During these hot, hot days it’s always a relief to get in that car and crank the A/C to full blast. But have you ever gotten in your car and turned on your A/C just to be hit by wall of smells coming from your A/C? It can be horrible and quickly make any comfortable driving experience horrible and downright bad. So what’s going on with your car? Or is it just you?

Let’s dive in to some common smells coming from your A/C and what that might mean for your car. 

Your vehicle’s air conditioning system typically works by taking in outside air or recirculating air in the vehicle. That’s why when you drive by a field of mushrooms or cows, the scent can often seem way too close for comfort. 

In these cases, the odor usually resolves itself as soon as you’re out of range of that particularly strong smell.

However, prolonged mold, vinegar, or burning smells coming from your A/C could be signs of underlying issues with your air conditioning system that need to be addressed. 

Common Smells Coming from your A/C and their Possible Meaning


If your car’s air conditioning system begins to reek of mold of mildew, it might actually be mold or mildew. 

Like with most things, bacteria can grow on aging systems where moisture gathers. This can happen on your A/C’s evaporator. Mold and mildew on your A/C’s evaporator can quickly stink up your car’s cabin, especially when you’re blasting the A/C. 

While over-the-counter remedies may offer short term fixes, it’s a good idea to go in to a professional auto body shop, especially if the odor becomes more and more difficult neutralize even after cleaning

You can get your A/C serviced at Courtesy Auto in Tacoma for a full inspection and repair.


Vinegary smells emitted from your car’s A/C system can be caused by a few different sources. Some molds emit a vinegar-like smell. Other possible culprits include battery acid leakage or ozone emissions

Sweet Smells

Smelling something sweet from your A/C? It could possible be an antifreeze leak somewhere in your A/C system. Coolant is essential to your car running properly. If you smell something sweet, come to Courtesy Auto and Tire Service immediately for assessment. 


Gas leaks are dangerous. If there is a strong smell of gasoline coming from your vents it can be a sign of a possible gas leak being sucked through the air conditioning into your cabin. The best course of action for this is to turn your car off right away and have it towed to the nearest auto body shop. There, you should have your fuel system inspected for any leaks and necessary repairs. 


Burning smells in your car can be concerning. And they should be. There’s a wide variety of burning smells that can come through your vents, each one with a different possible sources. Her are some common burning smells and their possible causes:


If your A/C smells like burning plastic there could be an electrical shortage or burning wires somewhere in you A/C System. 


Rubber smells from your A/C are usually caused by dragging or friction on the belt. This could be a problem with a pulley, your A/C’s compression, or the clutch.


Leaking oil that comes in contacted with a hot engine or other part can give off a burning oil smell that can get picked up in your A/C. 

In any case, burning smells coming from your A/C should be inspected immediately for possible issues. 

For more information on air condition maintenance, visit our Air Conditioning and Heating Systems Page!