Car Smells Like Burning Oil – 12 Possible Reasons Behind!

Written By: Terrence Hines
Category: Facts

If your car smells like burning oil, it is important to take action immediately. This type of odor indicates that there is a problem with the engine or other vital parts. 

It could be caused by a serious problem that needs immediate attention. Take your car to a trusted mechanic to diagnose and repair the issue before it worsens.

Car Smells Like Burning Oil – 12 Possible Reasons!

Your car is a complex machine with many moving parts, and over time, it’s common for things to go wrong. 

Detecting a burning oil scent in your car is a sign of potential engine trouble. Don’t put it off – have it inspected right away!

Several issues, such as a leak in your engine, worn-out engine bearings, or a damaged gasket, can cause a burnt oil smell. 

Whatever the cause, it’s important to address the issue as soon as possible to avoid further damage to your vehicle. 

A professional auto mechanic can quickly diagnose and repair the problem, ensuring your car runs smoothly and smells fresh again.

1. Leaky Oil Seal:

If your car smells like burning oil, there’s a good chance that you have a leaky oil seal. 

Car Smells Like Burning Oil - 12 Possible Reasons!

Oil seals are located on the ends of the crankshaft and camshaft and are designed to keep oil from leaking out of the engine. 

When the seals wear out or become damaged, oil can leak out onto other parts of the engine and hot surfaces, causing that telltale burning smell. 

A leaky oil seal is a nuisance and can also be dangerous if the leaked oil catches fire. 

If you think you might have a leaky oil seal, a mechanic must check it out as soon as possible. They can replace the seal and prevent any potential hazards.

2. Low Engine Oil Levels:

Engine oil is one of the most vital fluids in your car. It lubricates the engine’s moving parts, regulates the engine temperature, and removes contaminants.

However, if your engine oil levels are low, it can lead to many problems. Your engine may sound louder than usual, and you may notice a burning oil smell coming from your car. 

Ignoring the warning signs of low engine oil could lead to overheating, engine damage, and costly repairs. 

It’s always a good idea to regularly check your engine oil levels and top up, if necessary, to keep your car running smoothly and avoid any potential issues down the road.

3. Malfunctioning Oil Pump:

When your car emits a burning oil scent, it’s a clear sign that something is off with your engine. One possible culprit could be a malfunctioning oil pump. 

The oil pump is crucial in distributing oil throughout your engine, ensuring that everything runs smoothly and without friction. 

A malfunctioning oil pump can lead to various problems, including low oil pressure and overheating. 

If you suspect your oil pump is failing, it’s extremely important to have it fixed as soon as possible to prevent further damage to your engine. 

Don’t wait until it’s too late and major repairs become necessary – take care of a malfunctioning oil pump at the first signs of trouble.

4. Old Or Dirty Oil:

If your car smells like burning oil, it may indicate that you have old or dirty oil in the engine

Oil is an essential component of any vehicle, as it helps to keep the engine lubricated and running smoothly.

However, over time, oil can become contaminated with dirt, debris, and other impurities, which can cause it to break down and lose its effectiveness. 

 Old Or Dirty Oil

This can result in many issues, including decreased performance, reduced fuel economy, and potential engine damage. 

Luckily, this problem has easy solutions, such as changing your oil regularly and using high-quality oil and filters. 

By taking care of your car’s oil, you can keep your engine running smoothly and avoid any costly repairs down the line.

5. Clogged Engine Oil Filter:

A clogged engine oil filter in your vehicle can cause major problems, one of which is a distinct burning odor that can become overwhelming. 

This smell is caused by the engine oil being unable to circulate properly through the engine, which leads to increased friction and the burning of oil residue. 

If left unchecked, a clogged oil filter can seriously damage your engine and even complete engine failure. 

So, if you notice your car smells like burning oil, it’s important to get your oil filter checked as soon as possible to prevent further damage to your engine

Regular oil changes and filter replacements can help ensure your engine stays healthy and running smoothly.

6. Excessive Oil In The Engine:

When your car smells like burning oil, there may be excessive oil in the engine. 

This can happen if too much oil is added during an oil change or if there is a problem with the engine’s oil system. 

When there is too much oil in the engine, the excess can get overheated and start to burn off, causing that unpleasant smell. 

Not only can this be unpleasant, but it can also be harmful to the engine, as burning oil can lead to engine damage. 

If you suspect that your car has excessive oil in the engine, it’s important to have it checked out by a mechanic to prevent any further issues.

7. Worn-Out Spark Plugs:

Do you notice a smell of burning oil coming from your car? The culprit could be worn-out spark plugs. 

Spark plugs play a crucial role in the ignition process, and when they begin to fail, they can be the reason behind why your car smells like burning oil. 

This can be caused by incomplete combustion and excessive oil consumption. 

It’s important to address worn-out spark plugs promptly, as they can also lead to decreased fuel efficiency and engine misfires. 

If you suspect your spark plugs need to be replaced, take your car to a trusted mechanic to have them checked and replaced if necessary. 

Don’t let worn-out spark plugs impact the performance and safety of your vehicle.

8. Faulty Oxygen Sensor:

If you’ve noticed a strange burning smell emanating from your car, there could be a variety of causes. However, it’s possible that a faulty oxygen sensor could be the culprit. 

This tiny but important component is responsible for monitoring the exhaust gases and ensuring your engine runs efficiently. 

Car Smells Like Burning Oil

When it starts to malfunction, it can cause your car to run rich or lean, leading to a host of issues over time. 

Luckily, replacing a faulty oxygen sensor is a relatively simple fix that can help improve your car’s performance and reduce the harmful emissions it produces. 

If you suspect that your car’s oxygen sensor may be the culprit behind that burning smell, having a mechanic take a closer look is a good idea.

9. Worn-Out Piston Rings:

When it comes to your car’s engine, there’s nothing more frustrating than noticing an unusual smell, especially that of burning oil. 

This problem is often connected to worn-out piston rings, which can cause issues with your engine’s efficiency and performance. 

If unchecked, worn-out piston rings can lead to decreased power, lower fuel economy, and potentially costly repairs. 

By addressing strange smells and checking your piston rings, you can avoid further engine problems and keep your car running smoothly.

It’s always best to take your car in for regular maintenance and inspections to catch any issues before they become serious.

10. Excessive Crankcase Pressure: 

Have you ever noticed a strong odor of burning oil emanating from your vehicle? If so, you may be experiencing the consequences of blocked ventilation in your car’s crankcase.

This problem can occur when the ventilation system, responsible for removing gases produced during the combustion process from the engine, becomes obstructed. 

As a result, the pressure inside the crankcase builds up, causing oil to escape and burn, leaving behind a telltale scent. 

If left untreated, this issue can ultimately lead to engine damage, so it’s important to have your car inspected by a professional mechanic as soon as possible to prevent further issues.

11. Loose Exhaust System Components Emitting Fumes: 

Have you ever noticed a burning oil smell filling the cabin when driving your car? This could result from loose exhaust system components emitting unwanted fumes. 

It’s important to address this issue as soon as possible, as inhaling these fumes can harm your health and lead to poor vehicle performance. 

Loose components can also lead to further damage to the exhaust system and potentially cause other costly repairs. 

It’s recommended to bring your car to a trusted mechanic to inspect and repair any loose exhaust system components to ensure a safe and healthy driving experience.

12. Friction Caused By Worn-Out Engine Bearings:

Friction caused by worn-out engine bearings and valves can be a harrowing experience for any car owner. 

When these crucial components start to wear out, it can drastically affect the health of the engine and can be quite damaging. 

One unmistakable sign of problems with engine bearings and valves is when your car smells like burning oil.

Friction Caused By Worn-Out Engine Bearings

This typically happens due to increased friction, generating heat and producing the smell. 

If left unchecked, the damage caused by this friction can be severe and may even require significant repairs or a complete engine overhaul. 

It is always best to bring your vehicle to a trusted mechanic when you notice any signs of trouble to prevent further complications.


Low levels, excessive oil, clogged engine oil filters, worn-out engine bearings, and malfunctioning oxygen sensors are possible causes behind a car smells like burning oil.

It’s, therefore, important for you to diagnose the issue properly if you want to ensure a proper fix. 

That way, you can get back on the road with peace of mind knowing that your car is running in optimal condition. 

If you suspect any of the issues outlined above are causing the burning smell in your car, it would be wise to take it to a reputable auto shop where they can check everything properly.

Terrence Hines

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