If you can smell a burning odor coming from your vehicle but you aren't sure if it's worrisome, get it looked at right away. If you aren't sure how much damage has been done or what the damage could be, a mechanic can help you figure it out right away.
There are many things that could be causing the burning smell. Some repairs will be fast and easy and others more costly and problematic. Here are a few of the potential problems you could be dealing with.
If you smell a burning odor and it's accompanied by a squealing or whining noise, this often indicates that there is a problem with a belt on the car. There are several belts and if they get off track, or get a tear or snap, you're going to smell burning and hear noises. These need to be fixed right away, and belts are usually an affordable low cost repair, depending where the belt is at.
A burning smell can also indicate problems with the radiator, along with a sweet smell that can be coolant leaking out. The radiator works to cool the hot coolant that comes out of the engine, and if it working properly the entire vehicle may overheat. Radiator repair is an emergency situation, so do not delay taking the car into the shop. The check engine light should come on or an internal thermostat warning.
A burning smell when you're breaking and even when you're driving can be from the brakes. If the pads aren't on properly or they're rubbing the wrong way it can cause the rubber to burn. If the pads are worn and they are grinding on the rotors, this will create a loud banging noise and a burning smell at the same time. If you can look at the pads you may be able to diagnose the problem easily; if not an inspection is needed.
Never ignoring a burning odor in or outside your car even if comes and goes, because you don't want to risk the engine overheating. This could cost you thousands of dollars to repair and would require a lot of work on the vehicle. As soon as you recognize an odor take it to a shop and hook it up to a diagnostic machine. The machine will see if there are any problems that can be diagnosed electronically.