Why Does My Car Smell Like Gas? Here’s Everything You Need To Know

in Ownership
Truck next to a gas pump

Source: Pixabay

It’s never a good sign when the inside of your vehicle smells like gas, and even smelling gas from the outside is usually a sign that something is wrong. 

Your vehicle is designed to keep gas tightly controlled and contained in specific areas and to covert a lot of the worst chemical byproducts of ignition into less harmful chemicals on the way out of your vehicle. That process helps keep the scent of gas down, and also means that if you smell gas in the vehicle there’s a good chance something is going wrong. 

Here are some of the most common reasons your vehicle can start to smell like gas, and what you need to know about each cause. 

5 Reasons Your Car Smells Like Gas

Unfortunately, gas scents are pretty common for a wide range of problems with your vehicle, from the most minor issues like accidentally spilling a little gasoline when you fill up, to major leaks and combustion issues that can cause fires and explosions if not taken care of. 

Just the scent of gas alone isn’t enough to diagnose most of these issues, but knowing some of the common reasons your car smells like a gas can help you do more work to diagnose the issue. 


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An Oil Leak

Plenty of people drive vehicles with a minor oil leak in the engine, and it’s not usually the end of the world. As long as you keep up with adding more oil and keep up with the leak your vehicle will be okay. 

However, oil leaks can also cause gas smells, especially right after you fill the tank. 

If you know that your vehicle has an oil leak you shouldn’t be too concerned. Just keep a close eye on the leak to make sure it’s not leaking faster, leaking slower, and that the color of your engine oil is relatively consistent. 

In some cases, you might notice that the oil is getting thinner, in which case you might have a different problem. If the gas is mixing with the oil in your engine that’s a serious problem, and your vehicle will be less likely to catch the problem because leaking oil will prevent the oil reservoir from overfilling and triggering a warning that something is wrong. 

It’s important to take vehicles with an oil leak, no matter how mild, to the mechanic regularly to check on the leak and make sure the situation isn’t getting worse. 


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Loose Or Damaged Gas Cap

Another common cause of gas scent and fumes in and around your vehicle is if your gas cap is a little loose or gets damaged. 

90% of the time you can replace the gas cap and that should quickly solve the problem. 

However, if you put the new gas cap on and you still have the gas scent an hour or so later, that may be a sign that the o ring is damaged and you need to get it repaired. 

Loose Spark Plugs

Spark plugs are a relatively common part to replace, they don’t last forever and they can loosen over time. 

Spark plugs that aren’t seated properly can cause a smell of gas because fuel and fumes can sneak around the sealing ring. That’s more of a problem because it can go straight into your HVAC – which means gas fumes will start coming out of your air vents. 

Left to themselves, those gas fumes can be harmful, and more intense versions of this leak can lead to headaches and delirium if you keep breathing the fumes for too long. 

This is a kind of problem that you can fix by taking your car to a mechanic, or you can reseat the spark plugs yourself at home. 

If you choose to reseat and reinstall the spark plugs at home, screw the spark plugs in as hard as you possibly can, then use a wrench to give the spark plug an additional quarter turn to get to the right torque. 

Degraded Fuel Tank

Your fuel tank is constantly exposed to the corrosive chemicals in your gas, which means that, over time, it can degrade and start to leak. Outside exposure to anti-ice chemicals and salts can also corrode anything it gets on, as can other malfunctions. 

If you have a degraded fuel tank you’ll likely notice gas leaks and stains under your vehicle, decreased fuel efficiency, and a gas scent around your vehicle. 

Unfortunately, the fix for this problem is replacing the fuel tank entirely. Depending on their condition, you might also need to replace fuel lines and your fuel pump if they are starting to degrade as well. 


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Damaged Or Missing Oil Cap

Your engine’s oil cap is important for more than just keeping the oil in your engine! It’s also critical for making sure fuel fumes don’t escape from your engine and don’t get blown in through the HVAC system into your cabin. 

Like loose spark plus, this is an issue that can cause headaches, delirium, and CO2 poisoning if you don’t catch it quickly. 

Getting a new oil cap is relatively simple and a quick fix. However, because driving without a properly installed oil cap is dangerous, it’s important to check your oil cap if you notice gas fumes and to stop driving even if you can’t immediately identify the issue. 

Can You Still Drive Your Vehicle When It Smells Like Gas? 

It’s not a good idea to still drive your vehicle when you’re smelling gas. 

The scent of gas isn’t just a bad smell. Its fumes contain a range of harmful and disorienting chemicals that only get more dangerous the longer you’re exposed to them. 

So, while it might be technically possible to drive while your vehicle smells like gas, or if gas fumes are leaking somewhere, it’s not ever a good idea. 

Instead, it’s a good idea to pull over as soon as you can, look for some of the common culprits, and either fix the problem yourself or call for help/a tow to get the issue addressed. 

Even if you don’t have AAA or a similar driver’s assistance program, trust us, the cost of towing your vehicle is much cheaper than the cost of driving with gas fumes slowing your reaction times and making it more difficult to drive safely. Not to mention the cost to your health from prolonged exposure to gas fumes. 

If you really must drive, choose a location as close as possible to get off the road, and remember to take breaks from driving and get completely out of your car and into the fresh air so that you’re not just breathing gas fumes the whole way.

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