Car Smells Like Gas: Why It Happens & What To Do About It

Gasoline is easily one of the strongest and most recognizable smells that exist. Every time we go to the gas station to fill up our cars and trucks, that smell is all over the place – and it’s completely normal.

It’s also normal to smell a little gasoline on your hands after a fill up – or even a little while after you’re done, because the fumes are so pungent.

If your vehicle continues to smell like gas long after you’ve left the pumps, though, that might signal a problem.

Mechanic leaning on the edge of a car hood, trying to figure out what's causing the smell of gas to leak

Gas vaporizes very quickly and usually also dissipates quickly, so if you can smell gas when you turn your vehicle on – whether that’s for just a few hours or a few days after a fill up, or at times when you aren’t even close to a gas station – this could mean trouble for both you and your car.

Smelling gasoline during any one of these times doesn’t automatically mean that a problem exists, though – but you should always check for the source if your car smells like gas, to avoid any major mechanical or health issues.

What Could Happen If Your Vehicle Smells like Gas?

If your car smells like gas, don’t neglect the problem in hopes that it’ll go away on its own soon enough.

The following list discusses some of the most common issues that could arise if you don’t address the problem in due time.

Health Hazard

First and foremost, the number one issue you should be worried about is the health hazards associated with gasoline fumes.

Gasoline contains methane, and the exhaust fumes that are produced by burning gasoline contain carbon monoxide, both of which are health hazards.

At the very least, the more exposure you might have to a gasoline smell inside your vehicle, the more likely you are to get a headache.

The longer and more consistently you are exposed to gasoline fumes, the greater your chances of having serious health problems.

Environmental Hazard

Gasoline poses a health concern and an environmental hazard if your vehicle has a gas leak. The larger the leak, the more potential damage it could cause the environment.

Many chemicals used in gasoline are toxic. A spill or excess burning of gasoline can have negative effects on groundwater, wildlife, and people.

Regulatory measures are strictly enforced to reduce the amount of emissions – and thus the harmful effects – of both gasoline spills and vapors.

Potential for a Fire

A third major problem associated with your car smelling like gas is the potential for a fire.

Cigarettes are a great way to ignite gasoline that might be leaking onto the floor, or even on the road somewhere. If gas is leaking onto the hot engine of your vehicle, it could also ignite and be dangerous to you, your passengers, and everyone else on the road.

Gasoline is extremely flammable. If the vapors become too concentrated in an enclosed area, even the spark from your vehicle’s ignition, the lighting of a match, or any other spark could cause an explosion or fire.

Always be sure to have a good car fire extinguisher on hand for whenever anything unfortunate like this happens – you never know when you’ll desperately need one!

What Would Cause Your Car to Smell like Gas?

There are numerous reasons that could cause your car to smell like gas. The slightest amount of leakage somewhere near your vehicle can create a powerful odor.

The following list discusses some of the most common reasons why your car could be smelling like gas:

There Was a Gas Spill During Your Last Fill-Up

Anytime you fill your vehicle with gas, there is a good chance a small amount will drip from the nozzle. Not being careful with the pump can also cause gas to spill on the ground or down the side of your vehicle.

Using the pump after someone else has used it can also cause residual gas to get on your hands, creating a lingering smell inside your vehicle and on whatever you touch.

What You Can Do About It

Be careful when filling up your vehicle with gas. Take your time, make sure the pull lever is completely off before removing the nozzle from the filler, and don’t overfill your tank.

If a larger spill occurs, alert the attendant. Stations usually have materials they can use to soak up spills and contain them.

To prevent or remove gas from your hands, carry some sanitizing wipes or a hand sanitizer with you and use it before getting back into your vehicle.

Your Gas Cap Is Loose or Needs to Be Replaced

Forgetting to close or fully tighten your gas cap after a fill up is a common mistake. Neglecting to do so will cause fumes to exit the tank.

If the filler cap is loose or broken, your check engine light or gas cap light will usually come on to let you know there is a problem.

If tightening it or putting it on don’t get rid of the smell, the seal could be broken.

What You Can Do About It

Try tightening the gas cap if it is loose. If it doesn’t appear to be loose, unscrew it, and screw it back in.

If this doesn’t fix the problem, the seal may be worn or broken, and you may need to replace the cap altogether.

You Have a Leaking Gas Tank

If your car smells like gas and it has been sitting for a while, check to make sure your gas tank isn’t leaking. If the leak is large enough, you should be able to see a puddle or stain on the floor where the gas has dripped.

This is a common reason for a gasoline odor to be present in your vehicle, as punctures can easily occur from road debris. Vehicles with metal gas tanks are often prone to rust, which can also cause holes.

A leaking gas tank won’t be as obvious on the road as you drive away from the fumes produced by the leak, but underbody fumes can enter the vehicle when you turn on the outside vent.

What You Can Do About It

Inspect the floor below your vehicle and the tank itself. Any holes and leaks that might be present can usually be patched by a mechanic.

If the tank is very rusty or there is a large leak, you will have to replace the gas tank.

There Is a Problem with Your Gas Tank Ventilation System

Modern vehicles are mandated to have an Evaporative Emissions Control System which controls the amount of gasoline vapor that escapes the gas tank.

If the system’s release valve is faulty or the computer system and its sensors fail, your car might smell like gasoline.

A fault in this system will often trigger the check engine light to illuminate.

What You Can Do About It

If the check engine light comes on, and you smell gas in your car, don’t ignore it. Take your vehicle to a mechanic as soon as possible to diagnose the problem.

There Is a Leak in the Fuel Line

Fuel line leaks are common over time. They are usually positioned underneath your vehicle and travel the length of your car or truck.

Lines are often made from rubber, metal, or plastic, and are thus susceptible to corrosion, road debris, and any other outside factors you might encounter.

Because of modern gasoline, manufacturers and mechanics have started using materials such as neoprene, nylon, and tygon to combat gasoline’s corrosive properties.

What You Can Do About It

Just as you would do when you have a leaking gas tank, inspect the fuel lines for any signs of leakage. This may be harder to do, though, since fuel lines are much smaller than a large tank.

Mechanics can usually patch or replace small sections of fuel line if the leak is minimal.

Replacing all the fuel lines is not incredibly difficult or expensive, but is reserved for multiple leaks or widespread corrosion.

The Fuel Filter Is Clogged

Fuel is pumped to the injectors under pressure. If there is a blockage, particularly where the fuel filter is fitted, the pressure will cause the fuel to take the path of least resistance and leak around the filter seals.

What You Can Do About It

The first thing you should do in such a case is inspect the fuel filter.

If it’s clogged, you need to replace it. This may be hard to do by yourself with newer vehicles, as the filter is often located within the fuel tank itself.

It’s best to consult a mechanic if you suspect a fuel filter leak, especially if you have a newer vehicle.

There Is a Leak in the Fuel Injector or Fuel Delivery System

Leaking injectors, fuel rails, or fuel delivery systems could also cause such a smell both inside and outside of your vehicle.

O-ring seals are a common culprit when it comes to a leaking injector system.

Additionally, clogged injectors or fuel rails can act similarly to a clogged fuel filter. Fuel is delivered under pressure and will always seek the path of least resistance, making connection points and seals the weakest part of the injection components.

Some signs that fuel may be leaking from the injectors is a rough idle, sluggish acceleration, and noticeably poor gas mileage.

If you add in the smell of gas to the equation, this should give you a good clue about what the culprit is.

What You Can Do About It

Mechanics have the necessary tools to perform a fuel pressure test, injector flush, or replace any parts if at all necessary.

O-ring seals aren’t that hard to replace yourself, but they can be a pain if you aren’t familiar with the process. So, if you aren’t comfortable with any part of this whole process, hire a mechanic to do the job for you.

There Is an Issue with Your ECU

The ECU of your vehicle controls many things, but one specific thing that could cause your car to smell like this relates to the fuel delivery system.

If the ECU tells the system to deliver too much gasoline to the engine, you will often experience the smell of gas.

Not only will the engine not be able to burn all of the gas, but delivering too much of it to the injectors could have an impact on the seals, causing them to fail prematurely.

Faulty sensors are often the reason for ECU misinformation.

What You Can Do About It

An ECU problem can trigger the check engine light to flash.

If you have an OBD II scan tool, you can scan for fault codes yourself. Otherwise, it’s best to take your vehicle to a mechanic to see if (or why) your vehicle is running too rich.

There Is a Canister Leak

Part of the Evaporative Emissions Control System is a box connected to the gas tank ventilation system which contains charcoal.

This charcoal absorbs harmful vapors produced by gasoline, which is then purged and not allowed to escape into the environment.

What You Can Do About It

Canisters don’t often fail, since charcoal doesn’t need to be replaced. However, if there is a leak in the canister itself, it will need to be replaced.

In these cases, it’s best to consult a mechanic if there is a known canister failure. Scanning the vehicle with an OBD II scan tool should show this.

Your Vehicle Is Carbureted

Many pre-1990’s vehicles delivered fuel to the engine through a carburetor.

Carburetors have a reservoir of fuel that remains filled when the engine is turned off. In turn, this causes gasoline vapors to be more prominent for some time after the vehicle has been driven.

What You Can Do About It

This is quite normal in carbureted vehicles, so there’s not much you can do to address the situation except buy a new model vehicle.

You Have an Oil Leak

An oil leak will cause oil to mix with the gasoline in your engine and produce a gasoline smell.

Oil isn’t meant to be burned with gasoline inside the engine under most circumstances.

This will most likely not be an issue strictly with the smell of gasoline, though an oil leak is rarely a good thing to have.

Most of the time, oil will burn away in the combustion process of the engine. If the oil leak is large enough, though, you will experience the same result as you would if there was excess gasoline being fed to the engine.

What You Can Do About It

Consult a mechanic if you have ruled out a gasoline leak and are sure about it, but still smell gasoline when running your vehicle.

You Have an Exhaust Leak

There will usually be more prominent signs of an exhaust leak than just the smell of gas in your car, but it may still be one sign of many that an exhaust leak is present.

What You Can Do About It

Consult a mechanic if you suspect that there’s an exhaust leak in your vehicle.

Many states that require emission inspections will not pass a vehicle with an exhaust leak.

Damage to One (Or More) of Its Systems

Another reason for the gasoline odor in your vehicle is that damage could be occurring to one (or more) of its systems.

The consistent smell of gasoline in your vehicle is never a normal thing you should condition yourself to live with.

Even though it doesn’t always signify a major problem, it could still be an issue that needs to be checked – and will more than likely turn into a huge problem with time if it goes unchecked.

Any substance such as oil or gasoline that is present in a place it shouldn’t be is never a good thing to have.

If you can smell it, chances are high that it’s leaking.

Check out the video below for more information about why your car might smell like gasoline.


What Should You Do If Your Vehicle Smells like Gas?

If you smell gas in or around your vehicle, you should always address the issue as soon as possible. The longer it takes you to get to the bottom of it, the more serious the problem could become.

What you SHOULDN’T do, is mask it with a car air freshener and ignore it!

So, here’s what you should do when you find yourself in such a situation:

Check for the Source

Anybody can look for leaks or stains around a parked vehicle. You might even find signs of a leak if you open the hood, even if you don’t know what each part of an engine does.

Avoid Driving the Vehicle If Possible

If you are unable to find the source of the odor by yourself, it’s best if you avoid driving the vehicle altogether to stay on the safe side.

Hidden issues could result in major damage to your vehicle, and might very well cost you thousands of dollars in repairs.

Clean up Any Spills from a Leak That You Find

If you are fortunate enough to find a leak somewhere, clean it up.

If there is a puddle of gasoline of the floor, it could damage the floor. If your vehicle is leaking gasoline outside, it’s even more important to clean it up.

Have a Mechanic Find the Source

If you can’t find the source of the gasoline odor yourself, take your vehicle to a mechanic as soon as possible.

Not only do mechanics have the correct tools to fix any leak that may be present, they will also have scan tools to use if the source of the smell isn’t from a leak, but rather a result of a faulty sensor or system.

Is There Anything Else You Need to Know About This?

Just because your vehicle smells like gasoline for a few minutes, this doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a major problem you have to worry about.

Gasoline gives off such a strong odor, that simply driving by a gas station can leave some of that smell throughout the entire area.

Likewise, any time you fill up at the pump, don’t be alarmed if you smell gasoline all the way home. In these cases, your hands may have residual gasoline on them from the pumps themselves.

If you haven’t filled up recently, and you aren’t close to any gas station, make sure not to neglect the smell of gasoline in your vehicle, especially if the smell is consistent and lingering. This likely means there’s a problem that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

Even if you don’t see a leak, it doesn’t mean there isn’t one – it might just mean you haven’t found it yet.

Vehicles are designed to contain and neutralize harmful odors and chemicals found in gasoline. Smelling gasoline in and around your vehicle isn’t normal, and should be diagnosed as soon as possible.

Wrapping it Up

Gasoline is vital to our everyday lives, but the end goal is always to have it contained in the right places.

Sometimes, that doesn’t happen – but that doesn’t mean we should just sit there and watch the situation fix itself on its own, because it won’t.

Vehicles wear out, parts are subject to wear and tear, and it is inevitable that the powerful smell of gasoline will permeate places we don’t expect it to.

Gasoline leaks are more likely the older our vehicles get, but it’s never a good idea to dismiss it just because the smell seems to be “normal”.

Always make sure you’re in the know and diagnose what is producing that gas smell in or around your car. If you need to hire a professional to get to the bottom of the situation for you, then definitely do that as well – whichever has you taking action as soon as possible!

The longer you wait, the more damage your vehicle is likely to be dealt – not to mention all the harm you’ll be causing the environment, and even your own health.

Shawn Furman

I've had a passion for cars since 8 years old, and been a subscriber to Auto Week magazine since my 10th birthday. Ever since I turned old enough to drive, I have driven as many vehicles as possible, while teaching myself how to perform maintenance and upgrade work on every vehicle I've owned. For the past 10 years, I've been honing my skills as a vehicle hobbyist, in recent years also enjoying writing car reviews, opinion articles, vehicle how-tos, car-buying guides, and even provide individual consultations for those who need car-buying advice. In addition to writing for Vehicle Scene, I currently write for Autolist, and also own and operate my own vehicle blog website, The Unlimited Driver.

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