They called him Stinaru Fartester
February 1, 2010 6:49 AM   Subscribe

My 2004 Subaru Forester smells like hot...fumey...something, and periodically releases a little puff of smoke or steam from under the hood. Can the hivemind succeed where multiple mechanics have failed, before my warranty runs out in March?

I'm hoping the collective brain can help me identify some problems this might be.

The smell: it smells alternately like hot plastic or hot wiring, and sometimes there's a little something chemical-y thrown in. (I do not have a great sense of smell, so some better sniffer could probably describe this better than I.) It happens especially when the car is idling or driving slowly, perhaps because it is not being blown away in the breeze. All the fluid levels are fine. The temperature is always just a hair under the center line.

What we've ruled out (by fixing them):
-Smell of grease from busted CV boot.
-Bad blower motor (car is quieter but the stink is not entirely gone.)

I want to call the damn dealership again today and say yeah, that smell you fixed? It's still there. But I'd like to make some suggestions about what it might be.

Also taking suggestions for Subaru service in the Cleveland area other than Ganley.
posted by chesty_a_arthur to Grab Bag (15 answers total)
Stream from the hood is most likely coolant. Perhaps you have a coolant leak somewhere in there. Or a water pump going bad. Or a hose with a small hole. Or a radiator with a small hole. Is your coolant level dropping at all?
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:51 AM on February 1, 2010

You know, I forgot to add the coolant leak we fixed already. But that doesn't mean there's not another one, does it. I will double check the coolant level. It doesn't have the sugary smell I associate with coolant, but I will definitely follow up, thanks.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:00 AM on February 1, 2010

Other fluids that can burn off if you have a leak are transmission fluid and brake fluid. Occasionally the problem can be a slipped belt, but that provides a great deal of noise in addition to smell.

One more thing I just thought of: once I had an oil leak onto the timing belt. There was smell, but no noise until it broke.
posted by Gneisskate at 7:04 AM on February 1, 2010

Sometimes it takes a while for the smell to go away, especially if youve burned off a lot of fluid off a hot surface. If the smell doesnt go away in a few days maybe you should visit a local mechanic and ask him what he thinks the smell is, before going back to the dealer. A decent mechanic will be able to name the smell pretty quickly.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:20 AM on February 1, 2010

periodically releases a little puff of smoke or steam from under the hood.

Something is slowly dripping onto a hot exhaust. I saw this on a Subaru DL we were considering buying, every now and then there was a puff of white smoke. Turns out there was transmission fluid that was dripping onto the exhaust.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:27 AM on February 1, 2010

Sometimes it takes a while for the smell to go away

Sadly, it's been several weeks since the most recent attempted fix.

The stupid smell is somewhat intermittent, so I'm not sure the mechanics have been able to smell it.

posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:31 AM on February 1, 2010

it smells alternately like hot plastic or hot wiring, and sometimes there's a little something chemical-y thrown in

That sounds more like electrical to me, rather than radiator fluid, oil, or transmission fluid. Either something wrong with electrical system or a wire getting too close to a hot part of the engine (or exhaust). But intermittent problems a bear to track down.
posted by 6550 at 7:38 AM on February 1, 2010

I have a 2006 Forester, and have been plagued with similar smells. Last time I complained about it, my dealer said it was probably just some oil that spilled on the engine block when the oil was being changed, and then it burns off when the engine gets hot.

Now I'm thinking it's something peculiar to these cars.
posted by norm at 8:22 AM on February 1, 2010

Keep notes (date, time, names, description) on the issue and all of your attempts to have it solved so far, including in-person conversations, work or diagnostics done, when and in what circumstances you noticed the smell or steam, and keep all of the repair orders for the relevant work. This issue arose -- and you reported and attempted to get it fixed -- during your warranty period. Be able to show that you met all of your obligations under your warranty. Their failure to solve it during the warranty period doesn't absolve the maker its responsibility.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 9:13 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you want to protect your warranty be very careful about approaching the dealer with a diagnosis. If you go in and say "I think fluid is dripping on the manifold", and they replace a hose or otherwise fix a leak, they've fixed the thing you complained about, and once the warranty is up, they can point to that and say, "We handled that already".

On the other hand, if you confine yourself to symptoms only, such as smells, noises, and such, and the condition persists after they've addressed all the usual suspects, you can rightfully point out, after the warranty expires, that you brought the problem to their attention during the warranty period and they failed to fix it.

You want service invoices that read, "smells like cat pee", not "hose X is leaking".
posted by dinger at 9:23 AM on February 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Now I'm thinking it's something peculiar to these cars.

My 1999 Forester had the same smell. I chalked it up to a bad CV boot, but never did fix it before I traded it in. I find it very interesting that other cars of that model had the same symptom. It is a distinctive (and worrisome) smell. My car also had an engine oil leak - so perhaps that is worth looking into.
posted by Miko at 10:29 AM on February 1, 2010

My 2001 Forester had this smell and that smoke from the hood occasionally. Last year I had a slew of problems fixed and afterwards the smell and smoke stopped completely.

I believe the cause was a busted axle ... apparently the right front area is prone to problems in Foresters. At the same time, I also had my catalytic converter replaced, timing belt and brake pads replaced. But I believe I recall hearing that the axle would cause the smoke and smell.
posted by dumbledore69 at 11:36 AM on February 1, 2010

My 2007 Outback has a similar smell, but only, it seems, when the heater is running and the car idles after already warm.

It was very pronounced when the car was new, and now I just don't let the car idle while, say, I'm picking up or dropping off from daycare. On the days when I do, the smell reappears but goes away as soon as I start moving.

I talked to the dealer about it right after we purchased the car, and they kind of shrugged it off. So have I. Hope it's nothing serious, but it sounds like it's pretty standard for our (awesome!) cars.
posted by pkphy39 at 1:03 PM on February 1, 2010

I have never seen smoke, however
posted by pkphy39 at 1:03 PM on February 1, 2010

I know you have all been waiting impatiently, so wait no more. After five visits to three dealers and a new radiator in addition to the above, the newest working hypothesis is that it's the valve cover gasket leaking oil , which at least makes sense. Not resolved yet, though.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 3:36 PM on March 3, 2010

« Older What was this scary fire safety film?   |   Best place to sell a guitar in New York? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.