There are several causes that create a burning smell from the car. Normally burning occurs when two surfaces are rubbing together. If you notice any engine smells, then stop driving your car immediately.
Car Smells from Clutch
Many times a burning smell will come from your clutch. This can occur when you are changing gears. This is a special type of burning, like burning newspaper. Basically the face of the clutch burns off as the clutch slips. It smells papery because the surface of the clutch actually is a type of paper composition. It is important that you learn how to use the clutch properly to stop doing this. Do not ride the clutch. If you do this too often then you may need to have the clutch replaced.
You can also develop a burnt smell from the brakes. This occurs if you are riding the brakes or braking very hard. If you are going down a very steep hill and riding the brakes, then this friction can become so great that your brakes smoke. This is not a problem if it occurs once in a while. However if you notice a burning smell from the brakes during regular driving then there is a problem. A caliper piston in the brakes may have seized which causes the brake to drag. If this is the case, you will need to have this fixed. Another common cause of burnt brakes is individuals leaving their hand brake or parking brake on when driving.
Burning can also occur when there is an electrical short circuit. The plastic around the wires, connection, or fuses will melt or burn producing this smell. If you do not get the electrical system fixed, then you can have serious problems running your car. It is best to have a mechanic fix it as they can hook your car up to a computer which will then quickly tell the operator where the electrical problem is.
Burning Smell from Heater
You want to check the heater vent if you notice a burning smell. If it has been a long time since you used your heater then there may be dust in the system. However if you use it regularly and there is still a burning smell then you may have pine needles or other debris stuck in the vent. Many people find that a plastic bag stuck in the engine will create a burning smell. The heater itself could be broken causing a burning smell from the antifreeze that is leaking into the heater vents. You can also have parts of the heater core itself melt which causes a burning smell. This is normally in the heater motor. If the smell gets very bad from the heater and you do not have any debris in the engine then you probably need to have a mechanic check out the heater.
If you have an oil leak and then it drops onto the hot exhaust when driving, you will smell burning when you get out of the car. This phenomenon can be very noticeable when driving up large hills as your exhaust will get very hot. You may not notice the burning smell when in the car but it is very noticeable when you get out of the car. Additionally there may be some fumes due to the burning oil.
Related Questions and Answers
Would a Dirty Car Heater Core Lead to a Burning Smell?
It is possible for a dirty car heater core to lead to a burning smell if the car heater core were filled with debris such as leaves, pine needles and acorns. It will take some time to fill a car heater core to this point, but if there is no place for the heat to dissipate because it is blocked by leaves and other debris, then there is a very good chance one would find a burning smell from a dirty car heater core. Although it is highly unlikely to happen. More to the point, is the fact that you would likely find a car heater core with a leak that is soaking your front carpet with antifreeze.