Car Smells Like Antifreeze But Not Overheating: Things You Must Know

Antifreeze is the ingredient that keeps your car and its coolant system hydrated and active. It’s a matter of concern if this liquid leaks. So, what should you do when your car smells like antifreeze but not overheating?

Do you know that failure in the cooling systems is one of the major reasons for vehicles to break down on the highways? You may already have a smile of disbelief but hey, this is what the U.S. Department of Transportation claims! 

What Does the Antifreeze Do?

Coolant (or antifreeze) is a fluid that helps the engine to maintain its optimal temperature. The liquid has to be a 50/50 mix of water and ethylene glycol.

It travels from the engine to the radiator through a special hose. It redistributes the heat away from the engine to save it from damage due to overheating.

The antifreeze also helps the fluid in your car stay at the right temperature during freezing winter. The excellent lubricant keeps all the components it touches lubed and corrosion-free.

car smells like coolant but no leak
The antifreeze helps the car engine to stay at the right temperature. (Photo: The Drive)

Car Smells Like Antifreeze but Not Overheating: What Does It Mean?

When the engine does not overheat despite you detecting a sweet smell inside the car, it means that you still have a chance to fix the problem without spending much.

It indicates the early stage of coolant leakage, but the car will start getting overheated if you keep driving. The ultimate disaster could be a cracked engine block if you go on too long without a fix.

Car Smells Like Antifreeze but Not Overheating: The Main Causes 

Several reasons are there for causing this problem. Chances are that it happens due to an internal or external coolant leakage or a leak in the radiator cap. If your car smells like antifreeze but not overheating, the components you should look into are:

The Heater Core

This component circulates warm air inside the passenger cabin. It draws warm heat from the coolant and then spreads it across the cabin. 

A crack in the heater core will discharge antifreeze and you will get the odor inside your car. It happens because the air is mixed with the antifreeze odor.

Worn-out Radiator Cap

The radiator can handle lots of pressure but it will leak the antifreeze mixture if its cap is weak or worn-out. 

A misfit cap can also cause the loss of the fluid by overflowing the tube. Just replacing the cap will solve this issue but not addressing it at the right time will damage the hose.

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why does my car smell like coolant
The radiator can handle lots of pressure but it will leak the antifreeze mixture if its cap is weak or worn out. (Photo: Medium)

An External Leak

A hole in the radiator or a broken hose could be the source of this problem. It drains out the coolant very quickly and there is likely to be a puddle of coolant under the vehicle, so the problem is easy to spot.

You will be able to find the leak just by observing the radiator and the hose.

car smells like coolant
Be aware of a coolant external leak as it may cause more severe issues afterward. (Photo: YouTube)

An Internal Puncture

It’s another reason why your car smells like antifreeze but not overheating. Unlike an external puncture, there won’t be a pool under the car but you will still be able to identify the problem since the radiator will dry out pretty quickly.

It happens because the radiator overheats as an aftereffect of the coolant loss and evaporates the water faster than usual. Look into the cylinder block and head gasket to find the leak.

Broken Head Gasket

In most situations, it’s a question of replacing your car’s head gasket, and if you take your car in for inspection, the machine will tell you the same thing. 

If the head gasket leaks, nothing will drop on the ground because it leaks everything during mining. This explains why, if a leak happens, you will just feel uncomfortable since the ground will be absolutely clean.

Looking at the exhaust will instantly tell you if your front gasket is leaking since there will be a lot of white smoke pouring out of it. Because the gas to absorb is transparent again after combustion, white suggests that something other than gas has been burnt.

why do i smell antifreeze in my car
Broken head gaskets are another reason why cars smell coolant but not overheating. (Photo: Holtsauto)

Aside from gasses, the only thing that would have burned is coolant or antifreeze, indicating the location of the leak.

Engine Block

As we mentioned before, an engine block can be one of the most serious problems your car may face when there is an antifreeze smell in carMany individuals overlook the risk of an engine block leak since any leakage creates a puddle on the ground. 

This is true, but only when the automobile is stopped; the engine is turned off and hence cold. If the engine is turned off, the coolant will not evaporate or turn into steam.

Only when the automobile is turned on, indicating that the engine is hot, does the coolant burn, leaving no liquid trace on the ground. 

Although this is one of the rarest occurrences of leakage, the likelihood of it occurring is not nil. Taking a look at it when the engine bay is emitting smoke can only help you know exactly the coolant smell in car source.

Leaked Coolant Reservoir 

Another possibility is that your vehicle’s coolant reservoir is leaking. Your automobile smells like antifreeze because it emits coolant through its vents. This is a common issue, but it is simple to resolve.

Simply inspect your coolant reservoir to ensure there is no leakage. If there is, simply replace the cap and ensure it is well fastened before driving away. 

i smell antifreeze in my car
Another possibility is that your vehicle’s coolant reservoir is leaking. (Photo: ScannerAnswers)

If this does not resolve the problem, you will need to take your car to a mechanic for diagnostic and repair.

Broken Thermostat Housing

A leaking thermostat casing might be the source of your car’s antifreeze odor. This is because it is leaking coolant into hot engine parts, causing them to create an antifreeze-like stench.

You’ll need to repair the leaky item and then cleanse your cooling system. This may be accomplished by taking your car to a mechanic for diagnostic and repair.

Failed Water Pump Seal

A gasket that protects fluid from leaking out of the engine is the water pump seal. If this seal leaks, it might be the cause of your car’s antifreeze odor. Look for damp marks on the ground around your vehicle or puddles inside to detect a leak.

Replace the water pump and tighten any loose engine bolts. Check the condition of your hoses if you can’t discover a leak. Replace them if they are worn or damaged.

smelling antifreeze
If this seal leaks, it might be the cause of your car’s antifreeze odor. (Photo: Mechanic Base)

How To Troubleshoot The Hidden Issues When Your Car Car Smells Like Antifreeze

You can follow the following steps to troubleshoot the hidden issues when your coolant leak smells wandering in your car. 

Check if there is any white smoke coming from the exhaust pipe

Typically, a blown head gasket may create white thick smoke coming out of your exhaust. If you see an unusual amount of smoke from the pipe, there may be something wrong with your system.

Check if the oil is under or exceeds the standard level

To determine whether your car has a failed head gasket, one of the most common reasons why your car smells like antifreeze but not overheating, is to evaluate the oil level in the tank. 

If coolant enters the combustion chamber but is not entirely combusted, it may seep through the O-rings and into the oil pan. 

Remove the dipstick and look for any variations in the oil level over time to check for this. A mechanic may be able to identify coolant in the oil by smelling and touching it, but others may need to carefully check the oil level for any increases. 

If coolant is detected in the oil, a blown head gasket is most likely present, and the engine should be inspected by a professional as soon as possible.

is it bad to smell coolant
Check if the oil is under or exceeds the standard level to determine whether your car has failed. (Photo: Parkers)

Check the engine smoke

If you find your engine spewing smoke, this might indicate a problem. To attempt to figure out where the smoke is coming from, look at the color – if it’s white, it may be coolant. 

If there are no apparent leaks under your engine, check the radiator cap and the top and sides of the engine for antifreeze. If you locate antifreeze in these regions, you’ve most certainly found the source of the problem.

FAQs on Car Smells Like Antifreeze But Not Overheating

Is it okay to smell antifreeze?

According to Material Safety Data Sheets, inhaling antifreeze vapors on a regular basis might harm the central nervous system. 

If the gasses are breathed in mist form, they can potentially cause unconsciousness. If a person has breathed antifreeze fumes and starts feeling dizzy or unconscious, transport them to a fresh air environment and offer artificial respiration.

What are the symptoms of antifreeze leakage in your car?

If you are suspected that your car has an antifreeze leak, you may track these signs to find the roots to avoid severe issues later on.

  • Smell a sweet aroma in the cabin or around the car body after driving.
  • After parking, you may see puddles of vividly colored fluids (such as lime-green, orange, pink, or blue-green). 

These dye hues are frequently employed by antifreeze makers to distinguish coolant from other fluids used in cars. Note that engine oil is usually gold or black (when unclean), but the transmission fluid is usually a dark red tint.

what does antifreeze smell like
Be aware of these below signs of antifreeze leakage. (Photo: Kernersville Auto Center)

Can you drive a car that smells like antifreeze with possible coolant leak signs?

Yes, you can drive a car that smells like antifreeze with possible coolant leak signs but after very soon, it will overheat. In addition, keep in mind these following notes if you want to drive with the antifreeze leak in your vehicle that can lead to more severe issues. 

It is imperative to address antifreeze leaks promptly, as failure to do so may result in the worsening of cooling system issues. To avoid being stranded on the roadside while driving, it is advisable to take swift action in addressing any early signs of an antifreeze leak. 

It may be possible to temporarily alleviate the problem by refilling the cooling system with water in the event of a minor, slow leak during summer. 

But it is generally recommended to refill the system with the proper mixture of antifreeze and water (usually in a 50-50 ratio), particularly during the winter months. 

The use of plain water in the cooling system may cause it to freeze and expand within the engine, potentially leading to damage to the radiator, cooling system hoses, or even the engine block or cylinder head. 

Antifreeze serves to lower the freezing point of the coolant and helps to prevent such damage. Different vehicles may require different types of antifreeze, so it is important to consult your owner’s manual or the dealership for the appropriate replacement type.

Check out this video from GoTech to learn more about how to find an antifreeze leak with no visible leaks!

Why does my car smell like antifreeze when the heat is on and the windows fog up?

This is usually an indication that a heater core has failed. It begins to leak coolant into the heater box beneath the dash. When you turn on the heater, the air passing through the box collects the coolant and deposits it on the windows, which is why you smell it.

Can old antifreeze cause overheating?

Old fluid can cause acid accumulation, become polluted with rust or scaling, and have diminished heating and freezing resistance. Degraded coolant/antifreeze may cause your engine to run hotter than usual or prevent it from igniting in cooler weather.

Final Words

We have just scrolled through some causes and possible solutions when your car smells like antifreeze but not overheating. Hope this article is insightful to you to some extent and see you again in more car maintenance tips notices with Car From Japan!