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Why Your Car Smells: What To Look Out For & How to Fix It

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Posted by: EmmaH
Posted on: 28/07/2023

There is nothing better than that ‘new car smell’ but sadly it doesn’t last forever. Usually, it isn’t replaced by anything too noticeable, but on occasions you might start to find that there is a rather more pungent odour hanging around your car. So, what is it?

Bad smells in your car are quite common and have a number of different causes. In this article Car Mats UK explain what those smells might be and the best way to try and fix them in order to get your car smelling fresh and clean again.

Musty smells

A musty scent is one of the most common smells reported as being a problem in vehicles. This is usually caused by the appearance of mould or mildew being present in the car. Whilst there can be many reasons that mould begins to grow in a car, it is usually from some form of damp. This could be caused by spillages, accidents from pets, leaks or from the moisture brought into your car on your shoes or boots. This will tend to form in upholstery such as carpets or seats.

When moisture seeps into the fabric of your car and the interior temperature begins to rise, the relative humidity increases. These are the perfect conditions for mould colonies to take hold and grow, and they will eventually start to release that unmistakable and unpleasant odour.

Of course, when it comes to things like this, prevention is often better than cure, so try to make sure you clean up any liquids as thoroughly as possible before the damp starts to set in. However, once it has happened, you need to remove the source as soon as possible and clean it as best you can.

Investing in good quality car mats is one way to keep mould away. Choose some which water resistant in order to prevent things like mould and mildew occurring. These are also really easy to remove and clean, so that you can avoid mould finding anywhere to fester.

Sweet smells

If you are starting to notice a sweet smell in your car that hasn’t come from an air freshener or product that you have used, it could be a sign that your antifreeze is leaking. This could come from a number of different sources in your cooling system, so it is best to take it to a reputable garage to be checked out.


An unexplained burning smell is never a good thing, but this is particularly true if it is in your car. It could be caused by oil leaving onto a hot part of the engine or by brake pads or rotors overheating. It could also be caused by a build up of leaves or other debris in the engine compartment, so have a look and see if there is anything that can be cleaned out. If you do not find anything, or the smell persists, you should take it to your local garage as soon as possible for a thorough check.


Many smokers become used to the smell of their cigarettes and no longer notice it, but to a non-smoker, the scent can stand out a mile. If you smoke in your car, then it can be incredibly obvious to anyone else travelling in it, or anyone you are tying to sell it to.

It is tempting to think that smoking with the window open will solve all of your problems, but this can often blow smoke back into your car rather than blowing it away. Once the smoke is in your car, it begins to soak into the fabrics and is notoriously difficult to get rid of.

Start by using cleaning products that have been designed for upholstery to get the worst of the smell out. You can remove thinks like car mats, seat covers and boot liners to clean them and leave them in the fresh air – although in really bad cases it may be better to simply invest in some new car mats.

Try and make good use of the car air fresheners that are on the market until the smoke clears, and make sure that any smoking debris such as ash and stubs are removed.


From time to time, there may be the add whiff of petrol that comes floating through your car, and this is particularly common when a cold engine has just been started and will clear after a few seconds. However, if this is still noticeable as the engine warms up then it could be a sign that you have a petrol leak from the tank or fuel line, or that your emissions control line is blocked or faulty. Check underneath where your car has been parked for sings of a leak, and make sure to take the car straight to the garage for a proper check.


A rotting smell can be pretty horrible, so it is important to find the culprit quickly. The source of this is often food, particularly if you have small children, so make sure you look in door pockets and under seats for something that might once have been an apple. Rotting is not always food and could also be caused by things such as leaves which have been dragged into the car after a walk and never cleaned out. Good quality car mats can help to prevent this from building up, and as they are easy to clean, they can quickly be removed, and the source can be washed away.

No-one wants to drive around in a smelly car, and it can make it much harder to sell. It is important to remember that whilst things such as air fresheners can make a car smell a little nicer, all they do is mask other scents and do not get to the root f the problem. One of the best ways to keep your car smelling fresh is through regular cleaning and maintenance and by choosing good quality car mats and seat covers that can help to protect your vehicle.

Tailored Car Mats to Get Your Car Smelling Fresh Again

Smells and mildew can get trapped in car mats that have been neglected to be cleaned or replaced. If you’re looking to replace your old car mats, why not spring some for some tailored car mats that fit your car perfectly.

Here at Car Mats UK we manufacture perfectly tailored car mats for all major makes and models of vehicle. Even if you’re looking for personalised car mats with a picture printed on to the mat, our team have your back. Simply place an order to through our website and wait for your mats to arrive!

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