Why Does My Car Smell Like Burning Oil?

Blown engine icon

If there’s a significant, thick scent of burning oil coming from your car, then your vehicle is leaking oil. There are several causes behind this leak and subsequent burning oil smell that we explore below.

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Continue reading below to find out more about burning oil smells in your car.

Things That Could Cause A Burning Oil Smell

Burning Oil Outside of the Engine

Oil may be burning outside of your car’s engine due to oil escaping and landing on a hot surface. Being able to smell the burning oil is a telltale sign of having an oil leak.

Reasons for oil leaking include:

  • Oil leaking into the exhaust system

  • Oil leaking through the valve cover

  • PCV Valve leak

  • Exhaust leak

  • Oil spilled during an oil change

Oil Leaking Into Exhaust System

If you’ve got a cracked engine or it’s missing a component, then you can expect the oil to leak.

That leaking oil falling onto the hot surfaces within the engine bay results in the smell of burning oil inside the vehicle’s cabin.

When lubricant leaking happens, dripping gasoline on the garage floor or dust and grease coating the engine bay is detected.

Leaking Oil Through Valve Cover

Smoking blown engine

A faulty valve cover is one of the most common culprits for a burnt oil smell within your car.

Bad gasoline leaking behind the valve cover can lead to oil dripping into the exhaust system and causing the burning smell from the engine bay. It’s difficult to notice these leaks because drops of lubricant evaporate quickly and leave no signs then. At the same time, the ones spouting from the valve cover will often remain on the side due to the engine’s default tilt position.

A loose or failing valve cover bolt will also cause oil to seep. Wear and tear after extended use can cause a gasket to be worn down and enable lubricant to leak.

PCV Valve Leak

PCV valve leak is installed on the valve covers to control the engine’s ventilation. When this valve malfunctions, the valve cover suffers from the increased pressure.

The root cause of a defective PCV valve’s failure are cracks or drains in the vacuum hose connected to the PCV valve.

Exhaust Leak

Smelling burnt oil in your cabin may be the result of a leak within your exhaust system. The smell gets transferred from the engine bay into your vehicle through your AC vents.

When there is a break near hot exhaust pipes, catalytic converters, or the engine manifold, the emission of gasses will enter the cabin.

Oil Spilled While Performing An Oil Change

Getting your oil changed is mandatory for proper maintenance of your vehicle. That said, it is a messy process and some drops may get spilled in the engine bay.

In this instance, you may smell burning oil for a drive or two, but it will disappear soon afterwards.

What Does Burning Oil Smell Like?

Oil typically has a very thick and acrid smell to it; when it burns, it is incredibly noticeable. It will smell “hot,” and slightly plasticy in some cases.

How To Fix A Burning Oil Smell

Engine icon

Identify The Problem - The first step towards fixing a burning oil smell is figuring out what is causing it. Take your vehicle into a local mechanic and have them run a routine diagnostic on your car.

If you’ve got the tools and know-how, you can try to identify the cause yourself, but letting the professionals handle it is always a recommended course of action.

Keep An Eye Out For Minor Details - Stay alert for simultaneous occurrences if you’re not expecting the smell of oil while driving:

  • If your gear has difficulty changing or makes a strange sound during the process, then the engine will run hotter than it’s supposed to. This can cause a decrease in diesel level without any signs of leaking.

  • Should you notice that your brakes exhibit a delayed response, get your car checked ASAP. As soon as your car smells like burning oil when idling, you can not just seal the leak to prevent the spillage.

Fixing the engine should always be done when it has cooled down in order to reduce the burn risk.

Cost To Fix A Burning Oil Smell In Your Car

Lack of maintenance on a vehicle of any age can result in it burning oil and the smell seeping into the car’s cabin. In order to alleviate that, the usual minimum repair involves changing piston seal rings (aka oil control rings), but it could also require total engine replacement.

This repair cost can run from $1,000 to $5,700, depending on the severity of the damages and the complexity of the repair. Furthermore, standard gas engines require far less to repair than diesel engines.

Sell A Car That’s Burning Oil With DamagedCars

blown engine get paid

DamagedCars specializes in buying cars that have seen better days. Regardless of the reason your car is burning oil, we make the process of selling it as easy as 1-2-3:

Step 1: Get your free quote! Simply enter some basic information about your car on our website and you’ll receive a free and guaranteed quote within 90 seconds.

Towing is complementary, so you’ll never have to worry about hidden or additional fees taking away from the profits you take home.

Step 2: Schedule your pickup within 24-48 hours! If you’re happy with your quote, you’ll be able to schedule your vehicle retrieval with one of our partners within your area. They’re trusted to come to you at a time that works best for you.

Step 3: Complete your sale! After a quick inspection and transferring of your title, you’ll receive the amount you were quoted, no haggling or fuss. Your vehicle is taken off your hands and money is put in them!

Contact DamagedCars and let us replace the smell of burning oil with the feeling of getting paid!


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Is it safe to drive a car that smells like oil?

While it’s possible to drive a car that smells like oil, it isn’t entirely safe. An external oil leak could result in a fire and continued driving while your car is smelling like oil can end up damaging your engine.

How do you fix a burning oil smell in your car?

To fix a burning oil smell in your car, you must first identify the cause of the smell. Sometimes, you may be able to fix the issue yourself. Most times, however, it’s best to take your vehicle into an auto repair shop and let the professionals handle it.