Why Car AC Smells like Burning Plastic – Fixing

Who gets comfortable in a car smelling like burning plastic or rubber? Then of course, you can hardly breathe well in such an atmosphere. Various malfunctions in a car can cause this experience, including air conditioning system-related faults.

If your car AC smells like burning plastic, you most likely have a serious issue to deal with before it escalates. However, you don’t have to panic because it may not necessarily be a fire outbreak.

In any case, ignoring the problem can be hazardous in the long run. So, this article unveils why car smells like burning rubber when AC is on and how to fix it.

car ac smells like burning plastic

Causes of Car AC Smells Like Burning Plastic

A car’s AC system is one of the features that help to ensure comfort, especially on a hot summer sunny day. But how would you enjoy the cool air in your car when the AC smells like burning rubber? It would be better to bear the heat from the hot weather than inhale the toxic smell.

Nevertheless, identifying the cause of the problem will help you resolve it before it advances into further damages. Some of the reasons your car AC smells like burning plastic include are dirt in AC vents, blocked air filter, burnt electrical wires, overheated motor fan etc. Know the details here:

Dust, dirt, or debris in AC vents

The AC vents are responsible for releasing cold air into a car’s interior. However, they also pick any scent or foul odor from within the unit. Unfortunately, the vents can be clogged with dirt or debris, mainly from lack of usage.

Therefore, the blockage will hinder the exchange of heat for cold air, trapping excessive heat and further releasing a burning smell. The experience is the same when you turn on the heater from the HVAC system.

Ignoring this issue can gradually impact the air conditioning system until it degenerates into a more severe problem like stopping cold air flow. Of course, you will also have to bear the offensive odor until you unclog the blocked AC vents.

Clogged air filter

A blocked air filter is another reason why your car’s AC smells like burning plastic. In addition, the air filter is susceptible to dirt build-up over time, hence the need to replace the component when necessary.

Failure to do that will negatively impact the fans, motors, and other AC components, exerting more stress on the components. When this happens, the air conditioner can produce a burning smell in a car.

Overheating motor fan

The motor fan, like most vehicle components, does not last forever. The bearings can wear out due to constant usage over time. This will automatically cause the part to overheat, thereby releasing a burning smell.

An overheated motor fan can damage the air conditioning system if not rectified immediately. Therefore, if you’re experiencing this challenge, contact your auto technician directly.

Electrical faults/burning wires

Your car’s air conditioner not only conveys cold air from the component into the interior; it can also enhance the scent or odor of related components. For example, this is the case of an electrical short circuit or burnt wiring.

If you suddenly perceive a smell like burning plastic, rotten eggs, or sulfur in your car, it is most likely traceable to an electrical failure causing a short circuit or burning the wires.

Electrical faults can cause severe car damage if not fixed within the shortest time possible. Moreover, a fire outbreak is always imminent whenever an electrical fault occurs in a vehicle. So, kindly fix such problems before they result in more severe damages.

Burning oil

Again, a burning oil smell can be transported into a car’s interior via the vents when the AC is on. Although the engine oil is not involved in powering the air conditioner, the AC can pick odor and circulate the same as the cold air is released in the interior.

In other words, if you perceive an offensive odor like burning plastic, inspect for oil leakage that may be dripping on hot engine parts alongside the checks you perform on other areas where you suspect the problem emanates from in the car.

How to Fix AC burning smell

Clean up dirty AC vents

Cleaning your car’s AC vents should be part of your routine maintenance as you take care of other vital components.

Although a burning smell can emanate and disappear when you turn on your heater after a period of leaving the AC idle, experiencing the burning smell for a time longer than expected should necessitate cleaning up the vents.

Replace blocked air filter

If you discover that you have a blocked air filter after diagnosing the reason for the burning smell in your car, ensure to replace the component immediately. Professional auto technicians recommend regularly replacing your car’s air filter just as your vehicle manufacturer prescribes.

Lubricate or replace the motor

Worn motor bearings may require lubrication to be revived again. However, if you notice that the component has failed, replace the motor as soon as possible. Otherwise, you will face engine overheating.

Replace burnt wires

This is a more complicated issue to be handled by professionals. Therefore, if you discover that an electrical fault is responsible for the burning plastic smell in your car, contact an expert auto technician to replace the wiring immediately.


Why does my AC smell like it’s burning?

Overheating compressor or blower motor are some major reasons why your AC smells like it’s burning. Other culprits to this problem include an electrical circuit short, excess debris in the AC vents, burning hoses or wires, etc.

If your car’s AC system smells like it’s burning, carefully inspect the units stated above to see whether you have any malfunctions in the vehicle. Once you spot the fault, ensure to fix it as soon as possible.

Can AC catch on fire?

Of course, a car’s air conditioner can trigger a fire outbreak when the system overheats. Typically, a constant rise in temperature can severely strain the AC units and cause a fire hazard. Therefore, ensure to avoid leaving dust or debris in your car’s AC vents.

Failure to remove dust, dirt, or debris from the AC vents, coils, filters, or fins can block the units and trap excessive heat, resulting in overheating. When this occurs, an unexpected fire outbreak is imminent.

What does a burned out compressor smell like?

A burned-out AC compressor smells like burning rubber. This odor can be very offensive; hence you should avoid allowing the occurrence in the first place. However, if you perceive this burning rubber smell in your car, ensure to check out what could be wrong.

ac compressor

Nevertheless, some malfunctions can also produce a similar burning rubber smell. In any case, inspect or diagnose the problem to know which unit is exactly faulty to fix it immediately.

What does burning freon smell like?

Burning excess freon produces chloroform or a sweet smell. Usually, freon is an odorless and clear fluid or gas. However, the substance can smell like ether when subjected to high concentration.

If you suddenly notice an unusual smell in your car, ensure to turn off the engine and check for a leaking coolant immediately. You may also want to speak to your mechanic about the occurrence.


Do not panic if you suddenly discover that your car AC smells like burning plastic. It may not be a fire outbreak as most people would imagine. Firstly, ensure to turn off the car immediately and inspect the components in the air conditioning system and the engine to identify the problem.

Once you spot a fault, kindly contact your auto technician to conduct a proper diagnosis to find out more about the cause of the burning smell. Finally, ensure to fix or replace any uncovered faulty components in the AC system.

Solomon Osuagwu

Osuagwu Solomon is a vetted auto mechanic with over ten years of experience in the garage and five years of experience as a service writer. He prides himself in writing accurate information on professional repair guides, DIY repair guides, buyer’s guides, comparisons, and car reviews. If he’s not in his repair garage, he’s writing automotive blogs to help car owners and fellow mechanics to troubleshoot and proffer solutions to several car problems.

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