What is an exhaust fume odor inspection?

A mechanic will perform an inspection to locate the source of the exhaust fume odor by inspecting the exhaust system as well as your door and window seals, heater core, cabin air filter, and other parts of the car. The mechanic may have to raise the vehicle or take it on a test drive to determine the problem.
A car’s exhaust system is comprised of several parts that work together to remove the gasses produced by engine combustion. Inside the vehicle, exhaust manifolds are responsible for engine air intake, oxygen sensors measure the ratio of oxygen and gas, and the catalytic converter converts carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons into water and carbon dioxide.
The muffler lowers the noise caused by the process, and the exhaust pipe rids the car of unnecessary gasses.
If any of these parts start leaking, you’ll generally smell an odor. Different odors can indicate different problems—for example, the smell of rotten eggs can indicate a problem with the catalytic converter, while a heavy gasoline smell could be a problem with the exhaust pipe.

How to inspect exhaust fume odor

The mechanic will look for several common causes for an exhaust fume odor, such as:
  • Exhaust leak: If you smell gas in the cabin, there may be an exhaust leak. The leak can be anywhere in the exhaust system, but it is typically in the muffler, exhaust pipe, or manifolds.
  • Bad door and window seals: Window and door seals can lose effectiveness over time. If they fail, exhaust can leak into the car—which creates dangerous driving conditions.
  • Degraded catalytic converter: If a catalytic converter fails, it stops breaking down the sulfur created by the engine. This will lead to a smell of rotten eggs and the converter will need to be replaced.
  • Failing heater core: If it smells like anti-freeze is burning, your car may have a crack in the heater core or the seal could be bad. This will likely be accompanied by a puddle of anti-freeze under the car. This isn’t dangerous on its own, but it could cause bigger problems in the long run.
  • Bad oxygen sensor: The oxygen sensor sends information to the car’s computer about the fuel entering the engine, which makes adjustments accordingly. If this is failing, the measurements will be incorrect and the car won’t burn off all the gas in the engine.
  • Clogged cabin air filter: This is the least likely source of an exhaust fume smell, but a clogged cabin air filter will cause polluted air to fill the cabin. However, this will likely not be a heavy exhaust smell.

How important is an exhaust fume odor inspection?

The smell of exhaust can indicate the presence of deadly gas in the car. This creates dangerous health conditions, and your car should be inspected immediately.
If the odor is not dealt with promptly, the problem with the exhaust system will deteriorate—creating an even more costly and dangerous repair. Therefore, it’s important to get your car serviced as quickly as possible.

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