A car that you can get started and actually drive down the road isn't always safe or in good repair; sometimes there are problems under the hood that need immediate attention but which might not actually cause the car to stall. While there are a number of symptoms that might alert you to those problems, sometimes smells in particular can mean that it should be towed rather than driven, even for a short distance. Note a few of those here so you can see if your car and your nose are both trying to tell you it's best to call a towing service.

Electrical fire or burning insulation

If you've ever smelled an electrical fire or a singed wire in your home, you know that these have a very distinct odor. If you smell this from under the hood of your car then it may be that an electrical wire has lost its insulating cover. This can lead to an electrical short or an electrical fire under the car's hood. The electrical current could also be singeing another material under the hood if the wiring is exposed and resting on another part. In turn, this part could get damaged from that singeing. Driving the car this way can make the damage worse or see an electrical shutdown of your car, which can mean it simply stops working altogether even when on the road.

Sweet smell

A sweet smell usually means that radiator fluid is being lost. Antifreeze has a sweet odor, especially when it gets warm as it circulates around the engine compartment. Some might describe this smell as resembling syrup. Don't let the sweet odor mislead you; coolant fluid should always be contained in the radiator and coolant system and you shouldn't notice its smell. If you do, your radiator probably has a leak and it may actually burst, or your engine may overheat and get damaged beyond repair.


If you've just filled your car with petrol, you might smell gas on your hands. However, you should never smell gas when your car is running. This often means you have a leak in the gas tank or fuel lines. Since petrol is so flammable and the fumes are toxic, you don't want to risk driving your car when you notice this smell. Never think that the smell of gas is just normal and to be expected, but have your car towed when you notice any distinct odor of gas in the cab.