk the rot spreading and eventually turning into mold and mildew.

A rotten smell may also indicate that there have been rodent infestations in the vehicle. Small rodents, including squirrels, can crawl up onto the undercarriage of any vehicle. These rodents like to chew on wires. If one is strapped in this area and dies, the smell can be overwhelming. This may also indicate that there is damage to the wiring or other areas of your vehicle.

used car smells

What You Should Do About Used Car Smells

In the end, it is probably in your best interest to pass up any used vehicle that has an unusual smell. Used car smells can indicate that the vehicle has damage, has been in a flood, has a salvage title which will mean higher insurance, or has not been kept up by the previous owner.  Other bad smells may be caused by cigarette smoke and this will not be covered up by air fresheners.  Bad odors need an odor eliminator like a steam clean and professional car steam cleaner via getting a car detailed for removing odors and bad smells from interior and hard surfaces that will leave the car’s interior smelling fresh.  There are many smells in cars but a new owner does not want to have to perform repeated cleanings on carpet and upholstery on a stinky car.  Other services to remove odors are activated charcoal and and ozone generator.  Some believe that cat litter can be used but this seldom works.  Choosing the professional car and  proper service will leave your interior smelling fresh!

In addition to checking the car history before making a purchase, it is always recommended that you have a vehicle looked at by a mechanic and check it for any unusual smells. This is the best way to protect your interests before purchasing a vehicle.

When Purchasing A Vehicle

Always remember to have a VINsmart report run on the vehicle before making any vehicle purchase.  A VINsmart report runs a complete history on the vehicle including whether it has ever been reported as stolen, has been involved in a major accident, or has been listed as a totaled vehicle.

VINsmart reports will also give you a history of every time the vehicle has been registered as well as a history of the mileage.  It reports any significant incidents related to the vehicle, such as being involved in a fire or flood.

When you are going to purchase a used vehicle, the best way to ensure you are making a good purchase is to know the vehicle’s complete history.


To get started with VINsmart, click here.

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