Car problems can be frustrating, expensive, and frightening, especially when you detect the odor of gas from your car. While film and television tend to exaggerate the dangers of gasoline, the reality is that the fuel in your car is still a highly flammable substance with potentially toxic fumes.
The situation may be very serious if you can suddenly smell gas in or around your car. Although not every problem that leads to a gasoline odor is necessarily critical, separating dangerous situations from more mundane ones can be challenging.
Why Does Your Car Smell Like Gasoline?
A surprisingly large number of problems can cause your car to smell like gasoline. A leak from the fuel system is among the most dangerous issues that can cause these doors, but it's far from the only one. For example, small amounts of gas can enter your oil, especially in older cars. As a result, oil leaks may carry the odor of gasoline with them.
Seemingly unrelated problems can also make your car smell like gas. Your car's computer attempts to maintain a perfect balance of fuel and oxygen, but faulty sensors or other issues can upset this balance. Incorrect fuel trim settings can create a rich mixture with excessive gasoline, resulting in unburnt fuel entering your exhaust system. Rich mixtures typically cause your exhaust to smell like gas.
The evaporative emissions system (sometimes referred to as the EVAP system) is another potential source of gas fumes. Ironically, the purpose of this system is to prevent gasoline vapors from escaping into the atmosphere by recycling them into the intake. However, leaks or damage to the system can allow the vapors to escape and potentially enter your car's HVAC system and vents.
When Should You Worry?
You should worry if you can smell gas in or near your car. The only likely source for a very strong odor of gasoline inside the cabin is a fuel leak, so you should pull over immediately, safely move away from your car, and call for assistance. Remember that gasoline fumes can be toxic, so driving with a strong odor of gasoline in your car can be dangerous even if there isn't an immediate fire hazard.
A faint smell near is less likely to result from a major leak, but it can still be a worrying problem. In these cases, the most likely culprit will be an oil leak, exhaust leak, or an excessively rich running condition. The latter problem typically triggers a check engine light, although you may notice the smell before the car stores a diagnostic trouble code.
Whatever the case, driving your car while you can smell gas is seldom a good idea. When the smell is faint and goes away when the car is off, you can try tightening your fuel and oil caps to see if these resolve the issue. If not, avoid driving your car and contact a professional automotive repair shop for further diagnosis and help.
For more information on automotive repair, contact a professional near you.