What To Do If Something’s Burning In Your Car

What To Do If Something's Burning In Your Car

Your vehicle is your means of getting from place to place, and when you are driving along and suddenly catch the tell-tale scent of burning, this can make even the most stalwart driver feel a sense of apprehension. Naturally, if you determine that the scene is coming from your car rather than an external source, that feeling can escalate exponentially. 

A problem with your car could cause havoc with your schedule, not to mention that it can result in expensive repairs that can also stress your finances. However, you may face a more immediate and severe threat, especially if that burning smell indicates that your car is on fire. Transmission shops in Denver see this problem often as Colorado’s mountainous terrain put lots of strain on many vehicles’ engines. 

Anytime you have a burning smell in your vehicle, you should take the matter seriously.

What Can Cause A Vehicle To Catch Fire

While a burning scent may not necessarily mean that there is an immediate problem or even a problem at all, it can indicate a complication that could lead to an even more severe situation if left unchecked. 

Fires can begin in many ways, as a vehicle is a complicated assortment of interlocking parts, including wires and fluids that can spark or ignite. Often, a fire’s cause is not any isolated component but several misfortunes working in conjunction. 

Here are a few issues that could lead to a car fire:

  • Engine overheating
  • Problems with the catalytic converter
  • Broken or improperly fitted hoses
  • Faulty or loose wiring
  • Fluid leaks, especially gas and oils
  • Complications within the exhaust system
  • Fuses blowing

While there may be manufacturer defects that can increase the opportunity for these types of malfunctions, most often, the result is a failure on the owner’s part to perform routine maintenance. Nonetheless, sometimes bad things happen anyway and could result from human interference, such as improperly performed repair work or sabotage and arson. 

Types Of Burning Smells & What They May Mean

If you smell something unorthodox in your car, odor varieties can indicate different complications. While it can sometimes be hard to distinguish one smell from another, here are common versions of burning smells and what they may signify: 

  • Exhaust: A hazardous situation as it may mean a carbon monoxide leak inside the vehicle, which can lead to death. If you smell this, roll down your windows and pull over, exiting the car as soon as possible. 
  • Burned Rubber: This could result from damage to your wheel suspension system, a malfunctioning AC compressor, or a slipped belt, which can result in friction.
  • Burned Plastic: This may indicate a blown motor fuse or electrical short, resulting in melting insulation or motor housing materials.
  • Burned Hair or Acrid Odor: Possibly the result of a problem with the brake pads and their associated parts, although this can be normal for new automobiles as engaged brakes may burn the initial resin off the pads. A locked brake caliper can lead to an acrid smell.
  • Burned Oil or Sweet-like Smells: Likely the result of a fluid leak somewhere, striking hot parts within your vehicle. A smell reminiscent of maple syrup could indicate a coolant leak, which needs immediate attention.

What To Do If Something’s Burning In Your Car

If you have a persistent burning smell in your car, you should address the problem immediately. While you may be able to drive to a mechanic without issue, there is also the risk that the situation could escalate, catching your vehicle on fire. 

You want to avoid that situation at all costs, so your best bet is to pull over and contact an auto mechanic for advice. They can come to inspect the car and tow it to their shop as needed to limit any damage. 

What To Do If Your Car Is On Fire

Sometimes the worst-case scenario happens anyway, and you may discover that your car is on fire. Even if you do not see actual flames, evidence of smoke from the hood or vents can be a strong indication. You also may notice that the temperature gauge on your dashboard is moving steadily into the hot danger zone. 

If you suspect your car is on fire, you should turn on your hazard lights and pull over immediately at the first safe opportunity. Turn off your ignition and get everyone out of the vehicle as quickly as possible, moving at least 100 feet away from the car. 

Do not return to it or let anyone retrieve anything from inside, as a fire emits toxic fumes and dangerous flames that can flare suddenly upon reaching volatile fluids such as gasoline. Alert anyone in the vicinity of the problem and keep them a safe distance away, then call 9-1-1 for professional assistance. 

How To Prevent Car Fires

One of the best ways to ensure that your car does not catch fire is to maintain regular maintenance schedules and have your vehicle inspected immediately if you smell anything unusual or hear unexpected sounds. An overheating engine is always a cause for concern, so keep an eye on the temperature meter and if you notice the needle rising, take action quickly to reduce the chance of fire. 

Be careful when handling gasoline, and do not store it in your vehicle for any reason, as that constitutes a serious risk. If you must transport it, limit the quantity and use properly approved containers, keeping your windows down during transport. 

Also, avoid parking in areas of high grass or other materials that could reach hot vehicle parts and ignite, and only use approved replacement parts for your car to reduce the possibility of incompatibilities that could lead to dangerous malfunctions. 

The Bottom Line

Any time you recognize something is wrong with your vehicle, you should investigate the problem as soon as possible. While many strange sounds or smells may be innocuous, others can be deadly, so it is better to be safe than sorry. If you smell something burning in your vehicle, you should stop and contact an auto mechanic to inspect the car. If you see smoke or believe your automobile may be on fire, park safely, exit the vehicle, and call 9-1-1 for immediate assistance while staying at least a hundred feet from the vehicle.  

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