Does your car have a musty or strange smell and you can’t figure out where it’s coming from? I can’t speak for all causes, but using my personal experience last year, I can help you with one source in particular. I will also suggest a few other reasons your car might smell and what you can try.
Last summer, I slowly started to notice a musty odor every time I drove my car. This started during the warmer months when I was using my air conditioner. It would smell when I started the car, but then the odor would start to go away when I turned on the AC. As soon as I turned the AC off, the odor would return. I was puzzled. Air fresheners would only last so long. It reached the point that I didn’t even want anyone to ride in my car.
It was not the cabin air filter, as that had just recently been changed. My husband racked his brain over what it could be, searching on-line for different solutions. Someone with a similar problem said it could happen when the air conditioner was left on all the time and suggested putting the vent on for a few minutes when driving.
I realized then that I had been leaving the air on constantly because it was hot out and it didn’t smell as bad when it was on. Not only that, but I had been leaving the circulation option on pulling air from the inside of the car only, instead of getting fresh air from outside. I figured it would be easier to cool air that was already air conditioned than to start with the hot air from outside. This meant that I was just reusing stale air over and over.
The next time I drove, I changed the options so fresh air would come in from outside. I also turned the air conditioner off now and then to let new air come in. This started helping immediately. Later, my husband sprayed Oust spray down in the vents. Oust kills bacteria in the air, so it definitely didn’t hurt. Since doing these things, I have not had any problems with mustiness. I can’t speak for all causes of bad odors in your car, but if this sounds like something you’ve been doing, then maybe this will help.
Another cause might be a leak somewhere that gets the seats or carpet wet. This might cause mildew or mold to grow. If you did not just leave your windows down in the rain, then you will probably need to take your vehicle somewhere to find and fix the leak before addressing the issue. Ask them to recommend the best products to remove mold or mildew in your car.
One cause that is very hard to deal with is an animal smell. I once had a cat get into my old car and it was rank for months. I don’t know if it peed in there or what, but no amount of shampooing or Febreeze would touch it. The air freshener would cover it for awhile, but it would keep coming back. It just gradually went away after awhile. If that’s the source of stink in your car, then good luck with that. Sorry, but I’m not really sure what to tell you.
If it’s not so much a musty smell, but more the smell of burnt rubber or fumes, then don’t ask me, but it sounds like you need to talk to a professional or at least someone who knows quite a bit about cars. It could be something more serious. I did find this article by AC Contributor Erica Williams, titled, “Auto: How to Diagnose Odors in Your Car.” It is more about mechanical problems that cause odors, something I don’t know enough about to really help you.
Finally, an obvious way to keep your car smelling fresh is to remove all old trash and drinks, especially those bags of fast food remnants and half-full cans of pop. Make sure you also clean and vacuum it regularly. If you do all this and it still has a lingering funk, try using a good air freshener, such as Febreeze. There is a scent made especially for vehicles and it seems to help short-term.
Whatever the cause, if nothing works and you are doomed to drive a stink-bomb, then you should watch that old Seinfeld episode about the extremely smelly car that makes everyone who rides in it have a stench that can’t be removed. That car was so bad that Jerry tried to give it away to a homeless man and even he didn’t want it. This is usually my philosophy in life: If you can’t solve a problem, try to find a way to laugh at it.
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