If you smell burning oil from your vents, it could indicate something is wrong with your engine.

Usually, when some amount of oil gets spilled over a hot engine part, it causes a burning odor. This smell gets removed as the oil evaporates over time. But if you are still getting the burning oil smell, there could be other reasons for it. 

Let’s look at some reasons why an oily odor comes from vents. 

Causes Of Burning Oil Smell Through Vents 

The burning oil smell usually occurs when oil leaks into your engine. The oil could be leaking for a variety of reasons. One could be a clogged oil filter, a damaged oil pan, or a faulty gasket. In that scenario, you’ll need to have them repaired, costing you between $100 and $2,000. 

 Let’s look at other reasons you might smell burning oil through vents. 

Improper oil change 

This could be another reason you smell burning oil from the vents. When you replace your engine oil incorrectly or in a hurry, some oil may leak onto other engine components. This can also happen if you use the wrong oil funnel while pouring your oil. 

Any extra oil or overfilling on its components will burn when your engine gets hot. This can cause a burning odor inside your vehicle through the vents. Oil on engine components evaporates over time. But if you still smell the burning smell after a couple of weeks, it could indicate that there are other issues. 

Exhaust leaking 

The exhaust manifold and pipes are in charge of collecting exhaust gasses as they exit the cylinder head. Gasses can enter the car cabin through the vent if there is a hole in the exhaust manifold. This may give you a burning oil odor. 

Detecting a leak in the exhaust manifold is similar to detecting a puncture in your bicycle. Simply spray some soggy water through your exhaust manifold and start the engine. Allow the engine to warm up, and you will notice bubble formation around the hole location caused by smoke trying to escape. You may also hear a whistling sound as smoke tries to escape. 

Faulty PCV valve 

The PCV valve regulates crankcase ventilation to control emissions in your engine. When the PCV valve fails to work properly, pressure builds up on the valve cover gasket. This pressure causes the gasket bolts to loosen, allowing compressed oil to leak into your engine. When this oil is burned, it emits a burning oil stench through your vents. Sometimes, this burning oil also may smell like gas.

Check the bolts on the valve cover gasket to see if there is a leak. If the bolts are loose, the PCV valve is most likely exerting extra strain on it. Remove the PCV valve from the hose to inspect it. If you hear a metallic sound and notice a vacuum on its tip, it is most likely operating properly. 

Clogged Catalytic Converter 

It is unlikely that your catalytic converter can lead to an oil-burning smell through the vent.  The catalytic converter is in charge of lowering exhaust gas emissions. Catalytic converters can get damaged or clogged over time owing to dust and pollutants or overheating. This can prevent the breaking down of gasses emitted from the combustion chamber.  

This may result in a stronger Sulfur Odor from the exhaust; this odor can pass through your vents into your cabin. Because removing the catalytic converter is unlawful, you can have it changed or repaired by your mechanic. 

How to remove the Burning Oil Smell 

To remove the burning oil odor, you must first identify the source of the smell. If there is any damage to the engine parts, you should have it repaired by a mechanic. 

Here are several options if there is no physical damage to your engine components. 

  • Clean any oil present on your engine components. 
  • If you have overfilled the oil tank, drain the extra oil. 

How to avoid the Burning Oil Smell 

Sometimes the oil is burning, but there is no scent at first; in this situation, look for the following signs: 

  • The brakes are not functioning properly. 
  • Annoying noises when shifting gears. 

Here is how you can avoid the oil-burning smell 

  1. Avoid overfilling your oil tank since this can result in oil leaking over your engine parts. When the oil heats up, this can cause a burning smell. Use a dipstick to verify the correct level of oil. 
  2. Have your engine components inspected once in a while? Examine the gasket and the PCV valve for any signs of oil leakage. Check that your exhaust manifold and pipes are working properly as well. 
  3. When replacing your oil, use the funnel to prevent oil from spilling over engine components. 

FAQ’s on Burning Oil Smell Through Car Vents

The amount of time it takes for the oil to evaporate is determined by its quantity. A small oil spill can be evaporated in 30-60 minutes. However, if you spill a few quarts of oil, it will take a long time to evaporate and emit a burning oil odor from the vents. Make sure to have it cleaned if a large amount of oil is spilled over engine components.

No, oil spilled on your engine components will not cause permanent damage if the oil is spilled when pouring or due to overfilling of oil. The oil will eventually burn, emitting a burning smell through the vents. However, if oil is spilled owing to an oil leak from engine parts, this is cause for concern and should be addressed as soon as possible.


To summarize, a small amount of oil pouring over engine components is not a cause for concern. You may smell oil burning while it evaporates. This smell should be removed after driving a couple of miles.

However, this can be problematic if there is an issue with the valve cover gasket or the exhaust manifold. If you smell burning engine oil more regularly, have your engine thoroughly inspected by a professional. 

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