Am I poisoning myself when I drive?
January 1, 2011 4:08 PM   Subscribe

I smell gasoline very strongly in my car. The smell began suddenly when the weather got colder than usual. Should I be concerned?

I posted once before about a gasoline smell in this car, if it's relevant. Pretty sure this is a different problem than the one I had before (which went away on its own and hasn't bothered me for some time). For one thing, this is a very strong overpowering odor and that was just a faint hint. The previous time, it seemed like it might've been coming through the AC vents, but now I can't identify the source: it smells everywhere in the car and outside of it, especially under the hood.

I can't see gasoline anywhere. There aren't any puddles under the vehicle, and my fuel gauge hasn't dropped to indicate a leak.

The weather's been consistently around 30-50 degrees Fahrenheit but yesterday morning we got a cold snap. That's when it started. The temperature was around 15 degrees all day and dropped to about 5 last night. I haven't changed any settings in the vehicle, I've been running the heat and defrosters the same as I did before it got colder. I let the car run for a few minutes to warm up before driving. I haven't refueled lately and the tank is sealed normally.

Usually the engine starts right up without any trouble. When I tried starting it after the freeze (the first time I noticed the smell), it struggled for a couple seconds before coming alive. I only drove it twice yesterday, once in the morning and once at night. Both times it hesitated to start, and both times the gasoline smell was overpowering.

I'm about to go out again now. It's still 12 degrees outside and the smell is probably in the car. If it hasn't gone away, how can I identify and fix the problem? Is it safe to inhale the fumes?
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is it a Subaru?
posted by blue_wardrobe at 4:30 PM on January 1, 2011

It'd be better if you didn't inhale the fumes. I'd certainly put all the windows down.

I am not a mechanic, but I have made myself sick inhaling gas fumes while cleaning parts.
posted by mollymayhem at 4:35 PM on January 1, 2011

I just looked at your old posts, and indeed it IS a Subaru.

There is a known problem with these vehicles, with the fuel lines becoming loose. I heard this on Car Talk. You should have this seen too, as the fuel can leak onto the engine.

One of the recent (2-3 weeks ago) Car Talk shows discussed this issue, and here is a link to a discussion on their forums.

Quote: Your Subaru dealer should be familiar with this problem, and it is possible that there was a recall on your car as a result of the problem. If so, then repairs will be free-of-charge. Even if it is something that you have to pay for, gasoline fumes are not something that can be ignored.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 4:49 PM on January 1, 2011

According to the earlier posts it's a Subaru Forester. To the OP- this is a known issue with some Subarus, the fuel lines contract in cold weather and gas drips out the ends onto the engine. If you pop the hood after driving it a short distance you can probably find the offending line and tighten the connector yourself. [/on third subaru]
posted by fshgrl at 4:50 PM on January 1, 2011

Get it checked by a mechanic. They'll be able to tell you what's going on and what it will take to fix it.

My previous car would get a gas smell when it rained heavily. A sprinkle was not enough to trigger the smell. Turns out, there was a problem with the gas tank or the fuel pump that had to be fixed. (Sorry, I don't remember which it was because it was several years ago.) The gas tank had to be dropped to fix the problem.
posted by onhazier at 4:53 PM on January 1, 2011

I am not a mechanic, but my dad is. However, he's not your mechanic.

Just from hearing the problem he says it's most likely one of the three things:

- Fuel Injector is failing
- You have an exhaust leak
- Vacuum Leak
- Air pressure sensor failing

A fuel injector that is failing would either starve or flood the cylinder, causing it to idle roughly and the smell of gas in the car.

But it all boils down to A) You should not drive this car unless you're B) Taking it directly to your mechanic. Gas fumes can be toxic and there is a greater risk of fire from the fumes.
posted by aristan at 5:03 PM on January 1, 2011

(PS, he also checked AllData which is a clearing house of vehicle info for Mechanics and it says that the Forester is known for idling rough and it's usually explained by spark plugs, wires, or fuel injectors.)
posted by aristan at 5:05 PM on January 1, 2011

MY 2002 Subaru Forester rusted through the gas tank.... Same symptoms as you, including not noticing a puddle or a drop in the fuel level.
posted by kestrel251 at 5:18 PM on January 1, 2011

Take it to a mechanic ASAP. Fire hazard. You don't want a car fire. Really.
posted by radioamy at 6:18 PM on January 1, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you all for your help! I'll have this looked at right away.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 6:26 PM on January 1, 2011

A friend in HS has a piece of crap car that was falling apart, and of the many problems one of them was a gasoline smell. Of course she never fixed it (no money to spare) and one day she was sitting at her desk when word went though the office that there was a fire in the parking garage.

Sure enough, her car had caught fire and basically melted in place.
posted by sbutler at 6:50 PM on January 1, 2011

The only less dangerous scenario is that you over-filled the gas tank at last fillup and flooded the charcoal canister.

Beyond that, it's not a good idea. If you can smell it, it is probably leaking pretty good. I have had a couple of full on, dripping onto the ground, leaks, and barely smelled it inside the car.

Likely, the cold is a coincidence, or a fuel injector o-ring needs replacing.
posted by gjc at 8:02 PM on January 1, 2011

Cars smelling of fuel are BAD news. Find the problem. Fix it. Now.
posted by GeeEmm at 1:45 AM on January 2, 2011

If you google this problem, you're going to come up with a lot of hits. My Subie had a strong gas smell that turned out to be a gas cap that needed replacing. Along the way, when I was trying to figure out the problem, searching for Subaru gas smell or similar stuff brought up a ton of people saying the exact same thing as you. The weather got cold and suddenly there's a strong smell of gas in the car. Do some searching on that, and if you need a mechanic, take it to someone that really knows your car.
posted by azpenguin at 4:31 AM on January 2, 2011

Response by poster: Popping back in here to follow up: I took the car to the dealer and the mechanics found not one but three fuel lines that needed to be replaced. No recall, unfortunately, so the fix set me back about $250. They also found about $1000 worth of other things that "need" fixing. It's probably all true but I can't afford it now anyway... the way mechanics go searching for other stuff they can bill you for has always been my least favorite part of taking my car to the shop. :-(

Anyway, this problem should be fixed. There's still a gasoline odor in the car but it's fainter now, probably just the lingering spillage that can't really be cleaned up easily. It should fade away with time. Thanks again for all the help!
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 9:21 AM on January 6, 2011

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